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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Tue 20
Dec
2011

Stating the Obvious: Actors

Syrup Lately I’ve been feeling sympathy for actors. I never used to feel that. I used to think actors deserved NOTHING, because they’re already beautiful and adored. And people are swoon over how clever and cool they must be in real life, because apparently they improvised their best lines and YOU KNOW WHAT NO THEY DID NOT. They played the damn character that was written for them, that’s what they did. The alternative only gets play because people believe in their hearts that movies are real.*

Essentially, I viewed actors as mindless automatons waiting to be filled with words. Attractive automatons, to be sure. They’re a fine looking bunch. And they’re good at pretending. But that’s not a particularly impressive skill. I mean, kids do it. So I’ve never really rated actors as more deserving of respect than, say, jugglers. Especially jugglers who can balance on things while they juggle. That shit is not easy.

But this was before I actually spent time on a film set. I found that educational in a few ways. For one thing, I had to act. Only a little. I’m kind of abusing the term here. I mostly had to stand in one place and not sneeze. But there was a time when I had to move parts of my body in a coherent way while fifty people and a very expensive camera stared at me, and that turned out to be harder than I expected. There is a pressure element. So I concede that acting, or doing anything, really, is more challenging when a lot of people’s time and money is riding on you not screwing it up.

But the real eye-opener was how actors have to do what they’re told. Not always. Sometimes actors can say, “I’m not really feeling that line,” and the director will say, “Let’s try it both ways,” and the actor can perform a take differently while knowing in their soul that it will never be seen again. Actors are also free to perform minor on-the-fly sentence surgery, so long as they get the essence right. In some cases, they really can propose something different, and if the director agrees, they get to do it. But mostly they have to say the lines.

So if I write, “6 looks surprised,” then Amber Heard has to go ahead and look surprised. I want you to take a moment to think about how much you would enjoy it if you were world famous and had to look surprised just because I wanted you to. Because I would hate it. I would be all, “I tell you what, how about you go fuck yourself?” Now, okay, this probably just means I would make a crappy actor. I already knew that. And I knew actors had to say the lines. That is the most fundamental part of their job. If they weren’t prepared to do it, they would find something else to do, like juggle while balancing on things.

But still. I realize more and more how spoiled I am to own the entire process of creating a novel. I don’t need anyone’s permission to start writing. I don’t need to convince people to sign off on doing a part of the story a particular way. I just do it. You might argue that this isn’t a good thing. And I might argue, why don’t you get off my site, if you hate me so much. But for better or worse, I enjoy the ability to determine how I do my job.

Actors don’t have that. They have to give themselves to a role no matter how shitty. They’re totally dependent on being offered good scripts, and if they’re not, they have to perform bad ones. When they perform bad roles, even when they do a good job, people think they’re bad actors, because people think movies are real.* An actor might never once get the chance to perform a role at their best. Which is kind of horrifying.

Of course, they can console themselves with their immense beauty.

(* They are real. All stories are real.)

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Robert Bissonnette (#2827)

Location: Perth, WA
Quote: "Cante Jondo and The Blues; Popular suffering raised to a high art."
Posted: 1069 days ago

(* They are real. All stories are real.)

You mean Twilight IS real!? Oh Merry Christmas to meeeee!

(I am of course kidding, I couldn't even finish reading a single chapter of Twilight.)

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 1069 days ago

Maybe you can invent a new genre! Serial-Authorizing-Scripting-Acting. You write the book and the screenplay one page at a time, and act out the parts as well! That can't possibly go wrong...

Maybe one day you'll be as big as Nyan-Cat. Woo!

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1069 days ago

Interesting blog which highlights many important aspects if the life and times we live in - I think personally, that the guild of actors is a reflection of the population in general - for example Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson can't be ranked as equal to Amber Heard intellectually, and of course, Orson Welles was an auterial genius who encompassed writing, acting, directing, choreography, philosophy, - the whole caboodle - so, in my opinion, one actor is not equal to another - just like Franz Kafka is not the same as Mickey Spillane - as to the suspension of critical doubt in the movie-going public, this is part of the magic lantern evocation that "glamour", a word that etymologically links Hollywood and magic, is the essence of the modern pulp movie and merely indicates the replacement of religious symbology with that of the Hollywood story "girl meets boy, their libido is mutually stimulated and they embrace and the reproductive survival-continuum is inaugurated" C'est La Vie All the best S. [PS. I did enjoy your blog]

Gregory (#1530)

Location: Forest Hill
Quote: "I think therefore I am, I think"
Posted: 1069 days ago

(* They are real. All stories are real.)

You are going to have to explain this Max.

My limited imagination cannot allow such existential concepts other than in a purely allegorical way. Or ware you saying that they are real as in the memory of a dead loved one makes them remain real to me?

Machine Man subscriber Ben (#3924)

Location: Alberta, Canada
Quote: "I don't wanna ride the elevator."
Posted: 1069 days ago

Its sort of like working for someone. You can say, "Oh, well I don't want to set things up like that. I want to do it this way." Then your boss says "Well that's fine but if you don't do it my way I don't think i'll want to pay you anymore." Then you have a decision to make. You can quit and become an author or cave and never get the chance to get to write things while enjoying Melbournes skyline; most people just cave but a select few say "screw it, I want to look at melbourne" and that's where books come from. ;)

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 1068 days ago

too many words.

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Houston Texas, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 1068 days ago

hahahahaha Alan is funny. Acting out the script one page a day every day.....like a 5 second serial.....hmmmmmm....


That might be cool.


anyway, wanted to say that this was a great entry and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Nice Job.

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 1068 days ago

True. But that is what they make the big bucks for.
Sidenote: I just finished Machine Man in 2 days (please don't hate me I had 4 other books started and I made myself finish them first) and it was holy-roller awesome. This would make one hell of a movie.

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 1068 days ago

The "They are real." comment is due to the fact that Max doesn't write nonfiction. That brilliant cyborg is running around somewhere and had time to give Max an interview.

Damn I loved that book.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1068 days ago

Stories only work when some part of us accepts them as true. If you can't believe that people in a story are real, it's impossible to care about what they do or say or feel. But we do: we get excited or sad or anxious. So the stories must be real to us in a way that matters.

We KNOW they're not real, of course. But we feel that they are.

Steve Hurley (#5799)

Posted: 1066 days ago

Just thought you (and Jennifer) would love this news story: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16323666

Life re-creates art :-)

Happy Christmas from a cold & rainy Hamburg.

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 1064 days ago

You are of course talking about working actors. They're the 1% of the acting community (think published writers) and yes, they are often better looking than the 99% of unemployed actors too, but not always (e.g. "character actors"). Of course, good looking published writers are the 0.1%...

Neo Anderson (#5884)

Posted: 1012 days ago

Most of the stories are are based on fiction and fantasies. An actor have to play what the director or producer told him whether he is feeling that line or not. Actors cant use their suggestions. Only a few famous STARS can made some changes in script. Rest of the actors have been asked to do the same as Director wants. Poor Actors.

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 1003 days ago

Max prophecies continue to be played out in front of our eyes.

www.foxnews.com/us/2012/02/24/police-called-as-fights-break-out-before-release-new-nike-sneaker-in-florida/?test=latestnews

Max, clearly you are holding out on some info that I can actually use. Where will gold top out? Should I go long on brent crude this year or will prices stabilize? At what age can I start wearing sneakers with my trousers?

Answers, I need answers!

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