I met Jennifer Lawrence at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 at an award gala. She was there to promote her new TV series The Bill Engvall Show. At the time Jennifer was very innocent and enthusiastic. She was all excited about having landed the series, but didn’t know anything about it, except for who would play her siblings and that the show starred Bill Engvall.
Flash forward to last month’s Oscar® ceremony and I saw a very different woman. Two Oscar® nominations and a win later, her approach to life was less innocent. After receiving her statue, Lawrence downed a quick shot and then was ushered into the pressroom for questions. She was very straightforward in her response to the press and had no reservations sharing what went through her mind when she stumbled up the steps on the way to receive her award. She simply stated, “A bad word that I can’t say. It starts with ‘F.’”
Some people who followed her career were startled by a loss of innocence. This loss is not limited to child actors who are forced to mature all too quickly, but can be seen in many who look at life honestly. The world of film is made up of such fakery that many within the industry loose track of reality. However, there is a positive aspect that comes from this sobering awareness of what is real, and that is the ability to create honesty in one’s performance.
Lawrence’s performance in Silver Lining Playbook was raw, real and inspired by a tough life surrounded by people living in denial. These types of people are easy to study from within the distorted world of the film industry. Since many churches attract hurting people, it too is a good place of observation for developing a character.
The ideal character, especially one that is worthy of winning an Oscar®, is one that can be portrayed honestly. Even the top acting schools in LA have shifted to teaching honest performance techniques. Developing this type of acting chops can only come from deep within the actor’s gut and experiences. In other words, people who have always had a golden life are not capable of giving an Oscar® winning performance.
This is not to suggest that we appreciate damaged people over healthy ones within the arena of performance, but depth of character or heart are essential to award winning performances. Even comedians draw humor from their personal pain.
There are three steps an actor can take to move her acting toward an honest award winning performance:
1. FIND A THREE DIMENSIONAL CHARACTER. The average Hollywood actor reviews, or has her team review, a couple dozen scripts every week in hopes of finding one character worth playing. All too often an actor will grab a script to keep busy or to work with someone in particular, resulting in a character that keeps her away from an award winning performance. The key is to find a character with depth, some form of paradox, and a drive that leads to a good story – All within the same script. Take out any one of these three factors and the character will be less than award winning regardless of the actor’s ability.
2. ACCEPT YOUR PERSONAL FLAW. To play a character with some sense of honesty the actor must draw from their personal flaws or troubles. The closer the character’s actions are to the actor’s flawed experience, the more honestly the actor can play the role. This requires vulnerability and a strong director to protect the actor’s performance.
3. SECRETLY USE A VULNERABLE MOMENT. The best way to use an actor’s vulnerable moment from life is by attaching it to the character, as if she had an identical secret moment. The more embarrassing or vulnerable the moment, the more easily the actor will be able to draw from her emotions for the performance. This energy is discerned by the camera and takes very little movement on the actor’s part to deliver. She can hold still, while exuding an amazing intensity of performance.
Drama becomes melodramatic when the actor isn’t able to connect her vulnerabilities to her performance. However, when the connection is made, the performance is honest, believable, and draws the audience into the character. This bond plays a major role during award season and Lawrence was able to make the connection, resulting in statues from The Academy Awards, Screen Actors Guild and The Golden Globes.
CJ, your insight into the process is as per usual, right on target! The best roles are the ones that cause some deep soul searching and strike a resonant chord, you put into words why that is so! I began to understand that in Family Law, but it really hit home in A Cry for Justice! When heart wrenching scenes were so “easy” it was just because it was so real!
Thank you! Great work! …..How about a book????
Nooooooooooooooooooooo. Please, leave it to the actors to write about acting. I greatly respect your interest, but your three-step breakdown into entering a character is not only wrong, but it is an unhealthy approach to performing. In addition, it takes away from the creative potential that an actor possesses.
Justifying a character with one’s own personal experiences will only ever allow that actor to play themselves. Stella Adler always said you need to “live with size” — you need to live UP to the character, as opposed to forcing the character to step DOWN to your level. Acting is a craft that is thousands of years old, and it is insulting of you to suggest that it is as simple as thinking about that time your dog died, so that you’ll be sad for the camera. That’s not acting. That’s just crying about your dead dog.
Besides. If every actor drew from personal experience, who on earth would be able to play, for example, Hamlet?
If this is something you’re interested in, I greatly suggest you read some books by some of the great practitioners and teachers of acting as we know it. Konstantin Stanislavsky, Stella Adler, Harold Clubman, (even Lee Strasberg, I guess), Viola Spolin, etc. There’s so much more to it.
As an actor from the UK reading your ideas about acting whilst never having been one yourself. I find it strange. It is a lot more of a simple process than you make it out to be. BC
I’m not sure why you think I have never acted. I have been in the legitimate theatre, television and movies. As for acting being more simple than I make it out to be, I’m glad you find it to be a simple craft that is easily mastered. Although, I’m not sure what posts you are referring to since I seldom write about acting.