I recently arrived on a set and was immediately informed by the producer that the lead actor was not going to speak to me, as part of his “process.” Upon hearing this, I actually felt a slight thrill. It felt simultaneously old-fashioned and completely foreign, as if it was in the spirit of Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis and old Hollywood grand dames.
Needless to say, I was also intrigued about how the entirety of the shoot would unfold with this dynamic firmly established within the first five minutes of walking on set. I realized I’d never thought to experiment with any sort of method of my own with other actors. It’s never crossed my mind to request things of this nature, so I admired the self-assuredness of my new scene partner’s choice.
When we finally met, it was during the blocking of the first scene. I don’t think we said hello to one another; I wasn’t sure if it was OK to, and he didn’t offer it up. We ran through the scenes just fine. Because it was the scene in which our characters meet for the first time, it was particularly interesting to go through it with this imposed dynamic between us. In between scenes, my fellow actor hammed it up with the crew and all in all was a very funny person, but I slowly felt like I was becoming invisible. It became more disorienting as I realized the request extended only to me and not to the rest of the cast and crew.
I grew slightly paranoid. Had I misheard the producer? Did this actor think I was a total jerk for ignoring him between takes? I understood that our characters were supposed to be strangers at first, and that the divide may have helped with a certain awkwardness within the scene. But I then started to think about what happens when one person’s “process” may actually be harming another’s “process.” You come to a sort of unspoken impasse.
In general, I have an all-hands-on-deck approach to acting. I want to genuinely know my fellow actors both on and off set, and I enjoy that fluidity. I believe in the spirit of collaboration and I value the time spent fostering a connection with a partner in a scene as much as the time spent talking about the inner workings of their daily life at a craft services table. I certainly don’t need to be best friends with everyone I encounter, but having that ease with my co-workers is something I realized I needed as much as the actor with whom I was working did not. What to do?
I hid in my dressing room and tried to stay out of the way. It seemed like the easiest solution. But if given the chance to do it all over again, I think I would’ve approached the set differently. In general, it’s perfectly OK to request things of your scene partners if it’s going to help you give a more compelling performance; you just have to make sure you tell them yourself. Whatever method works best for you is OK, but it creates a more balanced set if you personally inform your fellow co-workers. Like an “It’s not you, it’s me” moment to clear the air so everyone can work at the top of their game.
I think I was instantly intimidated by the third-party delivery; had the actor told me directly, I would’ve taken a moment to acknowledge the fact that I’d heard his request and I was cool with it. But at the end of the day, the experience reminded me to be mindful about processes—including my own.