The One Where I Talk About Outlander’s Acting and the Actors Using the Five W’s and How

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caitsamtobias

So, the dust has settled a bit on Episode 15 and folks are girding their loins for 16 because EVIDENTLY those critic/reviewers’ warnings forgot to mention that episode 16 is just as harrowing as 15.  (Way to suck us in with the light at the end) Anyway… ( she says while adjusting the gird loining, which we all know can chafe a bit), what I’m still thinking about today is the performances. Which is what I think most people are still thinking about today…those performances! I was as staggered by the acting as I was by the visceral story that was unfolding on my screen.

I know there is this common belief that a viewer really shouldn’t notice the acting because if you do then somehow your disbelief didn’t get suspended enough.  Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty sure I bought what they were selling!  My appreciation occurred upon reflection. Like I said before, the dust has settled and I can’t get the performances out of my mind.  And….per usual…it made me curious.

Like,…how did this guy

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BECOME this guy!?

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One my readers commented, “It’s like they swallowed the characters!” I believe my response was, “So, that’s how they do that?!”

I want to know HOW they do that and WHY they do that!  As a teacher, I’ve often instructed my students in the use of the five W’s and How method employed by journalists. I think its use is appropriate for my exploration of acting as it pertains to Outlander on Starz:

WHO:

The Lovely and Talented Caitrionia Balfe

The Lovely and Talented Sam Heughan

The Lovely and Talented Tobias Menzies

WHAT:

Stellar acting performances in Outlander on Starz

HOW:

My lite research lead me to some information that suggests that there are at least eight major ways to learn and approach the craft of acting. No one way seems truly better than another and I was left with the impression that it was all a matter of personal preference. Here are the top eight and brief defintions:

Constantin Stanislavski’s

This method is a blend of spiritual realism, emotional memory, dramatic and self-analysis, and practice.

Lee Strasberg

This method was built on Stanislavski theories and asks actors to magnify and intensify their relationship to the material by using emotional experiences from their own lives.

Stella Adler

Ms. Adler’s method sort of takes a step back from the Strasberg model and emphasizes imagination in addition to recalling personal emotional experiences. In other words, you don’t HAVE to have experienced something to imagine how it feels.

Sanford Meisner

Meisner teaches his students to “live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.” This method is all about being in the moment and reacting (this is my guess for what Sam and Tobias used in filming the episode 15 dungeon scenes).

Michael Chekhov

This method focuses on using both the mind and body and encourages actors to be consciously aware of their senses.

Practical Aesthetics

Developed by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy, this method uses elements from both Stanislavsky and Meisner. It teaches actors to use a four-step process to analyze a scene and focuses on what is actually happening in the scene and what is desired of the other characters (wait…maybe this is the one they all used…?…I’m so confused).

Uta Hagen

This method encourages actors to find the “truth” in a scene and then substitute their own experiences and recall of emotions.

Viola Spolin

This method focuses heavily on improv and teaches actors to live in the moment. They are encouraged to respond quickly and truthfully to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

What ever method was employed, those who were on the set, many veterans of filming difficult scenes, were struck by the actors dedication to their craft. In a recent Zapit interview Chris Hayner noted the scenes and filming was intense,

“… it was interesting to observe Menzies and Heughan during breaks from filming. Even when sitting right next to one another, the two completely ignored each other. “We didn’t talk a lot outside of doing the scenes,” Menzies reasons. “We tried to keep it as fresh as possible.” Taking it one step further, he refrained from interacting with just about anyone, instead keeping his mind trained on the character and scene.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.zap2it.com/blogs/outlander_wentworth_prison_tobias_menzies_darkest_scenes-2015-05

Whatever method they chose to employ worked because it felt REAL. The actors fade away and it is Jamie, Claire and Black Jack. What I’m sure is a lot of hard work looks like magic to us!

Outlander 2014

Outlander 2014

WHY:

I want to know what motivates someone to become an actor or actress. So, I started to do some reading. I read some blogs written by actors and acting teachers, some magazine articles and even some interesting research on the psychology of acting. Some of the most interesting stuff I read came from a trade magazine called BACKSTAGE. 

My reading lead me to a couple of conclusions:

1. If people go into acting for fame, fortune or a need to feel love and acceptance they are liable to be disappointed because these things truly are fleeting.

2.The only real reason to act is because it brings you joy and you will do whatever you need to do for the chance to act and can’t see yourself doing anything else.

