Armitage charming

If you’re Richard Armitage — not only lanky, large, and powerful (in your own words, “just a gangly bloke”) but with clear kinetic energy in your limbs and performing physically since your earliest childhood — how do you communicate other moods as an actor? Even if you’re graceful, how do you make your burgeoning physicality, and the tendency to place movement and the emotions of powerful movement a central axis of your acting, work for you in dramatic settings where that’s not exactly what’s expected? How does such a big actor come to be appreciated for his gentleness?

***

***

One way: use your physicality counterintuitively, against your own strengths, undermining your own status, in combination with your eye movements. Rather than steering the scene with your body, let your eyes move your body through the scene.

Who can forget it — the moment in episode 1 of The Impressionists where Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux have their first longer conversation?

This is a scene in which, throughout, Richard Armitage undermines his superior stature to Camille to show the level of what is supposed to be both an artistic, and on some level, a romantic, encounter stemming from a visual infatuation or fixation on the artist’s part. It’s a curious effect of the scene that we’re never sure about his flirtation — is it a flirtation with Camille, or an entrancement in the sight of her? Later in the series, of course, we learn that the attachment is very much to the visual reaction she engenders in him and somewhat or much less to her own person. This scene sets up that trajectory for the relationship quite effectively as well.

Armitage again shows himself a master of status games; he makes Monet is the artist petitioning his muse to pose for him, and in order to accomplish this effect, he constantly undermines his height. At 0:13, for instance, we see Monet looking down, his body in a subdued physical position, then preparing himself by taking and letting out a rapid, deep breath, and raising eyebrows in hope against disbelief.

As Monet’s conversation with Camille takes shape, we see him at 0:17 looking down, again, and then tossing off a slight headshake, as if clearing his mind of disbelief. He crosses the entire length of the shot with purpose, but still not really looking at Camille — even though we assume that’s all he wants to do, because he looks away so determinedly, signaling his desire with the contrary performance — until he’s all the way across the room, looking at her only briefly at 0:20 before turning away again.

The leaning posture as a means of undermining Monet’s status (it also makes the set look very cramped, like an attic) helps Armitage out — as at 0:27, when Monet responds to Camille’s suggestion that he may be dreaming. But key to Armitage’s work in this scene is the subtle insert of the sudden, furtive glance. (If you think you’re seeing a less confident, exuberant variation on Harry Kennedy here, you’re not wrong, I think.) After 0:27, Monet’s glance now appears to escape his own control, as at first he’s transfixed, until he tears his eyes from her, but then they drag him back at 0:30, though it’s a struggle for him to look above the axis of his own eyebrows.

vlcsnap-2013-09-19-20h55m38s27vlcsnap-2013-09-19-21h12m44s72[My caps throughout, incidentally.]

At this point, Armitage begins slowly but surely to shift the energy of the scene, because he starts very gradually to subordinate his body and physicality to the strength of his eyes, pulling his entire body around the axis created by the still, magnetic connection of his eyes to Camille’s as he moves back across the room.

Monet’s physical posture and bowed head, drawn ostensibly from the rush he seems to feel to get the colors together and start work as soon as possible, lend the viewer a sense that Monet’s body is starting slowly to move from under out of his control, again with the head down position. He concedes status again at 0:39, with the admission that the studio is his friend’s, a line delivered with his head moving away from Camille.  But the spark of flirtation reappears at 0:41, as if he’s fighting with his own feelings of desire and worth, noting that his friend lets him borrow the studio with an arched eyebrow, a slightly bitten jaw, backing away from the sparks of energy he’s shown at 0:45. Again Monet displays, most briefly, the gleeful, flirtatious smile — but his physical energy undercut, punctuated, interrupted, by the way his head looks away at 0:49.

There’s also one of those moments where I wonder if art is imitating life, if the Monet who tells Camille that he’s not a successful painter yet draws on the Armitage who, a few years earlier, was not a successful actor — yet.

vlcsnap-2013-09-19-21h19m31s60

Finally, at 0:59, we begin see the look that says it all, the glance that changes the scene, overmans Monet’s physicality and shows us how Armitage has subordinated all of his physical power to a gesture he’s making with his eyes and his forehead. If this were a musical piece, it would be the repetition of the earlier phrase he plays after 0:30. This time rather than swinging his body around his eyes, instead Monet’s eyes and the visual hunger with which he looks at Camille and her hand against the dress draw his body across the room. Interestingly, this is the first point in the scene at which Armitage gets close to playing at his actual height, as if the draw of the vision is finally enough to make Monet, the artist, as big as Monet, the man. We see the gentleness of his hand at 1:11, as he moves Camille’s hand over the back of the dress.

vlcsnap-2013-09-19-21h26m25s107

Because Monet’s produced this transfixed, almost obsessive focus on the view of Camille in the dress, and Armitage has used it carry Monet across the room in the preceding seconds, we recognize as viewers that the encouraging, flirtatious glance on Monet’s face at 1:12, extended as he descends to rearrange the skirt, unites the personal and the visual desire of the artist. Monet draws us into the picture he sees with his own excitement.

As an actor, Armitage has played two long phrases at this point, at 0:30 and 0:59, in each case showing us a more intense progression of the ways that Monet’s eyes control his body. Those two movements, long strokes of vision, set us up for the climax of the scene, in which we see just exactly how much Monet’s entire personality has become his eyes: at 1:22 — when his eyes are now steering him so completely he creates the impression he’s forgotten his body — and, overbalanced by his vision, Monet stumbles backwards into into the easel. The climax is thus also, as much at Armitage draws us in its direction, the ultimate act of physical self-undermining.

