Paradox tonight

Wonder what it’s like, to be most who you are by first building, then taking on, and eventually abandoning, the personae of other people.


Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 2.21.29 PMAnna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor and Richard Armitage as John Proctor, in The Crucible, July 26, 2013. Source on watermark.

~ by Servetus on July 31, 2014.

23 Responses to “Paradox tonight”

  1. Your post may be more of a rhetorical question, but it kind of speaks to me because it’s a question I have often pondered, in general terms, not just in relation to RA. I was talking to a couple of people who were both trained actors and eventually dropped out of the business. One of them had actually trained at the prestigious German Falkenberg Schule in Munich and left theatre because it was taking its toll on his mental sanity. Literally! The other one stated that she left because “actors are mad”. She spoke of quasi-schizophrenia. These are two extreme cases, but I have come to the conclusion that it must need a strong mental disposition to live this kind of work day in, day out. Especially if you are method-acting – living the character. Where does he stop and where does the actor begin? In the light of all that I have begun to mellow towards the quirks and eccentricities that actors sometimes display. Their job appears so mentally demanding to me, I wonder how they can sustain it over any length of time at all. Maybe with some grounding via friends and family it is possible to retain the sense of self, push it to the back when performing, and pulling it back out once the curtain has come down? (Total aside: in that context I also believe that the post-performance RA we see at the stage-door is another role and character that is being played…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Es gibt viele Berufe, die auf die eine oder andere Art eine starke Belastung für die mentale Gesundheit darstellen. Denk mal an den ganzen Medizin- und Pflegebereich oder an die Psychologie und Psychiatrie.

      Ich nehme an, dass es für das Identitäts-Problem gewisse Techniken gibt, und ich spekuliere mal, dass solche Sachen auch ein nicht ganz unwichtiger Teil der Ausbildung waren. Möglich, dass Richard etwa die Alexander-Technik gezielt nutzt, zu sich selbst zurück zu finden.

      RA scheint allerdings weniger ein Problem damit zu haben, aus einem fremden Charakter heraus zu kommen. Erinnerst du dich an den Make-A-Wish Set-Besuch von Elvenbutterfly? Sie beschrieb sehr schön, wie sie erst einen Thorin-Blick abbekam. Dann sagte jemand RA, wer sie ist, und Richard schüttelte Thorin sofort ab. (Oder er schaltete auf eine andere Rolle um? – Wer weiß.)


      • Was soll mir dein Kommentar, dass es viele Berufe gibt, bei denen es eine starke mentale Belastung gibt, sagen? Hab ich doch nicht abgestritten! Ist aber eine emotionale Belastung, keine mentale. Da besteht für mich eindeutig ein Unterschied. Mir ging es hier um die “gespaltene Persönlichkeit”.
        Was ist die Alexander-Technik?
        Stimmt, das Beispiel vom Set-Besuch des Make-a-wish-Mädchens war interessant. Dann besteht ja doch noch Hoffnung, dass der Mann nicht ganz abdreht ggg


        • Das sollte eigentlich nur sagen, dass es auch noch andere Berufe gibt, in denen Leute irgendwelche Methoden brauchen, um mit Belastungen fertig zu werden. Und dass es da eben auch erprobte Techniken gibt. – Ich nehme einfach an, dass das auch im schauspielerischen Bereich gilt. Welche “Methode” (oder was auch immer) für RA wirkungsvoll ist, hat er hoffentlich selbst rausgefunden.

          Irgendwo hat RA wohl mal was erwähnt, dass er Atemübungen nach der Alexander-Technik macht. Was man sich darunter genau vorzustellen hat, weiß ich nicht. Was ich aber weiß ist, dass Atemübungen oft einen meditativen Aspekt haben. – So oder so: Da er dabei – wenn ich mich recht entsinne – wohl eingeschlafen ist, scheint es zumindest entspannend zu sein. gg

          Lies halt einfach an dieser Stelle Yoga oder sonst was. Über all das können wir ohnehin nur spekulieren. – Ich sehe das einfach mal so: RA macht derzeit einen zufriedenen Eindruck.

          Also fühlt er sich vermutlich wohl in seiner Haut.

          PS: Das komplette Abdrehen übernehmen sowieso schon seine Fans für ihn … 😉


    • Guylty, It’s interesting to me that you mentioned “it must need a strong mental disposition to live this kind of work day in, day out.” I have been thinking along these lines myself. In the past I didn’t hold actors in very high esteem. It seemed to me they had a pretty easy job for a potential of a lot of money. Learning more about RA has been instumental in changing my mind. I think he works extremely hard both mentally and physically.

