Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Being vulnerable is the key quality of great actors onscreen.

It means the person/character is open - emotionally and psychologically; letting us in on the feelings, thoughts and reactions transpiring inside.

Auditions are frequently held in a way that lets us see just how much the actor will communicate with us - let us know what's going on in the character's heart, mind and soul.

Even tough guys - perhaps *especially* tough guys onscreen have that particular quality. Despite their actions of bravado, we see how they are suffering, how they are plotting, how they are frightened or determined.

Think of Harrison Ford in any Indiana Jones adventure or "crusade." We know how he's feeling and what he's thinking every nanosecond he's onscreen! The man is *terrified* of snakes!

Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" let us see from the getgo that his character John McLane is all about loving his wife and wanting to reunite with his family.

Everything else in the film is just a series of obstacles his character has to deal with to assure the safety of the woman he loves so he can get back together with her ... somehow ... despite his obstinance and her determination to have a career.

These qualities of humanity - of personal vulnerability - in the face of having to put his life on the line every moment, are what endear the character to us.

Yep, letting people see our vulnerability - what's going on inside - can make others think of us as downright loveable in healthy relationships. And the relationship between the protagonist ("good guy/gal") and audience member is normally perceived to be safe.

If he had been a completely fearless, feeling-less cop? Who, frankly, would give a damn about John McClane? Not me. Most probably, not you either.

When we open ourselves emotionally, letting others know how we feel, it's a risk. The courageous believe we can deal with whatever comes with the risk of laying it all on the line.

Cowards, because they act from a base of fear, won't let us in so we never know what they're thinking or feeling and in the end we neither trust nor care about them.

We wonder what they're hiding, what they're really up to because we don't see them as telling us the truth about who they are, what they want from us or what their real goals are. We therefore experience them as only two-dimensional because they lack that third, emotional dimension .

It's fine to be a real life prisoner of war and be two-dimensional to protect yourself; onscreen, we need to see the third dimension as you portray that prisoner of war or we won't care about your character.

The courageous also generally fight for a cause greater than themselves - in John's case, he cares deeply about protecting his wife and therefore his family and all innocent people caught in this quagmire. Indiana Jones' quests are for the good of humankind. Wonder Woman saves the world.

Bad guys? They care about money or the zap machine or protecting their power or maintaining their position or "saving face" or they want to hurt innocent people or to do something that is, in the end, a most unworthy cause. So when they're popped off? We say OK! Awright! Way to go, John! Hurrah, Indiana! Right on, Wonder Woman!

Actors who play bad guys must also show their own vulnerability - why they care so much about the money or cause that is inhumane they are willing to put their own lives on the line.

The reason they care can make sense - say, a family member was killed by people perceived to be the "good guys." But the actions they take to "remedy" the perceived injustice never justify their brutal actions.

So if you're auditioning, remember: we need to see vulnerable. What your character is thinking and feeling. Or, if you're auditioning for a commercial? We need to see what you personally are thinking and feeling.

Again, the state of being vulnerable means you are open - tender - and that's a risk.

The question to ask yourself as the actor: is the risk worth it? In this case, getting the part.

Now put yourself in the character's position: the character has no idea s/he is at an audition and is simply reacting to what's going on in the scene, showing a vulnerability that is literally taken for granted.

Get it? Either you're in the scene, in character, or you're not.

When you're vulnerable? You're the character, in the scene. That usually means a callback.

Not vulnerable? You're thinking about yourself and what you're doing at an audition. Next!


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