In theatre school, one of my profs always said that “directing is 70% casting”. If you cast skilled, compelling performers, they’re going to make you look good. If you cast poorly, then you’re already behind the eight ball before you begin rehearsals.
Lately I’ve been thinking of writing an article (or maybe just starting a wiki page so that I can gather opinions) about what good acting is. I think we often say “oh, he’s a great actor” without really understanding what we mean.
In thinking about that article, I’m also interested in the relationship between a film’s director and its cast. This week I saw Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s new film about Nelson Mandela’s role in South Africa’s improbable run at the 1995 World Cup of Rugby. Simply put, it’s not a very good movie. The screenplay is simplistic in its approach to the complexities of a newly post-Apartheid South Africa, and Eastwood gets the pacing all wrong. He was, to my mind, simply the wrong director to make this film.
I bring up Invictus because Eastwood sometimes casts untrained or under-qualified actors in smaller roles in his films. This was the case with Gran Torino, and there are some examples in this film as well. Eastwood may also not be a particularly good director of actors (working with actors, I gather, is only one of the many, many things a film director does). In both films, I found the non-actors incredibly distracting. I can’t understand Eastwood’s decision, as the non-actors are glaringly obvious and, to my mind, detract from his films.
Acting Like a Frozen Fish
After seeing New Moon, the consensus was that (among many other faults) the performances were all dismal. Ms. Stewart swims through the murky film like a frozen fish, an unresponsive vortex that sucks the energy out of every scene she’s in (and this is a film without much energy to spare).
However, having seen Kristen Stewart in Adventureland (and also Panic Room, come to think of it) I see that she’s capable of more. She’s no Cate Blanchett, but those films indicated that she was at least a competent, watchable performer. So what gives?
I blame Chris Weitz, the director of New Moon and the rest of the production team. New Moon is an awful movie, beginning to end, and I must assume that extends to Mr. Weitz’s work with the actors.
There is an interesting alternative hypothesis, though. It stems from the apparent lack of description Ms. Stewart’s character receives in the novels:
First off, the author creates a main character which is an empty shell. Her appearance isn’t described in detail; that way, any female can slip into it and easily fantasize about being this person. I read 400 pages of that book and barely had any idea of what the main character looked like; as far as I was concerned she was a giant Lego brick. Appearance aside, her personality is portrayed as insecure, fumbling, and awkward – a combination anyone who ever went through puberty can relate to. By creating this “empty shell,” the character becomes less of a person and more of something a female reader can put on and wear. Because I forgot her name (I think it was Barbara or Brando or something like that), I’m going to refer to her as “Pants” from here on out.
Perhaps the filmmakers are trying to extend this blank slate to the movies? What do you think?