Previously on the Anonymous Actress Blog.... If you're just joining us, start here.
And now for the (admittedly delayed) conclusion...
So what do you do when you're staring at a call sheet with your name next to a character you're totally clueless on how to play? You sack up, trust your ability as an artist and just go for it.
Two weeks before my first day on set I instilled some rules on myself, a little character prep discipline. I wasn't allowed to trash talk my character (we'll call her "B") or verbalize any sort of judgment when describing my upcoming project. More importantly, should those thoughts even enter my brain, I would immediately dismiss them. I also would not allow myself to judge (i.e. question and resist) anything in the script. Instead of complaining about how stupid my dialog sounded or unrealistically silly my actions were, I had to take them exactly as written and accept them as real. Any fraction of a second I felt myself resist one of the above, I said out loud, "No Anony, you are B and you do say this." Once I learned to let go of judging a particular line or scene action, I surprised myself with totally legitimate ways to justify every last one of them.
Instead of thinking of B as "ditzy", "dumb" or "idiotic", I started to see the behavior as childlike and playful. I was also asked to speak with an accent for the character, so what used to be "stupid questions" and "dumb comments" became understandable mistakes from language and cultural barriers. Whhhaaattt??? My creative mind exploded. I could totally get behind that! I would be a bona-fide idiot if dropped in a foreign city across the globe. The gap between B and me totally disappeared.
Then all of a sudden it was the morning of my first day on set and I encountered another problem. I started thinking about how my entire purpose in the film was to provide comedy. My role was small enough I didn't have an "arc" to speak of. Just come in, deliver the joke and duck out. Repeat for 16 scenes. Roll credits.
That first morning I started thinking, "Um, what if I'm not funny?" I'm primarily a dramatic actress, or at least that's my comfort zone and where I totally shine. Comedy had always terrified me a little, and in class it never seemed to be my strength. But this wasn't class now. I had to be funny. I had been hired to be funny. My entire function in this film was to bring a laugh... oh dear god...
Fortunately, I'm trained well enough to know that you cannot under any circumstances try to be funny. Pushing for the laugh is basically a guarantee that you won't get one. So instead, I had to just shake off the fear and trust the work I'd done to prepare. Just go out there and... have fun. Play. Be fascinated. Live in the moment. There is no "ditz." There is no "joke." There is just me and the (mis)adventures in my life visiting another country.
A few times on set, cast/crew members said, "You're so perfect for this role!" At first, part of me wanted to groan and deny it... no I'm so not a ditz!! But as the shoot went on, I realized that they were right. I had an inner Elle Woods inside me and had from the beginning. And you know what? I didn't care. I loved it. And the girl playing the witty-sarcastic friend I origninally thought was the role for me? She was brilliant and so perfect as well. She brought a certain something I knew I wouldn't have, had it been me. I realized that, had I been the one making casting decisions for this movie, I would have cast it exactly the same. That realization made me deeply cherish the certain je ne sais quoi that I brought to my role and to the film as a whole. The special touch I added as one unique artist in a collaboration of many.
So how did it ultimately go?
Halfway through the shoot, the hairstylist said to me, "You know how in some movies, there are supporting characters you just remember forever? I think that will be you in this. You're killing it."
After the final take in one of my larger scenes, the director walked over to me grinning, shaking his head. He said nothing, but mimed a "hats off to you" before returning to his post behind the monitor.
At an industry mixer during a film festival a couple weeks ago, I ran into one of the film's producers. The abrasive, whip-cracking boss I remembered from set (and who I was convinced didn't like me) turned into this incredibly complimentary buddy. He described a recent post-production discussion he had with the director and editor that ended with the director saying, "Well the one thing we know for certain, B is hilarious."
I think I can take that as a job well done. Sooo... I guess I'm no longer terrified of comedy or "above" being a ditz.
Now that is funny.