      I read an article this week about Philip Seymour Hoffman and a friend was quoted talking about Death of a Salesman “That play tortured him,” David Katz, …told the magazine. “He was miserable through that entire run. No matter what he was doing, he knew that at 8:00 that night he’d do that to himself again.”

      The combination of things that an actor has to do from auditioning, selling themselves, looking for and reading scripts, training, researching, rehearsing, acting, taking on another persona, promoting, doing interviews, signing autographs, taking photos, performing at photo shoots, red carpet events, etc. really take an exceptional person.

      You may all have thought of this before but for some reason it has really hit me recently. Perhaps it’s partly because we are being inundated with media from several of RA’s projects all at once.


      • Tbh, I started thinking about it and feeling a bit more respect for actors when I gave the whole thing a little shot a few years back. Mind you, I was only an extra, and I literally only had two lines in two separate scenes. Then I acted in a video of an artist friend of mine where I didn’t have to learn the lines off by heart but just read them from the script (it was meant to look like a rehearsal). About 25 lines in the conversation between me and one other actor. I was astounded how much mental energy it took, how much I had to concentrate – on my own lines, the prompts, the other actor, the director, the cameraman, the acting, staying in the right spot, not walking out of frame, using the right voice… Ok, I am obviously not a pro. But it gave me a completely different appreciation of the job of an actor. It’s definitely not just “saying a few lines”. It’s multitasking of the highest order (from my POV). And this is not even taking into account approaches such as method-acting, particular work ethics, research or off-stage responsibilities as a more or less well-known star. Honestly, I may be prepared to admire RA at any time, but I do think that acting is more difficult than a lot of people give it credit for. And yes, the recent flood of info has put that into context much more for us.


        • Wow! I didn’t even get into the memorizing lines, the prompts to be learned, staying on your mark, being aware of the camera, using the right voice, etc. I think only someone who has tried acting would really have a clue (like you.) I did the news on closed circuit TV (my HS) but I sat in a chair and read off a prompt. Much, much easier!

          It still impresses me how kind he manages to be to his fans in spite of all the effort he must put in.


    • I had come to that conclusion too, Guylty, re: his stage door being a persona or role that he consciously puts on or plays. We’ve touched on the same with “Photoshoot RA”…..

      To Servetus’ point, I think RA (and other actors) have discussed finding it satisfying in a role to express (or find) something that is deep inside, but not normally part of their “daily self”. I’m sure that can be ennobling, in the case of an admirable or heroic character (even if imperfect, i.e. Thorin or Proctor). It could be cathartic with some “baddies”, such as the beautiful slimeball Mulligan, or of course Guy 🙂

      But to what Guylty and Tree both mentioned too – a certain quasi-schizophrenia involved, and then as great an actor as PSH being psychologically burdened by a role….I contemplated this a good deal when Heath Ledger died, as far as the struggle he apparently had while playing the Joker. I know substance issues played in heavily with the tragic loss of both actors, and it would be easy to leave it at that. But It does seem to me to be possible in this psychological (perhaps even psychic?) process of acting to experience a breaking point between your empathy and your identity, not just contemplate it.


    • Sorry this is so long… but to argue with myself (which is common 🙂 – I wonder how much acting is really an “empathetic” process (climbing inside the character’s emotions so that you behave like them)- or rather physical? Or, as I would think of it, does an actor “feel” a character in order to act like them, or “act” as they would or do, and then understand more of how they feel or who they are? Or obviously, some of both is another option……
      I’ve obviously not studied acting, and Richard seems to espouse physical theater as his interest / preference, but I too wonder how this works out esp. in relation to “real life” and your own identity.


    • Meine Rede: Er spielt seine allabendliche Rolle bis zu dem Moment, in dem er in der Tube verschwindet. Hätte ihn Herba bloß mal ausgebremst…… 😀
      Es braucht schon eine ganz besondere menschliche Disposition, um das mental zu wuppen. Und ein wenig Wahnsinn ist wohl unabdingbar.


    • The whole persona of the selfie-shooting Richard was something I was trying to get at with the fan selfie thing. Agree.

      The question wasn’t rhetorical — just that I haven’t figured out how to write about what I’ve been thinking lately. The whole question of the “real” self has seemed troubled to me for a long time, and I’m looking at it more clsoely now. Maybe I would be happier if I started thinking more comfortable in terms of inhabitable selves.


