Armitage’s microexpressions

Here I want to reference something I saw on a 20/20 program many years ago — microexpressions. The program was about how scholars were filming criminals to assess their facial expressions. It came up again in my life when I was in relationship counseling with my grad school boyfriend — John Gottmann had just picked up the topic. I learned a ton from his first popular book about how to make a rocky relationship better — which fortunately or unfortunately benefited my subsequent relationship. Anyway, ever since then this topic has fascinated me. In my role as a professor I’ve often had opportunity to speculate on whether students are telling me the truth. It’s often the most baldfaced liars who look one aggressively in the face.

Anyway, one of the arguments of this blog in general is that one reason why Mr. Armitage’s acting is so convincing is that all of the microexpressions in his delivery are correct and consistent. This is a bit amazing, insofar as the psychologists would tell us that microexpressions cannot be faked. Obviously, if that were really true, acting would never be convincing. It does suggest, however, that the most successful actors occupy a realm where they really inhabit the worlds of their characters such that even their involuntary responses are controlled by their visions of their characters. We might compare this to Armitage’s comment regarding reactions to “North & South” that he is “quite a detailed actor.”

More shortly.

~ by Servetus on March 14, 2010.

7 Responses to “Armitage’s microexpressions”

  1. I did not know there was a study of such a thing. Fascinating.

    These “microexpressions” are the reason I became such a fan of James Dean when I first saw him in East of Eden. I was all of 12 (1971 LOL!) and knew nothing of the hoopla about James Dean at the time. All I knew was that his range of expressions was enormous (more so than I later saw in his other two films), and those expressions evoked something in me that I’ve seldom been subject to while watching an actor, and yes, I’ve watched Eden many times. Wish we’d had screencap ability back then.

    It wasn’t until I saw Richard Armitage in North and South that I had an almost identical experience of watching James Dean. Oh, a few actors have tapped it a bit at times. Daniel Day-Lewis of course, and a few old time actors come to mind. Jack Lemmon has hit it a few times and Jimmy Stewart tapped it once that I know of. It was in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Certainly, it’s maudlin, but that is by far Jimmy Stewart’s best movie because his facial expressions are very finely drawn and perfect.

    I’m sure there are other actors and performances that will come to mind later. Hey, I could talk about this all day, and in fact, my husband and my kids and my mother and my brother and pretty much my entire family have spent hours upon hours over the years discussing this sort of thing as well as discussing plots, filming techniques, yada, yada, yada. We love this crap. LOL!

    I have also wondered if those actors who exhibit this ability are as fascinated with this and examine it so much in others as I and my family do. I assume they do, and especially if they call themselves method actors, but I could be wrong. Can’t remember if Armitage refers to himself that way, but a lot of his description of his acting sounds like method acting. I’m gleaning most of that from the Vulpes Libris interview, which I adored. I would so love to hear him talk more about this more. At some point, someone (maybe a college professor) could interview him about this acting process? 😀


  2. bZirk, it is so great to talk to someone who is as enthused as I am and willing to talk about things analytically.

    The main thing I took away from Gottmann’s analysis of them was the issue of contempt in relationships; that is, contempt between partners is one of the most destructive modes of relating and if it is actually felt it is hard to eradicate because humans are very sensitive to subliminal signals about contempt. You have to work on not feeling contempt because if you feel it you will show it.

    I have not seen any James Dean films, but I agree with you on Day-Lewis (who apparently also does a lot of character biography, practical experience, etc.). I think some interviews have mentioned “How to Act” (in the context of Armitage saying he was tearing tickets while reading it). I don’t know much about film. I love to analyze anything and everything, but it didn’t seem worth my time to do it for tv/film until I got netflix and DVD technology, which allows me to look at things almost frame by frame. It goes by too fast for me otherwise.

    I loved the Vulpes Libris interview, and wish I could read more stuff like that from Mr. Armitage. There are a few really great interviewers regarding the TV/pop culture aspects of what he does (Ian Wylie, for example), but most of it is produced for women’s or tv magazines and thus way too focused on the boring loci of the circus, his crazed fans, how cute he is, ferreting out a few personal details, his relationship status, and not enough on the actual work that he does. I’m compiling a list of intelligent questions to ask him, but again mostly as a game, like the rest of this blog. I can’t imagine I’d ever get the chance to interview him. Well, maybe if he does do Richard III–that is at least historical and falls into my professional purview.


  3. […] that Mr. Armitage found for Guy to be broad, diverse, and telling. Here are some examples of those microexpressions in Season 1, Episode 1 “Will You Tolerate This,” in which Guy has only three major […]


  4. […] on that of the Sheriff. The cappers at RichardArmitageNet were trying to capture Armitage’s microexpressions in this scene–see images 2-7 here–and they caught at least five distinct moments […]


  5. […] that the body language was not heavily scripted in advance and that of course Mr. Armitage’s microexpressions can’t have been. I developed my exposition of that discourse earlier as an outcome of modesty […]


  6. sorry to reply on such an old post! i watched North and South for the first time this weekend. It completely passed me by at the time (as had Richard Armitage until a week or so ago) Reading old articles about women loving him for his turn as Mr Thornton because he’s handsome, etc has annoyed me somewhat. Watching the drama this weekend, i was utterly enamored by his acting skills particularly the micro expressions-he’s incredibly clever with all the subtle movements on his face . I was literally dying watching him declare his love for Margaret to his Mother and how he looked to be on the verge of crying-which made it worse when Margaret rejected him (i think it’s because having been on the side of unrequited love-i was completely able to empathise). He’s so very good at showing negative emotions much better than light hearted roles imo-though he did also perfect the look of adoration at the end!


    • wow, this post is really old — first month of the blog. LOL.

      Yeah, I think the people who thought it was his looks got it wrong. I wouldn’t say his looks were entirely irrelevant to the appeal of that role (in that acting is the successful use of the body to convince someone of something) but that wasn’t the whole thing. It was Thornton’s suppressed emotional life, I think.


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