Find Your Truth – Acting Advice from Orson Welles

Find Your Truth - Acting Advice from Orson Welles_550
Photo Credit: Kieran Lamb via cc

If you look inside yourself can you see a murderer? A saint? A fascist?

Orson Welles shares some of his views on acting and how truly great performances depend on the actor revealing themselves. Truly great acting is not hiding yourself behind a character, it is revealing yourself in that character – it is an ability to show a part of yourself which is the character.
The filmmaker is the only artist that cannot afford his own tools
Orson Welles
Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer and producer working in theatre, radio and film in the thirties, forties and fifties. In 2002 he was voted the greatest film director of all time by the BFI in a poll amongst directors and critics. He was an enormous talent but sadly he never fared well with the Hollywood business model as he took enormous amounts of time to complete projects. His artistic ego fought against him and financial backers did not let him make all of his visions.
As an actor-director he understood the art of acting and appreciated the craft.
When you choose to take a role, or are cast in a role, hopefully the character resonates with you – and if it doesn’t immediately then it is your job to find the similarities, to find the part of that character which you can connect with. To play a character you need to understand that role. If the role is a murderer, a saint, a fascist you do not need to be one too but you need to be able to see echoes of the character’s best or worst impulses within you and be able to bring that part of you to performance.
Orson Welles likens us to sculptors. Michelangelo said that sculpting was not carving something out of stone, but removing the bits of stone that are unnecessary to reveal the sculpture that was already there. This really is the essence of what you as an actor needs to do. You need to get out of your own way and allow the impulses which are already inside you, however hidden, to come out.
To work with a great actor is humbling. I once witnessed an actor on a film set break out in tears after a scene where he had played a rapist. He had acted it so well, with raw force and emotion, and had stunned everyone in to silence. When the director yelled cut, nobody said a word and the actor turned away and started crying. The pure evil force of the playing the rapist had got to him, whichever part of him he had to tap into really affected him for a moment. Everyone on set felt it too, we wanted to cheer his performance – but we stood in silence.
Find the truth in yourself and use that to fuel the character
Orson Welles On Acting
I think acting is like sculpture.

In that it’s what you take away from yourself to reveal the truth of what you’re doing – that makes a performance.

A performance, what it is, it deserves to be considered great or important, is always entirely made-up of the actor himself and entirely achieved by what he has left in the dressing room before he came out in front of the camera.

There is no such thing as becoming another character by putting on a lot of make-up.

You may need to put the make-up but what you’re really doing is undressing yourself and even tearing yourself apart and presenting to the public that part of you which corresponds to what you were playing.

And there is a villain in each of us, a murderer in each of us, a fascist in each of us, a saint in each of us.

The actor is the man or woman who can eliminate from himself those things which will interfere with that truth.
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