Herbie J Pilato: No “Bones” About It: Actors Should Interpret the Words of the Writer – Not Change Them To Suit Their Needs

We have it on good authority that all the Barrymores said what was in the script!
We have it on good authority that all the Barrymores said what was in the script (?!)

by Herbie J Pilato

A few years back, Zap2it.com reported how actor David Boreanaz, star of the Fox forensic drama Bones (and former lead vampire on Angel and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) found it was acceptable to improvise the lines of dialogue he’s given to perform.

However, Boreanaz wasn’t allowed to do that on Angel and Buffy, as Joss Whedon, the creator, producer and periodic director of both shows, forbade such acting antics.  “That became very frustrating,” Boreanaz said at the time.  “For an actor to be able to create and also have a sense of freedom, you have to be able to revolve around those words and create around those words. Now, you can take the written word and have your subtext tell more than is written on the page, which is always fun and challenging too. But it’s always great to revolve around the words and improvise and change things, because that comes from the character’s perspective and point of view.”

Oh, pluueeze! Dude, this isn’t Whose Line Is It Anyway, and you’re not Drew Carey.  You’re an actor and, as any true thespian will tell you, that, when it comes to your craft, one is ultimately and ideally supposed to interpret the given lines that a writer (be they William Shakespeare or Aaron Spelling) has written, word for word.

That’s what you call acting!

Improvisation is cute and funny, and it may help one to finally arrive at the correct interpretation of the given character.  But to actually employ improvisation in a final performance on what is supposed to be a scripted fiction show?

Ah – no.

You don’t win Emmys and Oscars for that.

Or at least you shouldn’t.

So to all you actors out there, just stick to the script.  If you have problems with the writing, that’s a different story.  Talk to your producers, and then maybe…just maybe…you’ll have a chance to together with the writer, come up with improved teleplays (not improvised) – and adhere to what’s written.

If you don’t, it’s kinda’ like parking in a handicap space, when you’re perfectly capable of walking.

Or something like that.

Either way, for an actor to improvise his way out of a given script upon which a writer worked diligently, probably for weeks…well, it’s just plain wrong.

In fact, it’s more than wrong.

It’s cheating.

You can act your way through life all you want.

But nobody likes a cheater.

Especially in Hollywood.

Marti Noxon Writing Sitcom Pilot for Showtime

Because we all know that her most successful previous show, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, was so chock full of sophisticated, Showtime-style laughs.

Marti Noxon in person, sorta

‘Buffy’s’ Marti Noxon Developing Divorce Comedy for Showtime – by Lacey Rose, Lesley Goldberg

Showtime is turning to Marti Noxon for laughs.

The premium cable network is in talks to develop a semi-autobiographical half-hour divorce comedy from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer executive producer. Guide to Divorce is about the relief, the emotional minefield, freedom, familial complications and sexual exploration that come with divorce after a long-term relationship. The story will be told from the perspective of four women in their 40s.

The move comes as Showtime entertainment chief David Nevins looks to push further into the comedy space. If ultimately ordered to series, Divorce would join such efforts as House of Lies and Episodes on the network’s schedule.

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Another comedy about women, by a woman, eh? Revenge (after all the years of male-dominated sitcoms) is sweet.

More Writing Wisdom from Joss

Someone’s right on the cusp of major over-exposure. But, till the fall:

Geeking Out About Storytelling with Joss Whedon
by Charlie Jane Anders

Joss Whedon is in the unique position of being both a cult icon and a huge mainstream creator, thanks to projects like Firefly and The Avengers. But both halves of his success spring from his ability to create addictive stories, that leave you desperate to know what happens next.

This interview was very kindly set up by Dark Horse Comics, so we tried to keep the interview pretty focused on the comics that Whedon is doing with them — including Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, Angel and Faith, and some upcoming Firefly comics. But we also took this opportunity to geek out about comics versus other media, and the nature of serialized storytelling.

You’ve said in the past that TV shows are a question, and movies are an answer. What are comics?

I will put comics in the TV camp, because of the serialized storytelling, the growth over the years… but at the end of the day, you do sort of come to them needing a thing that is both cinematic and has that kind of resolve. So… both. I feel like when Spider-Man defeats the Tarantula, you get your answer. But then you need to know where he’s going from there. And could I have made more of a Seventies reference than that? In my mind, it’s all Ross Andru. But I think it’s definitely both. Because you don’t just want to move forward. You want something that says, “I’m here for this hero to win the day.” The way you go see a movie and say, “I want that resolve.”

That kind of feeds into our next question. Historically, both TV and comics depended on the illusion of change. You were part of a generation that challenged that, adding more arc-based storytelling and actual change. Like, Buffy graduates high school, drops out of college, moves to San Francisco, and so on. Do you think that was a good move, in retrospect?

It was good for us. It was good for the kinds of storytelling that I want to do. Is it good for all comics? I don’t think so. Some things really should stay the same. Reed Richards should always have exactly this much gray. [Gestures at the sides of his head.] But um… You know, the problem is, when something goes on for as long as most things have, then they’re just looking for any change. Either they reboot it, or they do something drastic, because they can’t write the same thing over and over. I mean, TV shows don’t run since the Sixties. Whereas some of these comics have.

But with the newer stuff, the more graphic novel-y stuff, when you get a story that’s just about the progression of the story, for me it’s harder to dive in than when I know, “This guy is going to have this power and that’s the thing.” It’s a different experience. And for me, I feel like comics — that sort of comfort food that I refer to a lot of recent TV as — I seem to want that from comics.

You want the comfort food.

A little bit. I want to see the costume. I want to see the power. I want to know what the sitch is. And from there, I like the comfort food… but there’s a lot of exceptions. Like with the Luna Brothers’ Girls, which was a book that I never knew from issue to issue what was going to happen. I just adored it. But when I think about creating comics, I think more in terms of, “Why are we coming back? What do I love?” Not, “What can I change?”.

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Now, Joss, listen to us carefully. Time to take a deep breath, man. Step backward. Chill. Enjoy your life and – this is our biggest suggestion – see if you can go for, oh, let’s say a month without being quoted anywhere. We mean, what if you say something even more brilliant, but everybody’s decided not to listen anymore? You can’t let that happen to you, Joss. You can’t let that happen to us.