Peter Jurich, who so brilliantly brought to life the character of Pete the Pirate in our last film, The Man Who Loved, was over today for a one-on-one character-building session and rehearsal for his character in Son of a Seahorse, Eddie. Things got off to a shaky start, something we attributed to the fact that it was, indeed, the beginning.
But as we pressed on, it became clear that something wasn't quite working. Peter's natural speaking voice, and very Peter-like inflections, were clashing with the character's very particular voice. All seemed lost.
We had a talk about the character, going over his self-perception and its shortcomings, his opinions of the other characters in the scene, his predeliction for certain words and phrases. And Peter listened, thought about it, and started again-- and he was firing on all cylinders.
Tom started laughing. A lot. A whole lot. He was laughing so hard, if he had been sitting in a chair, he would have fallen out of it. He was laughing so hard, he clapped his hands with glee and flailed his limbs about all higgily-piggily. He laughed so hard that while doing this he just about threw his arm out.
He laughed so hard that he frightened three little pussycats, and they have not yet forgiven him.
Peter found a voice for the character-- and I mean that literally, not in the figurative "finding your voice" sense but in the sense that he found an external tone of voice and manner of speaking which opened up the inner life of the character. It was, in its way, very Method-- starting with behaviour to suggest the psychology and feelings beneath that surface.
It reminds me of a story about Laurence Olivier. The great actor was having trouble getting into character for a film-- I think it was the original Sleuth. Try as he might, he always came off flat, like he was phoning it in. The crew and the cast (which, if it was Sleuth, was just Michael Caine) wondered if they needed to get a replacement.
Then something miraculous happened: Olivier put on a little fake moustache, and suddenly, there was the character. He was right on his game again. Now, you might ask, what does the moustache have to do with acting? How could that really change his performance?
But, it did, and it does. Sometimes you just have to find that one little detail-- or, in the case of Peter's voice for Eddie, a slightly more obvious one-- that will unlock the entire character for you, give you a frame of reference, and thus bring the script and the film to life.