You lookin’ at me?

Posted by on Nov 28, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment

Hat tip to Mark via Twitter for this discussion between neuroscientist Oliver Sacks and the RSC'S Michael Boyd on actors, acting and memory (yes, I know you meant to point to the Gladwell piece, Mark but I think this is better)

I particularly like this idea that actors have over-developed sense of empathy with other folk that goes hand-in-hand with their over-developed emulation skills [Sacks talks at length about watching De Niro play a character he had originally described in Awakenings]. Boyd says:

"I think good performers tend to be very open, to the point where
they get dismissed as sentimental    creatures – there’s this horrible,
contemptuous term “luvvie” used about the theatre. But I do think     there’s
something missing in an actor’s persona, or maybe mind, about censoring out
certain     emotions. They are “overreceptive”, and that can be troubling for
them in their lives. People who are tremendously good at closing out the
troublesome tend not to be brilliant performers.

There’s a valve in a brilliant actor that is “deficient”. They’re good at
embodying emotion, but they’re not very good at shutting it out. I think
that’s why there is something inherently unstable about the condition of
being an actor that’s also creative. Brilliant actors who survive to have a
career manage that “deficiency” extremely well and lead perfectly normal
lives. I don’t want to discourage anyone from joining the profession"

Also, special prize for Oliver for getting mirror-neurons into a Theatre talk

"We flinch when someone else receives a
blow, and neurologists have started to talk about “mirror neurones” in the
brain, which make spontaneous representations of what is happening with
other people, so you then feel these yourself. And it’s thought that the
basis of sympathy – and, to some extent, imitation and incarnation – is
partly due to these mirror neurones.

I think there are different levels of representation. Now, for example, with
Robin Williams [who played Sacks in Awakenings], there were two clearly
distinct stages. Before the filming, we went around together and he was
charming, genial and brilliant. It didn’t occur to me that he was, in fact,
observing me minutely. About three weeks later, we’d got into a conversation
in the street, and I’d got into what I’m told is one of my characteristic
pensive postures. I saw Robin was in exactly the same posture, and I had an
instant feeling he was mirroring me. I then realised he was not doing so,but
he had acquired and embodied my gestures, my postures, my so-called tricks
of speech and idiosyncrasies. And it was startling, like suddenly having a
younger twin"

Go watch the whole thing

1 Comment

  1. ErikJ
    December 4, 2008

    Actors flirt with the edge of reality and fantasy as a profession it is sometimes hard for all of them to keep their minds centered between the two. That is why they often lead interesting but troublesome lives.