I noticed that the same words kept getting repeated when people tried to describe “why” they act. People said they acted because they wanted to create, to express themselves, to have fun, to learn what it means to be human, to meet new people, and to actually discover themselves. A lot of these writers described their satisfaction in creating something that might actually impact people’s lives.

There are actors or actresses out there that are definitely in the limelight and receiving all the benefits that come with fame. You will often see them in one big budget movie after another. However, there are also actors who would welcome fame if it came, but don’t let it drive their career choices. In fact, there are a lot of actors who take roles simply because it gives them the chance to play a character they find challenging or tell a story they find interesting and box office be damned.

Funny, those are the same reasons why I write. I love it. I’ll do whatever I need to do to continue to be able to create because it brings me joy and book deals be damned! (just kidding if anybody wants to give me a job writing, I’m open for a lunch meeting on Thursday..oh hell, who am I kidding…any day…just call me any day)

I’ve been hanging out on social media reading and writing about Outlander since Diana announced the series was a go. In fact, my very first tweet went out to Sam the day he was cast. I think I said something like “Congratulations on becoming the face of Jamie Fraser. Gulp. #afanfromOhio” and, because I know you’re wondering, no, he didn’t answer me. I secretly believe it’s because my tweets look like this to him;

DirtyButton.com

DirtyButton.com

I remain a Sam #Twirgin.

But, I digress. The point I was trying to make was that I’ve had a chance to watch these actors from the beginning. I’ve read their interviews and tweets and…seen the choices they’ve made in their acting careers.  I’m proud to say “Our Actors” appear to fall into the group who aren’t letting the desire for fame guide their career choices.

Caitrionia Balfe has said she has always wanted to act. She thinks she knew what she wanted to do even when she was a precocious child in Ireland. At 30, she figured if she wanted to act it was probably now or never.  She moved to LA and started taking acting classes. In a recent interview, she described her acting ambitions.

“I got to a point in my life when I thought if I don’t try it now I might not get the opportunity to do it again. There was a feeling amongst my friends and industry people whom I came into contact with that ‘oh it’s tough for women and it’s tougher again for women of your age’ and all of these things. But I’d never been interested in being a starlet; the people I’ve admired had long careers and it shouldn’t matter how old you are for those things.”

The entire interview can be read here: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-news/im-still-waiting-for-the-flood-of-male-adoration-caitriona-balfes-difficult-road-to-acting-stardom-31228831.html

screen-shot-2015-05-06-at-9-52-55-pm

I know that she admires Patrica Arquette’s independent career choices and didn’t find being a super-model very satisfying. I wonder if she knows what a fantastic role model she is? (and knowing her penchant for self-deprecation, she would probably laugh if she read that)

Sam Heughan, went to university to be an actor (he actually had an instructor tell him he couldn’t act! I KNOW! shocking!). Before Outlander, he was going about his career playing a variety of roles ranging from a drug dealer to Batman to a Prince that some lucky girl got for Christmas.  He was acting, but had remained pretty well under the radar, so to speak. When he was cast as Jamie, some of the descriptors thrown around about him included the term “unknown” actor.  He definitely is getting some attention now and if Outlander fans have anything to vote about it it’ll stay that way!

During the drought, you know what drought I’m talking about, Sam did an independent film called When the Starlight Ends.  I found these comments by Adam Sigal, its writer and director, (Starlight was his first film) to be very revealing of Sam’s character and love of acting. The following is in answer to a question asked of Mr. Sigel in an exclusive interview by @SamCaitLife

I actually met Sam long before Outlander–I want to say about 5 years ago. At the time, he was a semi-struggling actor in Los Angeles for pilot season. He got hold of Starlight from a casting director friend, and he really loved the script. At the time he wanted to do it, but I was dealing with producers who really wanted massive stars in the lead roles. About a year or so later, Sam messaged me on Facebook and mentioned he’d just booked a new show he, “thought might be a big deal”. He didn’t tell me too much more, but when I saw a bunch of my friends posting about him on social media, I knew he really had! I reached back out to him, asked if he still wanted to do Starlight, and he said absolutely! Pitching the project with him on board made it easier to find money for it. I’m still in awe of the fact that Sam stuck with me and still agreed to do the film, even after booking Outlander, and with the fact that he’s on his way to becoming a megastar.

screen-shot-2015-05-06-at-9-57-16-pm

The entire interview can be read here:

https://samcaitlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/exclusive-qa-with-adam-sigal-the-director-of-when-the-starlight-ends/

Recently, when asked if he thought playing Jamie was his most challenging role, he responded by saying not really because “each role comes with its own challenges”.

