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The Elephant to Hollywood

January 15, 2013

So I just finished Michael Caine’s second book, The Elephant to Hollywood, and while I do recommend it, I don’t recommend reading his two books back to back.  He wrote them 18 years apart, so he ended up telling a lot of the same stories and in some cases, they were verbatim from the first book.  Either Sir Michael Caine has an incredibly detailed memory, or he is very good at copy/paste.

That said, here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from this book.

                “When you act, you project a part in public and you keep your real self behind those curtains.”

This is a sort of “anti-method” statement, although I don’t believe Sir Michael is necessarily against method acting (after three movies with Christian Bale, who can tell?).  But I think this is an interesting approach.  Many actors and teachers argue that you have to bare yourself on stage, but what if that isn’t the case?  What if in order to portray a character, you bury yourself so deep within that you’re only option is to show that character’s life?

                “The art of cinema acting is the exact opposite of stage acting.  In the theater you have to be as big and broad and loud as possible, even in the quiet scenes, which is a trick that only the best actors can pull off.  Film acting, on the other hand, is about standing sic feet from a camera in the blazing light and not letting the tiniest bit of acting show.”

He says something similar in his first book and it still holds true.  The next paragraph just lists off a bunch of tips and tools of the trade he’s learned.  Here they are in bullet point form:

  • In a close-up, choose just one eye of the actor you’re spaying opposite, don’t skip between eyes of you will just look shifty
  • Choose the eye that brings your face closest to he camera
  • Don’t blink if you are playing a strong or menacing character (and remember your eyedrops!)
  • If you are playing a weak or ineffectual character, blink as much as you like
  • If you have to pause after another actor’s line, always start your line and then pause – and you can hold that pause as long as you like
  • Last of all – full frontal nudity: don’t do it.  Acting is all about control and the minute you are naked, you have lost control of what the audience is looking at.

Great technical tips!  Although I do take some issue with the last one….sometimes full frontal is an artistic choice with merit.  That said, I wouldn’t do it unless I felt it was vital to the character or plot development.

                “It’s a lesson in life – don’t look back, you’ll trip over.”

Forward momentum is key.  True, it is good to be able to look back at previous performances/auditions/whatever to see what worked and what didn’t and where you can improve.  But you can’t dwell on it, especially not mistakes.  You learn the lesson, then move on, always working toward the next moment.

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