For decades, Hollywood has imported talent from non-English speaking countries. Our first Oscar winner for lead actor, in fact, was Swiss-born Emil Jannings. And since talent doesn’t exist in a vacuum — cultures vary country-to-country — it follows that performance style should as well.
However, today’s actors say their approach to acting carries rather little international baggage when they cross borders.
“I don’t feel like I have to adapt and be different if I act in Paris or if I act in New York or if I act in Italy,” says thesp Vincent Cassel.
Cassel appeared earlier this year in the francophone “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” and is now in “Black Swan,” where he plays severe ballet director Thomas Leroy. He says the two roles really weren’t so different. Or, rather, his approach wasn’t.
“I consider myself doing the best I can do with what I am,” he says. “At some point, you just find your way. Your way. And everything you learn, you just have to forget about.”
“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” star Noomi Rapace expresses a similar sentiment. Her styles of acting in Swedish and in English are “not any different at all,” she says.
“I’m doing the same work,” she comments. “I always start with myself, trying to find the connection points between me and the character.”
Rapace, who is currently lensing on “Sherlock Holmes 2,” says she grew up on American cinema. “I’ve been watching Tarantino’s movies for years. I watched ‘True Romance’ with Patricia Arquette maybe 10 times.”
She started learning English only about a year ago, in anticipation of press junkets for the North American release of the Millennium trilogy, but you couldn’t tell from speaking with her. And she is very American-inspired.
“Most of the actors I really admire and respect are from the U.S.,” she says. “You see that they always use themselves. They’re always changing. They’re always exploring new sides.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Irrfan Khan (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “In Treatment”) talked about his transition from India. “Like we have the Kama Sutra, a whole literature on sex, we have the Natya Shasta, a whole literature on theater.” But Khan notes that it was created thousands of years ago, and he doesn’t feel it applies to his work in America.
Khan added that his style was crafted through trial and error, not any sole school of thought, even if actors the world over study the works of Constantin Stanislavski (a Russian) and Lee Strasberg (an American).
Strasberg helped develop the Method, wherein actors pull from personal history to evoke emotions. And while Cassel says he can appreciate the technique, it’s not for him.
“I’ve tried to be Method, but it’s much too serious for me. There’s such a mythology around Method acting. People always associate that with suffering,” he says. “It became a synonym for being serious, and I am definitely not a serious actor. I’m serious about having fun.”
Ultimately, the consensus is that acting style is a collaborative product more than it is a cultural one. It comes from the interactions between actor and script, between actor and director and between actor and editor. And even then, style is a secondary concern.
“When a germ of a story takes place in a director’s mind, it comes off of a paper,” Khan said. “On the paper, it’s dead. The most important thing that an actor is doing is bring that to life, putting life into what’s on the page.” In any way comfortable.
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