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What is Embarrasing Acting?
And Why Should Actors Care?
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Acting Tips for Keeping it Real
by N J Howell
Suggested Resource for Acting:
Actor's Power Pak
The Acting Guide
What kind of actor are you?
Why you may need an acting coach
This is part of my series on acting, and keeping it real as actor. You can read the rest of the acting tips here.
What is embarassing acting?
If you're old enough and a woman, you probably saw Starting Over. I bet you can conjur up the image of Jill Clayburgh's character running out into the street to ask Burt Reynold's character why he left after their romantic night without saying goodbye. As she stands there, sure that he is just another louse who will leave and never call, snot starts blowing out her nose. Imagine, you are in a scene with Burt Reynolds (and for you young whipper-snappers, just plug in the face of your current heart throb) and you are blowing snot. Burt sees the snot, of course. We see him see it, as the audience. Both actors stay completely in character and it's so real for me, watching it, that it hurts. That's embarassing acting at it's finest!
Normally, a woman would not want her lover to see her with a snotty nose. However, for Jill's character, there was something more important she was focused on. The actress may be thinking oh, God, my nose is running but if it isn't important to the character, it can't be important to the actress. It looked to me as if Jill did not even know her nose was running. Just awesome! I loved her work and we lost a treasure in 2010. If you want to improve your presence in acting work, get all her movies and have a binge watch. She was a master of being in the present moment and fully available to the emotional truth of a scene.
Two quick examples of embarassing acting....
Jeff Bridges is another terrific embarassing actor. Check him out in The Morning After ( a 1986 film well worth watching as a study in great acting that is very believable).
In The Morning After, Jeff has a scene where he meets Jane Fonda's character. He is wearing a shirt that is too small for him. His belly is pooching out between the shirt and his pants. It is not at all attractive. Nor is his reaction when Jane Fonda's character literally jumps on him in a sexual frenzy. He is awkward, caught off guard, and vulnerable. Jane is embarassing in another way. How brave is it to show absolute sexual desperation?
Most women would not want to be seen as alcoholics with uncontrollable sex urges so Jane Fonda had to find a place in her that was real with that in the scene. Jane was clumsy and out of control and most of us would not want to come off that awkwardly in a love scene, given how important beautiful, sexy love scenes are in most movies. It was the opposite of any kind of sexy. Two fine actors being embarassing together and keeping it real in every frame. Great acting all around.
Another great example is Chris Cooper in Adaptation. He is missing teeth in the front....missing teeth and playing the leading man. This is kind of a personal yippie for me, seeing him in Adaptation because I've developed a pronounced gap between my two bottom front teeth. It has been hard to feel as confident with this development and seeing Chris go into that role with such abandon gave me hope! And, interestingly enough, I'm getting more intriquing roles with the gap in my teeth than I did when they were straight.
Anyway, back to Chris Cooper. His character is missing teeth, in front, and yet, this character is very comfortable and confident in his sexuality. Missing teeth do not keep his character from flirting with and literally charming the pants off Meryl Streep's character. In order for Chris Cooper to pull this role off, he has to be comfortable and confident in his sexuality, just as his character is written. I don't know if it personally bothers Chris to be without the bridge but, if it does, you never saw a hint of that in his characterization. That's embarassing acting at it's finest.
Of course, not saying Chris would not be confident, even missing teeth, but I think most men would be a bit self-conscious and embarrassed about not having teeth in front and wooing a lover. On the other hand, a lot of women would not find that attractive in a potential sexual partner. Meryl Streep had to find it attractive. She had to keep it real or we, as the audience, would not believe it could happen.
Whatever the scene in front of you, always remember that keeping it real is vital, if you want anyone in the audience to care about your character.
More acting tips ... Using Props as an Actor