Books • Patrick Tucker wrote what I consider to be the very best book about acting for film, "Secrets of Screen Acting" (Theatre Arts Books, 2nd edition, 2003). Now he has teamed up with actress Christine Ozanne and produced yet another must-read for actors: "The Actor's Survival Handbook" (Routledge, $12.89 at Amazon.com). The thing I like most about Tucker is his "anything that works" approach to acting. He admires the Method, but he doesn't genuflect at the altar, noting that it can sometimes lead to self-indulgence. I also appreciate his emphasis on the importance of communicating with the audience. "The Actor's Survival Handbook", at 334 pages, is simply chock full of good advice and interesting perspectives on the art and craft of acting - and how to get paid for doing it. Whether you are an experienced actor looking for an adrenaline kick or a beginner, I think this is a book you should read. • Another worthwhile new title is "The Complete Professional Audition: A Commonsense Guide to Auditioning for Musicals and Plays", by Darren Cohen and Michael Perilstein (Backstage Books/Watson-Guptill, US$16.95 at Amazon.com) is essential reading for any performer on the brink of a musical theatre career, and the authors also dispense valuable professional advice for actors working on a non-musical acting career. Written by two New York based working pros who clearly know what they're talking about, "The Complete Professional Audition" reads easily and clearly and often with humor. Aside from general advice, there are extensive specific recommendations for audition songs and monologues that are strong - as well as recommendations about what to avoid because it is overused. It's good stuff written with a fresh voice.
"Gollum: A peek into the Future of Acting..." Most of my readers know that I am the author of a book entitled "Acting for Animators" and that I teach acting to animators in addition to teaching it to actors. I also write a monthly newsletter for animators that you can subscribe to if you are interested. (http://www.ActingforAnimators.com) Usually I keep the world of animators and that of actors separate because animators neither perceive nor apply acting theory the same way that stage actors do. Animators, for one thing, do not have a "present moment". They have only the indication of a present moment in their work. In this month's newsletter, however, I want to speak to my actor-readers about animation because something significant is happening. Playing now in first-run is a movie entitled "The Lord of the Rings - Two Towers". It features a unique character named Gollum that is a hybrid of live-action and animation. Gollum was developed in large part by an actor named Andy Serkis and then brought to the screen by a blazingly talented team of animators at Weta Digital in New Zealand. He is not a background character. He is a second lead in the movie with single-card opening credit billing, playing full tilt scenes of emotional depth with live actors. His creation rests on a nexus between two different disciplines, and that is why this is historic and noteworthy. Gollum is a harbinger of what actors may expect in the future of movies. Therefore, actors, acting teachers and executives from SAG and AFTRA should all be paying close attention. GOLLUM'S DEVELOPMENTAL PROCESSDirector Peter Jackson hired actor Andy Serkis and then gave him a lot of latitude to develop the character of Gollum. This is different from the way that animated characters are typically developed. In a movie like "Shrek" or "Monsters, Incorporated", the animators develop the character first and then hire the actor to go into a recording studio and do the voice. They videotape the actor while he is recording the script, and they use this footage as a reference to correctly animate and further enhance the character. Also, in a typical animated film, actors work individually, in isolation. It is rare for two actors to play a scene in real time in a recording studio. Romeo is recorded in a studio in Austria, and Juliet is recorded in LA, and the animation company puts it all together. Gollum was different. Andy Serkis himself played all the scenes with the other actors, and it was shot as live-action. In scenes where Serkis is making physical contact with the other actors, as in the opening sequence fight, the animators digitally replaced Serkis's image with that of the animated Gollum on a frame by frame basis. Serkis also worked with the motion-capture process, donning a rubber body suit with sensors on it and slithering around over the rocks in the mountains. In those scenes, the animators used Serkis's basic movements, but they animated the face of Gollum by themselves. There were other digital tricks, a basket full of them in fact. My point here is that, in the future, actors will find it necessary to understand animation process as well as acting theory. In interviews with Andy Serkis, I note that he speaks comfortably about things like "key frame" and "pose to pose", both being animation terms. He understands how motion-capture works and what "rotoscope" is. In other words, as he was creating the character, he had in his head that the final character would be a collaborative thing, that whatever he did as an actor had to fit with what the animators would later do. Gollum is a hobbit, a little person. And he is a physically withered and altered hobbit because, in the story, he long ago stole the magic ring. Gollum is half the size of Andy Serkis, and he moves around primarily on all fours instead of erect. He is frog like, lizard like, a hairless quasi-human that possesses a full trunk of human emotion. As I sat in a Chicago theatre watching Gollum on screen, I felt I was gazing into the future. How will SAG deal with this kind of development? How will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deal with it? There was a campaign afoot to get a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for Andy Serkis this year, but it failed. I have a hunch it failed not because Gollum is not brilliant but because the Academy members simply didn't know what to do with this. Is Gollum Animation? Yes, sort of. Is Gollum live-action? Yes, sort of. He is both, a hybrid. Do we need a new category for such characters? Even if you are not a fan of the Lord of the Rings books, I suggest you check this out. Focus on Gollum. Observe how perfectly he interfaces with Elija Wood and the other actors. You watch Gollum on screen, and you accept his reality. He appears to be live-action, but he is not. It is mind blowing, and it is a historic achievement. For more reading about Andy Serkis and the creation of Gollum: http://www.serkis.com/cinlotr.htm