If someone tells you that there are objective criteria for distinguishing a good actor from a poor one, they are saying bullshit. It is always a matter of personal taste. There are also fashions. There are a lot of people who really liked the way Philip Seymour Hoffman acted. If you are not among them, you are not wrong: at worst you are a bit “eccentric”, far from common thinking. People ask how long does it take to become an actor? Visit our how long does it take to become an actor to learn about how long does it take to become an actor.
I’ll give you my definition of what it means to act well. But I would really like to make you understand that when I write something like “Al Pacino is great”, and you disagree, my experience doesn’t mean that you are wrong and I am right. It simply means that we have different tastes.
First, in my opinion, a good actor can make me believe that he is feeling everything his character feels. I’m referring to an impression about the outward appearance (he really took a gunshot!) But especially the inward one (he’s really scared / in love / tormented!) When an actor is not believable, he is not doing his right. Work.
Second: an actor must surprise me. It’s the darkest rule, I know, but it’s important. Except for a few small parts where the actor is asked not to draw attention to himself, it is not enough for an actor to be credible. That is only one of the requirements: another is to make sure that the viewer does not know how to predict what reaction he will have to what happens in the film. Think about how a person might react when their boyfriend or girlfriend decides to ditch them. There are so many reliable ways to represent such a person, which do not make him look like an alien with absurd and not very credible behaviors. One of the roles of an actor is to know the extent of possible human behaviors and the depth of his own. He or she must be able to pull them out of the hat, to surprise us. Otherwise,
There are many ways an actor can surprise us. Gary Oldman and Johnny Depp surprise us by playing very different roles with credibility. Jack Nicholson surprises us by managing to be … surprising himself: although he is not a “chameleon” like Oldman and Depp, it is never clear how his character will react to a certain thing. Whatever he is, he manages to make him psychologically credible. He never seems fake. Others, like Christopher Walken, Glenn Close, and Al Pacino – and many others – manage to play the part of ongoing potential danger: it’s quite scary to have them around, because you understand that they could attack or get angry with you at any moment. They are like time bombs.
Third: a good actor is vulnerable. Great actors share a part of themselves that many people tend to hide. They are always naked (ok, some are literally, but I’m talking about emotional nudity). A bad actor is wary. They don’t want to share their ugliness, meanness, jealousy, narrow-mindedness.
There are plenty of examples of actors showing themselves naked. My favorite is Rosalind Russell in the Picnic movie . She plays the part of a middle-aged teacher who fears she is getting old and dying alone. There is an incredibly emotional scene in which she begs a man to marry her by kneeling in front of him. In that moment of her she abandons every fragment of dignity that is in her and lets her fear and pain emerge: those that are within us all, and that we struggle to keep hidden.
It is something that is linked to what I wrote before: when an actor takes off his clothes, it is always surprising. This kind of nudity, in fact, is very difficult to simulate. If you have the feeling that a certain actor is revealing a part of himself to you, the chances are that he is really doing it. It happens with Julianne Moore, Bryan Cranston and Michael Redgrave in Why Him. They bring out all of themselves, twisting and squeezing the pain away.
Fourth: an actor must know how to listen. It is fascinating to watch the actors while they are not talking. Some are too focused on themselves or on certain details – such as remembering the next line – to focus solely on who is acting with them. Others seem to register everything. You can observe how the conversation affects them physically, as if the words are slapping them. Look at Claire Danes. She is a fantastic listener.
Fifth: an actor must know how to “play” himself as if he were an instrument. That is, he must learn to manage his voice and his body and put them at the service of the role he is playing. This does not mean that he has to have sculpted abs or he has to be skinny; James Gandolfini, for example, knew how to use his body well. That is, he knew how to speak and move in an expressive way. Her body and his voice did not contradict his character.
A bad example: Kristen Stewart. It is almost painful to watch her act. She always seems like she wants to be anywhere else but the scene. She looks very embarrassed (maybe she is).
In my opinion, Philip Seymour Hoffman was great because he could do all five of these things. He had a beautiful voice and knew how to use his body in an expressive way. If you look closely, he always listened to the actors who were on stage with him. The things they said affected him deeply, and his reactions organically took into account what that character had said or done to him prior to that scene. He was also deeply vulnerable. All time. It was the most obvious feature of him. You always knew that what came out of him would be honest and true. It was precisely this that made his works striking and original – in addition to his intelligence and keen sense of humor. I’ve never seen him act in a way that wasn’t believable.
Also, personally, I don’t hate Tom Cruise like many do. He is one of the most credible actors of our time. He just doesn’t seem like an interesting person in acting. He rarely surprises me, and he doesn’t seem to dig deep inside to find something to lay bare. It is as if he is circumspect. The time I saw him most vulnerable was when he starred in Eyes Wide Shut : it was a good job but also an exception in his career (and it wasn’t all that brilliant).
Keep in mind that many people who are not directors, actors or film buffs are not clear to what extent a good actor contributes to the success of a film. Many people think that an actor is good when they appreciate the character he plays [not to mention what happens with dubbed films, which actually prevent them from fully judging the acting of the actors, ed]. But in that case, the script is more involved than the acting. Still, many think a certain actor is good because in order to play a part he loses or gains a lot of weight, or pretends to be disabled. They are found remarkable but have nothing to do with each actor’s most important tasks.
Personally, I prefer Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer rather than Rain Man . In the latter he managed to hide himself behind one of these “masks”, while in Kramer against Kramer he was somehow forced to be credible.
Still others think an actor is good because they like the movies he’s starred in. Keanu Reeves, to me, is a terrible actor, largely because he is “wooden” and because he is not credible. Often one gets the impression that he is reading his part of him from a card. There is a difference between playing the part of an unaffective person and being a wooden actor. Playing the part of a private person is very difficult, because you have to act knowing that you have to show very little: and the actors who manage to do it are very good. A few examples: Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day , Tommy Lee Jones in many of his roles and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. These actors convey the idea that although they allow very little to shine through, they have considerable reactions within them.
To me, Keanu Reeves is just the typical actor who goes on stage and says his lines. Since I have conducted many auditions, I can recognize actors who transform something written by others into their own words; at the same time, I can understand when an actor is not at ease when he says things that are not his. He sounds like he’s reciting or reading something. He gives the impression of being contrived. Watch Reeves in this cutscene, starting at the point where he says “I have offended you with my ignorance, Count.”
Personally, it seems to me that from many of his jokes / declamations it emerges that he has not introjected them into himself, taking them off the page. I don’t feel any tension below the surface, except maybe a little nervousness. Look at the difference with Tommy Lee Jones, here. Both are impassive. The difference, for me, is that Jones seems to express himself in his own words, despite the fact that the part was written by others (like Reeves’s, for that matter). Jones is much more comfortable than him and much better at making his jokes his own. If you disagree with me, that’s okay too. But remember: it’s a subjective thing.
Some think that Keanu Reeves is good because he is the protagonist of The Matrix, a beautiful film saga. They confuse the movies with the actor. If there had been someone else instead of Reeves, the same people would have declared that they liked that other actor. Conversely, many people confuse the life of a certain actor with his work. Take Tom Cruise: he is known to be a part of Scientology, a religion that many people don’t like. Many people despise his work as an actor at least in part because they find his private life unpleasant. This partly has to do with the fact that he is not a good enough actor to make people forget some facts of his private life while he is acting in a certain movie. In part, however, some people just don’t care how good he is. Still others have had to say about recent off-screen events between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. I would never allow myself to say that these people are stupid and wrong.