Tobias Menzies is probably the most “famous” of our troupe.  He’s played characters on several big budget series like Rome and Game of Thrones. After the showing of Episode 15, Tobias was interviewed… a lot…and as a result, there are a lot of really great interviews out there this week and not one asked him if he would wear a kilt (thank God)!  If you want to get a good idea of why Tobias acts read some of those interviews.  I was struck by the cerebral and scholarly way in which he discussed acting. He has a real passion for what he does.

Despite having some amount of fame and an “impressive” resume, Tobias actively seeks out challenging roles that don’t nessecarily come with a big paycheck or a big stage.  One his more recent ventures had him acting on a bed in a hotel room in a play called Fever at the Mayfair hotel.  He performed a monologue to a maximum capacity audience of…28.

The Fever at the May Fair Hotel

In an interview about a a recent role, he was asked if he would like the kind of fame his co-star Kira Knightley enjoys. His response? “Would I want that? Absolutely not. Then again, do you want recognition that allows you to do the work you want to do? Of course.”

The entire article can be read here:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1376878/In-taxi–actor-Tobias-Menzies.html#ixzz3aaARtDGb

On Saturday night while we were all glued to our TV sets drinking whiskey and hiding behind stuffed animals or significant others, our trio were not.  They were out and about watching Grant O’Rourke, an Outlander comrade, perform a play. I know it’s silly, but that makes me so proud.

caitsamtobias

WHEN AND WHERE:

Well, that’s easy to answer, on Starz of course!  They’ll be playing a marathon this weekend so you have a chance to see all the fantastic performances again. Plus,it’s another great excuse to drink whiskey. The finale is scheduled for 9:00 EST on May 30th. And then the l o n g e s t  drought ever recorded in fandom history begins.  You remember all the craziness of the last drought? Yeah, well…lots more fans…and time ….

AND, OH WHAT THE HELL, LETS THROW IN AN OPINION PIECE:

I don’t pretend to know anything about what kind of performance would earn an actor an Emmy, but damn….I gotta think these would be in the running. Outlander and its actors have continued to be brave about enacting difficult or controversial scenes. In fact, their efforts have been nothing short of ground-breaking. So, I’ll be doing my part in the fan-dom’s efforts to get these actors an Emmy…because that would be nice and might help them get the chance to do what they love some more. #EmmysforOutlander

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8 thoughts on “The One Where I Talk About Outlander’s Acting and the Actors Using the Five W’s and How

  1. I think I just learned more from reading this than I did in all my college drama classes at Oberlin. What a great piece of writing. I hope writing will always bring you joy. And just possibly a book deal or two. 🙂 Your writing certainly brings US joy.

  2. HRW

    Great article, Beth. You have a great writing style and you’re so interesting to read.

    Both Sam and Tobias are Steiner school students. I wonder how much of a part that plays?

    I also saw this written by Adam Sigal. I am always of my word, and it fascinates me when people aren’t. (so I’m always fascinated!)

    Adam wrote:
    “I know a lot of actors and actresses, and I gotta tell you, they simply dont make many like @samheughan. People do shit for money, for influence, to work with this famous person or that–its pretty rare they do it for passion. Its even rarer when they make a promise and fucking keep it. Sam has been with me since almost the beginning on this thing, and now he’s with me at the end. Sam sure as hell didnt HAVE to do this little film. It almost never happens that the one who makes it big is a legitimately good person. This fucking guy has worked his ass off for everything he has, and there is seriously not a better guy out there. An incredible performance. An incredible talent. An absolute superstar in every sense of the word. Sam, I really will love you til the Starlight Ends brother.”

    This was one of the first things I ever read about Sam Heughan, so I have to say that my respect-o-meter rose tremendously,

  3. Grace

    Wonderful article, Beth. Thank you.

    I agree that Caitriona, Sam & Tobias seem to be a cut above many. I feel bad for liking them as much as I do (because they’re still only humans; they also need and deserve private lives) but they are mesmerizing in their craft.

    I love Adam Sigal’s comments about Sam, HRW!

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