A great actor is generous, and smart enough to sustain believability.
In a perfect cast, each player makes all the other players on stage
It takes brains to research characters, figuring out the way they
stand, the way they move, the way they look at others. As a result,
line-readings maximize the emotion within the structure of the play.
Unless you've watched the actor in process, observing the rehearsals
and the show night after night, I don't believe it's possible to know
a great actor from a good actor. And film and television tell you
nothing, because performances are created (or marred) in the editing
room, where it's not the actor choosing which is the best take among
In my experience, these are a dozen great actors:
When he ran down the beach in The Thorn Birds into the arms of Rachel Ward,
that became one of my favorite scenes in a movie. It's still near the top,
A bit of an overstatement, I think, especially when considering major
roles on television, where, to some degree, the performer has to keep
the character alive across a host of directors. (Directing a one-hour
single-camera US TV show is about four weeks' work per episode, so US
TV dramas /require/ a stable of directors.)
Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik, and Andreas Katsulas did wonders on
"Babylon 5" (as did frequent guest star Walter Koenig). And Taylor
Schilling, on NBC's current "Mercy" right now, is breathtaking.
John W Kennedy
Read the remains of Shakespeare's lost play, now annotated!
But imagine an actor who requires twenty different takes before a
scene is performed with breathtaking aplomb. Would you call that
actor great? Unless you've been on the set, you don't know how many
inadequate line-readings were filmed before the wondrous one. I know
of many cases when poor actors were saved in the editing room, and the
home viewer saw the best takes, as chosen by the director, and were
none the wiser.
Mira Furlan was in Harris Yulin's permanent floating "Don Juan in Hell"
company for a while, right after she came to the US as a refugee from
the Yugoslavian Wars of Succession, and she was in something called
"Cranes" in NYC a few years back. She's also done some regional
theatre, including a well received "Antigone" in L.A. You may have seen
her as "Danielle Rousseau" on "Lost". Andreas Katsulas spent fifteen
years with Peter Brook, but his biggest exposure was as the one-armed
man in the Harrison Ford "Fugitive". I don't know about Peter Jurasik
in NYC, but he's done some regional. You might remember him as "Sid the
Snitch" on "Hill Street Blues". Walter Koenig, of course, has been the
subject of headlines in the last few days due to a family tragedy. (He
was once quoted as saying that he did more honest-to-God acting in any
one episode of "Babylon 5" as in his entire "Star Trek" career
Taylor Schilling is in her early 20s, and has a very short resum� at
present; she recently won praise in an "Uncle Vanya" at Bard College,
Annandale-on-Hudson. Her series, "Mercy", is mostly stuff we've seen
before on other hospital shows, but her portrayal of a nurse just back
from Iraq and dealing with PTSD is stunning, running half a dozen
emotions at once as easily as Shakespeare juggles plot threads in
> But imagine an actor who requires twenty different takes before a
> scene is performed with breathtaking aplomb. Would you call that
> actor great? Unless you've been on the set, you don't know how many
> inadequate line-readings were filmed before the wondrous one. I know
> of many cases when poor actors were saved in the editing room, and the
> home viewer saw the best takes, as chosen by the director, and were
> none the wiser.
"Babylon 5" was a special-effects-heavy show, not so much because of
the space battles (though there were many), as because of its
pioneering use of virtual sets (and at least one standing
false-perspective set, too), so /some/ scenes had to have a good many
takes. But the casting emphasized stage experience, and many famous
scenes were done in a single take of one long shot.
I can't address that aspect of "Mercy", but I know that it spends a lot
of time on location in and around Jersey City (even for interiors), so
I imagine there's not too much free time to spend on endless retakes.
John W Kennedy
"You can, if you wish, class all science-fiction together; but it is
about as perceptive as classing the works of Ballantyne, Conrad and W.
W. Jacobs together as the 'sea-story' and then criticizing _that_."
-- C. S. Lewis. "An Experiment in Criticism"
>> But imagine an actor who requires twenty different takes
>> before a scene is performed with breathtaking aplomb. Would
>> you call that actor great? Unless you've been on the set, you
>> don't know how many inadequate line-readings were filmed
>> before the wondrous one. I know of many cases when poor
>> actors were saved in the editing room, and the home viewer
>> saw the best takes, as chosen by the director, and were none
>> the wiser.
Those actors do not last long. Endless takes eats up a lot of
budget. Sure, there are numerous poor actors who whose
performances were saved in editing; but I don't know of one whose
career was made there.
}:-) Christopher Jahn
I love the absolution of all jocks and preps -- Skate or die!!!
Well, I do. Actress A had done one Broadway play before getting cast
in a sitcom. Frequently lorded it over her co-stars, saying she was
"of the theatre" when in fact, all the co-stars had done more theatre
than she, with Tonys to prove it. Take after take, she was unable to
nail her punchlines, every week, and time ran on. So, the studio
audience was dismissed so that she could be shot without the
distraction of strangers in the same space. And it still took several
takes. She was a huge star, on the cover of TV guide, and won an Emmy
(out of seven nominations). Eight years, beloved by audiences, doing
Actor B relished giving a different spin to his lines every time he
said them. Drove directors crazy. You see, often, they'd like a
particular reading, but there was something else wrong in the shot; on
the re-take, they asked Actor B would repeat his performance, but no -
he was a real dick about it. Different show, but also eight seasons,
followed by an Oscar nomination.
I wouldn't call either Actress A or Actor B a "Great Actor" but many
who've seen them on the screen would