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chapter 11 Preparing to Perform the Other developing roles different from oneself Sheldon Schiffer (Georgia State University) Creating performances for screen and stage where either the actor or the director is notably different from the character to be portrayed is a challenging task whose political, psychological, and cultural underpinnings have gone underexamined. Dramatic practitioners have begun to recognize that while human beings are similar enough to relate to the experiences of each other to translate the most basic aspects of character, we are still different enough to make some troubling dramatic choices when we attempt to create characters different from ourselves. The result of such errant creative work is that for some audiences , a character may appear inauthentic, inaccurate, and sometimes offensive. Recent films such as The Interpreter or Brokeback Mountain, dramas directed by prominent directors with casts playing characters ethnically or sexually different from themselves, present interesting problems of representation that are resolved (or not) in the preparation of a role. While the preparation of the actor for a role in the rehearsal process is a major step in the creation of character, I have addressed the rehearsal process elsewhere.1 In this chapter I examine two areas of the creative process of cinematic representation of character that are especially authorial and expressive of a director’s relationship with the actor: casting, and the practice of notating performance choices that is often called script-scoring.2 Both processes pose creative challenges for actors and directors who are in some way different—ethnically, racially, socioeconomically, or sexually—from the characters they portray . This chapter explores some of the questions and procedures I have developed as a director of independent film. In consequence, I reference my own work and experience dealing with this complex issue . My hope is that my account will help actors and directors develop roles that are more representational of their experiences while at the same time resisting oppressive ideologies and stereotypes. T4989.indb 223 T4989.indb 223 2/27/09 6:57:49 AM 2/27/09 6:57:49 AM 224 Casting Casting begins the process of transforming script characters into screen characters. It is the phase of production in which directors begin to use performance to tell a cinematic story. Casting also is the process during which directors make decisions that expose their impulses and interpretations regarding why their characters behave the way they do, and why real-life persons would behave similarly. But casting also implies a socially charged problem of perception: Should an actor assume that the character she will create will come from the personal experiences she brings to the role? Conversely, should a director shape the character by assuming that what he sees in the actor he casts is what the role needs? If both actor and director agree on similar character attributes drawn from the actor, then the perceptual problem is solved. But in films where difference is considerable, perception is often clouded with ideologies and stereotypical constructions of identity. My first experiment with this problem occurred while making the film O-Negative. In every other film I had made, every character was either Jewish , Latin American, or white. All these personas were familiar to my unconscious, as my memory is loaded with details about people I have known in my family. O-Negative is about a white French woman (Melanie Camerman) hospitalized with an illness and in need of a blood transfusion. However, the woman fears receiving blood from a stranger. Her blood is the rare type, O-negative, and she has in her home country banked her own blood. But her blood cannot be sent in time to save her. Her anesthesiologist is an African American woman (Erica Douglas) who senses the French woman’s fears. However, she interprets them as the fear of receiving blood from a racially different person. In the context of a preoperative surgery room, neither character is able to state directly what she Melanie Camerman in O-Negative. Erica Douglas in O-Negative. T4989.indb 224 T4989.indb 224 2/27/09 6:57:49 AM 2/27/09 6:57:49 AM 225 believes. I chose to deprive the audience of any certain evidence that would confirm the nature of the French woman’s fear. The audience can never know without a doubt if she is a racist or simply fearful of foreign transfusions. Likewise, I provided no certain evidence that the anesthesiologist was responding to a racist patient. What I...


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