In a scene from director Mike White’s newest film, “Brad’s Status,” actor Jenna Fischer was asked to taste spaghetti sauce her husband (Ben Stiller) had just made. The actor found herself going through all sorts of machinations to find the intention of the scene. She realized, as she told an audience during a panel discussion following an L.A. film screening, that the enthusiasm and fun environment on set was all she needed to tap into to simply “love the …sauce.”
I’ve given countless actors the direction “Just throw it away” in an effort to have them keep it simple and stop overthinking.
I asked actor Joe Pantoliano (“Sense8,” “The Sopranos”) to share his thoughts with me on this topic: “ ‘Throw it away’ is a code-word action indicating less, quiet, a stillness. Most times it’s best to simply say the lines and let the musical score do the heavy lifting. In creating a role, you have many moments, and pieces of moments, that fit nicely into the frame of the camera. Simplicity is key.”
I asked, “Have you had that experience where you were trying too hard and got the epiphany that you just needed to relax into the scene?”
“I’m sure. But I approach the work with the intention that each take is the rehearsal. I also know what I and my character want together. The important thing to do is throw it all away and listen to the other players, what they are saying and doing, and to react to the organic simplicity of the moment.
“Once we get into coverage, of course, there are physical activities and actions that I must repeat in order to have the editor be able to cut scenes together. If the script supervisor says, ‘You scratched your nose on this line,’ I have to scratch my nose. But I’m always searching. I’m always trying to lose myself, to spontaneously be in the moment [and make] space for those happy accidents to occur.”
Pantoliano relishes those “happy accidents” and says he can sometimes catch even world-class, award-winning actors on set “acting,” as they’ve likely caught him, too, rather than being present and allowing the possibilities to happen. “It really is the miracle of this particular creative art form,” he says. “I hate that phrase, but in the science of what we do, the miracles are in those little moments when something happens between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ that can touch the soul of the lady in the blue hat in the fourth row…. I’ve seen with my own eyes that [momentous] miracle evolving through the performer. It comes from a higher place. The miracle of those moments come through us, not from us.”
Actor and director Griffin Dunne (“I Love Dick”) has another take: “To be told to ‘throw it away,’ as in a line of dialogue by a director, is initially met with shame because you fear you have been caught committing the grossest of acting sins: overacting.” But according to Dunne, it’s an opportunity that can both remove the pressure from the actor to “deliver” as well as free up space to go in a different direction than initially planned.
“The villain who serves up a nice, flat ‘I killed her,’ ” he notes, “is much scarier than the wild-eyed maniac saying the same line.” Dunne’s variation of “throw it away”? “Say it like a dead person. It often leads to the actors really listening to each other instead of planning how they are going to say [a line]. It breaks down expectations.”
Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story,” “Poltergeist,” “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Blade Runner.” After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Iron Giant,” “The Spitfire Grill,” “Untamed Heart,” “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Vampire Academy,” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well, and the upcoming film “Magic Camp.”.
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned an online course available at Udemy entitled “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp.” Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. You can also read her blog.