  2. I guess that a bad actor is he or she who gets rid of the character as soon as the curtain falls or the director says “cut”.
    Regarding what guilty says, given that unless prove on the contrary (but, who knows 😉 ) RA is human, I think that his “performance” continues also in the stage door, as it is not humanly possible not to feel tired or exhausted, willing to be everywhere but there after such a demanding play, and, nevertheless we see how patient, sweet and kind is with everyone.


  3. I guess I’m like a dog with a bone on this, shut me down if I’m just annoying, Serv….but have you (or anyone else) ever wondered whether an actor’s skill to express the emotions of a character makes it easier (or harder) to express their own? I have, and the more I think about it the more unclear the answer seems…. just as a mirror truly is not the same as a window.


    • It’s been interesting that Armitage has said repeatedly, he’s much less interesting than any of his characters. It may be the case that he fills a certain perceived lack in himself by inhabiting other people whom he invents.


      • I remember in particular the interview with the nice guy from – is it heyuguys? – who asked him if his life was made a movie, would he want any part of it changed…. and Richard really did not seem to be yanking our chain in saying he just couldn’t imagine anything more boring…. and hopefully someone better looking and more heroic to play himself.

        (I suppose it’s understandable in the sense that he’s only 42, a bit young to consider chronicling our life, normally. But the attitude that came through is what you’re alluding to, I think. Undoubtedly, we’ll never know…. But it seems to me worth knowing, re: the psyche of acting.)


        • Part of it is undoubtedly deflection — move on, folks, nothing to see here! — but he’s said it often enough that it feels like there could be a kernel of truth there. I mean, I’m also only 45, but there have been a few phases of my life that I think would make good films 🙂


  4. [Thanks for the comment, and welcome. V.L., I edited this because I’m fairly sure you didn’t want the informative things that you wrote to get lost under the tone with which it struck me when I read it last night and again this morning. No one commenting here was judging you, actors in general, or Armitage in particular. In a first post anywhere, but especially in a community like ours, the assumption of good will and friendliness is always appreciated!]

    [Speaking from the perspective of an experienced professional actor],

    Many brilliant actors can step away from a role as soon as the curtain falls or the director says cut. Many brilliant actors can’t. There are no rules for this. Every actor has her/his own process and we respect one another for this unless someone is being deeply selfish (for example, demanding that a scene partner play her/his role a certain way so that the selfish actor can react in a preconceived manner for her/his own egotistical satisfaction). Most actors I’ve worked with (hundreds) are not selfish when acting. This is how two actors with wildly different approaches can work well together (like RA & McTavish).

    If acting were easy [we] would never see bad acting […]. The reason great actors stand out is that it is not so easy. […] I’m very glad to know that […] RA fans [understand] that acting and pursuing an acting career both take serious skills. […]

    “Actor” does not equal “movie and/or tv star.” The vast majority of pro (trained, union, pursuing it fiercely) actors are a) not stars, b) not acting for pay most weeks out of the year (so they have at least one day job if they’re in the USA b/c unemployment doesn’t last long enough or pay enough to survive in the big cities), and c) certainly not giving interviews and walking red carpets. One of the reasons I respect Mr. Armitage is that he seems to remember this. I think he remembers the unemployment and fear and sadness and doubt. He was a known quantity in the UK & Europe and still thought he might get fired from THE HOBBIT b/c he might have been. Any cast member might have been fired. […]

    As for the devastating losses of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, and now Robin Williams: they don’t represent actors at large, obviously. The vast majority of us don’t end it all, and the vast majority of us have played psychologically taxing roles […].

    But most actors do eventually stop pursuing their acting careers, b/c they want to find another source of creative fulfillment that actually fills their stomachs OR takes less time/energy/thick skin so that they can take a decent 9-to-5 to pay the bills. […] Meanwhile, another crop of I-swear-I’m-gonna-make-it young actors replaces them every day. Mr. Armitage knows this, I’m fairly sure. […]


    • V.L., thank you for sharing your perpective as a professional actor. I find it fascinating and appreciate that you took the time to share it with us.


  5. […] about arrival per se or knowing specifically who I am, but about arriving somewhere for now, about inhabiting consecutive personae that work, not about being one thing for myself, but about being many things for many people. Not about […]


  6. […] remark intrigued me, because it pointed to something that I wondered frequently this summer while watching the flood of reactions to The Crucible, my own among them, and then after seeing the play myself: is part of the attraction of being an […]


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