The charm of this equally flirtatious, equally magnetic scene is created not by an actor who seeks to be gentle — but rather by an actor who realizes that the strength of the artist, the force behind which the actor puts his body — actually lies in the artist’s eyes and gradually, but with increasing intensity, subordinates the action of his body to that impulse.

~ by Servetus on September 20, 2013.

28 Responses to “Armitage charming”

  1. I’m not at all sure we want the general male population to have this information. Mr. Armitage does quite enough damage with it just on his own.
    You sure there isn’t some kind of gender filter you can put on your blog, just for safety’s sake?

    Like

    • I don’t think the average man is able to capitalize on much of what he’s been told, so I am not too too worried 🙂

      Like

  2. Great post dear Servetus. I deeply love The Impressionists, I was watching it again last week and thinking again about RA’s skills in acting there. Why is it never mentioned anywhere? I understand it’s a bit more serious topic than RH or Spooks, less material for fangirling, but it’s so splendid with its colors, scenes, costumes and great acting by everyone there! It always moves me to tears while watching Monet trying to capture light in his pictures and then to see the actual painting as we know it. Really fantastic mini series. I highly advice everyone to watch it 🙂

    Like

    • I think it’s the wig that puts people off.

      Like

      • Well… I’d think we should be able to go beyond the silly wig (not their fault if Monet had those hair) 😛
        I find the miniseries beautiful and moving. RA and Julian Glover are passionate and perfect as Monet, and the rest of the cast is brilliant.

        Like

  3. Help Needed: Is anyone else finding that the video is marked “private?” Is there something else I need to do? Thanks

    Like

    • It’s showing private for me also 😦 I don’t know enough about computers to know if I should change settings or something.

      Like

    • sorry. I had a hard time uploading last night and maybe something got toggled.

      Like

      • It worked well enough now to get me watching the whole of “The Impressionists” again.

        Like

        • serious charm there. 🙂

          Like

          • Funny, I had a difficult time watching him in it the first time- I thought he looked a little silly – well the hat had something to do with it. It’s not happening now.
            He laughs in this more than in any other work of his that I can think of,so I’m seeing more of the charming interview subject.
            I notice the same lack of graceful movement in this as in Robin Hood and sometimes MI5. I think it was intended in Sparkhouse. Thornton didn;t move around too much. So I wonder about whether he just needed more practice. For someone with dance training, I find this odd.
            Well, I am OT for this post.

            Like

  4. I have this on DVD but I haven’t gotten around to watching it. I see that I’ve made a mistake.

    Like

  5. The Impressionists are a real treat, and not just for RA. Good script, great cast, visually stunning. And then there’s RA, of course. He does a great job of not using his body, like he underused his face for John Standring. And we know how powerful they can be.

    Like

    • I’m ambivalent about the production as a whole, not least b/c I think the character of Monet is scripted in historically inaccurate terms, but I agree that it’s worth watching and that the cast is excellent.

      Like

      • It’s worth watching if for nothing else, then because it’s visually stunning. And despite inaccuracies, it’s a good introduction to the art- makes one want to see more of these artists’ work, and in person.

        Like

        • yeah, I was already not a fan of Impressionism and this film did nothing to change that. (It was on my doctoral exams, during which I developed a strong dislike of a lot of these works. I know that’s not a popular opinion so I tend to suppress it.) Re my feelings about the way this series writes Monet, I wrote a long time ago so I won’t repeat myself. Again I’m in a tiny minority there.

          Like

          • And are people always trying to talk you out of your unpopular opinion? I used to think LOL meant Lots of Luck. So, LOL , the old definition.

            Like

            • yes, because OMG THE WATERLILIES WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM SERVETUS????!??

              Like

              • Tastes are sacred. I mean, if you don’t like Impressionism you don’t like it, period. I love it very much and Monet in particular. But I think nothing like paintings is such an intimate subjective issue. I quite hate things critics and people love… so what? It’s a skin thing. I can realize and even affirm that a painter is a great artist with exceptional skills and still don’t like his works. I’m not expert at all. My brain elaborates and tells me yes/no. 😀

                Like

                • For whatever reason, with a few exceptions, I stop finding western art especially moving around 1650. Of course, I have to mention it all the time at work, so I’ve studied it, I know why it’s significant, why people liked (or didn’t like) it at the time and so on … but yeah. De gustibus non est disputandum.

                  Like

  6. Ahhh… I love your describtions.. *sigh*…and this is only one minute and thirty seconds of the Armitage Acting.

    Like

  7. I have yet to watch this series….I’m so intrigued….he’s a graceful artist – brilliant!

    Like

  8. Thanks Serv for this description of Richard Armitage’s physically reduced acting and for again making me aware of the tiniest gestures and the miens he applied to portray Monet so charmingly. I love RA’s accurate and detailed acting in „The Impressionists“. His breathtaking blue (!) eyes, his laughter, his almost palpable inner incandescence, the irresistible enthusiasm, and his brimming over verve has literally blown me away when I watched the series for the first time. Mmmh, the wig could be a spoilsport……. 😀
    ….yes, yes, yes he is a very graceful artist!!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: