ATM: Are you familiar with the four lobes of the brain?
WP: The four lobes of the brain? Maybe, but refresh my memory.
ATM: You have the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, occipital lobe, and parietal lobe.
ATM: In an entertainment biology viewpoint, how do you make the planning useful with the frontal lobe to build an emotional barrier with the character?
WP: Gabrielle, I am not familiar with entertainment biology.
ATM: It just came to me. This is emotional ab lib. It is coming straight from my mind. I just coined the term.
WP: Ah. Well, I don’t believe that an actor is consciously accessing different parts of their brain, nor would an actor seek to build an emotional barrier with their character. It’s just the opposite in fact. What I can describe to you are some steps to preparing a role, in which the frontal lobe may be engaged. The first step is reading the script several times and each time I read the script, it has some sort of effect on me consciously or subconsciously. Each read through I am seeing what is happening. I am trying to see how people talk about me as a character. What are my actions? What are my needs and wants? Why? You want to be specific as possible. Generality is the death of acting.
I am also looking at who I have relationships with in the film. I could be labeling the relationships as my “best friend,” “the brother I never had,” or “the love of my life.” This would allow them to have a specific meaning to me. This is the start of it.
Then for each scene that I am in, I am looking to see what the scene is about. What do I want? What is this telling me about myself? What kind of goals do I have? What drives me? What is my passion? Is there some kind of arc here? What is the overall objective or goal that I am trying to achieve? These are just possibilities that I write down. When it comes to actually filming the scene, I put this homework away.
I jump into the scene, make a choice, and hopefully the homework is playing on me in some way. I am allowing it to do whatever it does. I am going in open minded and seeing what happens. This is when the best work occurs. If you go in with a specific, pre-planned idea about how you’ll play a moment or a scene, then it’s just dead. No life. No spontaneity. No discoveries. Sanford Meisner said, “Don’t do the scene, let the scene do you.”
ATM: So, the scene is doing you, but most people outside of acting think it is the other way around.
WP: This is a common misconception held by many people, especially novice actors They often intellectualize and perform their idea of the scene – its shape, its events, and how they’ll deliver certain lines or moments. Some people can become very sophisticated at working in this way. I would just call this pretending, rather than acting. Great acting is about the truth, not about lies. I’m a fan of Meisner’s definition: “acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
ATM: In what ways do the director’s cues manage your audio learning as seen in your temporal lobe?
WP: I don’t understand the question. I suppose I can tell you about what kind of direction I find helpful as an actor. I prefer to work with a director who creates environments in which their actors are free, gives the actors very gentle nudges in certain directions, and allows the actors room for discovery. Steven Soderbergh is an example of a great director. He barely talks.
I was working on Traffic and I was playing a guy selling surveillance equipment. We had just gotten to set and he had some props to show me. He said something to the effect of: “Here is the space we’re working in. I have some props on the table here. You can pick them up or not.” Then he walked off. I had complete freedom. He did not tell me to do anything or where he wanted me to be. He was basically saying, “This is your playground and I have some toys for you that you can play with if you like.” This is the kind of director I like to work with.
The more the director talks to any actor, the more it puts them in their head. If I am working with a director who is telling me a lot of stuff, then I am taking it in, using what I can, and throwing the rest away. Because if I do a take and the director unloads a bunch of stuff in my head, the challenge is not going on to play those notes. The last thing I want to do is think my way through a scene.
ATM: Express the ways the operation of the occipital lobe is seen while outside on set or location taking in the atmosphere and also your eye coordination.
WP: My eye coordination? That’s not something I worry about. I obviously take in the environment and the other actors with my eyes. However, it is not just visual cues you get from the other person. You can also feel them if you are open to it. You can sense them. There are wonderful actors with visual impairment and their other senses become more acute.
ATM: Explain how the smell of the environment as an actor impacts your parietal lobe functions when approaching a character.
WP: You’re asking how smell affects my approach to a character? Well, all of my senses are feeding my imagination and point of view I usually allow, without analysis, smell to have whatever impact it does on my behavior. Ultimately, all parts of one’s brain are subconsciously engaged in the process of acting.
ATM: There is a science to acting. There is a little bit of art in science and also science in art.
WP: Acting is much more of an art than a science.