Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be auditioning a number of actors and actresses for our forthcoming short film, ‘Runner.’ Whenever I get to this stage in the pre-production process, I always think about what makes an actor/actress suitable for any role, and what I look for when I’m casting someone.
Obviously, that will change depending on the role, but ultimately it comes down to whether or not they can truly ‘become’ the character. This is one of the most important things I’ve learnt since I began my career in filmmaking: there is a big difference between an actor/actress just playing the part (where you can tell it’s still them), and an actor/actress becoming the character, and really getting inside their head.
In my opinion, acting isn’t just about remembering lines. It should be about taking on a character and fleshing him/her out, to the point where the audience can accept that it’s no longer that A-list megastar they’re watching. If merely delivering lines can be compared to putting on a coat, then ‘becoming’ a character is disappearing inside that coat.
One recent example from traditionally blockbuster territory would be the late Heath Ledger, playing the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Proving the initial doubters wrong, Ledger fully embraced the role, to the extent that it seemed as if the Clown Prince of Crime had walked straight off the page and on to the screen.
There are many more examples. The work of famous method actors like Robert De Niro and Daniel Day Lewis. Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Walk The Line.’ Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’. Rooney Mara in the remake of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’
As a budding filmmaker, I look for collaborators both in front of and behind the camera. The performances that I mentioned above surely only came about through preparation. To that end, things like read-throughs are a good way for your cast to delve into their roles alongside one another.
However, it’s more than just the intellectual, and it’s certainly more than just remembering and then delivering lines. It’s about discovering the character, and connecting with him or her on an emotional level.
Above all, I want a cast who are interested in both the story we’re telling and the characters involved. Writers and directors should have motivations for making their films, and actors and actresses should also have reasons for appearing in those films.
Now I understand that people take on acting jobs just to pay the bills. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. What I’m saying is there’s a big difference between an actor/actress just phoning it in, one eye on the pay check, or appearing in something that they don’t really want to do, and someone playing a part they love, in a film in which they really believe.
My role as the director is to assemble a cast that will be interested in the story that we’re telling, as that will engage our audiences. That means guiding them through their performance, so it matches up with my vision of the character, whilst also giving them the freedom to feel their way into the part, coming up with ideas of their own along the way.
Yes, it’s a complex process, and often the approach varies with the style and personality of the directors and actors involved. However, when it’s done correctly, the results are more than worth it.