Writing for Actors – 2
by Diana Black
An actor, who shall remain nameless, used to get mighty shitty when more attention was paid to the co-star by the fandom. Well, we can’t all be ethereal and have pointed ears. So the gloves would come off on set with the star demanding greater screen time and if it wasn’t given from the Directorial pulpit, it would be taken anyway with slightly longer pauses mid-dialogue and/or a strong choice in terms of action.
Such tactics have limited currency – actors are there to serve the story and the Director’s bidding; supposedly. A fine line must be tread when pulling that trick if you don’t wish to be remembered as, shall we say, unprofessional. It is really up to the Director to determine how much an egotistical ‘eyes on me’ type, can get away with; if he or she has ‘the balls’.
As writers do we actively make a choice as to who is in the ‘driver’s seat’ in a specific scene and/or across the entire narrative arc? Have you deliberately thought about this and made creative choices accordingly; orchestrating the narrative and the characters with ruthless and deliberate precision? Or do you just fall in love with your characters and roll over; allowing them to take charge?
Why do we feel compelled to ‘gift’ a character or an actor if one is already slated, with more air-time via lines and action? Are we serving the narrative or the alter-ego they may present?
While few love the wimp, the slut or the scum, such may have a legitimate place in the narrative; if for no other reason than to make the hero look good. Besides, we’re morbidly fascinated with the loser – because it’s not us is it? We love watching these unfortunates struggle, being foolish and/or meeting a sticky end… there but for the grace of ….
A strong actor has charisma and if backed by rigorous training they will take charge by the way they pace the scene with their dialogue – forcing the other actor to shut up and listen, saturating their mannerisms with subtext; all while ruthlessly denying the ‘other’ to win.
Even better, is when they allow us to see with a simple look, the little boy or girl within – a tiny chink in their armor that reveals vulnerability. ‘He who leaves first, loses.’ Strong actors can be so compelling we can barely take our eyes off them. Other actors, who ‘roll over’ when confronted with such power are about as exciting to watch/listen to as a weather report.
Are you willing to take the chance that the actor alone will spin your mediocre script and characterization into gold? Would it not be better to ensure that it sparkles from the get-go?
What if you have strong support actors and a ho-hum actor as the lead? They probably knew someone and called in favors, or someone they know is bankrolling the production. If the lead’s staying along with the rest of the ensemble, then it will fall back on the writer to ensure the appropriate power dynamics between characters by writing accordingly.
Give your characters and those actors willing to step up the plate a fighting chance to not only serve the story and make it memorable but also ensure your success as a TV writer by writing great scripts.
Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer. TVWriter™ is proud to call her a member of our Advanced Online Workshop.