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.)