As a post-COVID therapy, I landed on acting thanks to my guardian angel. I thought that film acting would be pretty much the same as theatre acting, the only difference being that the camera is now a viewer too. I was wrong. To be fair to myself, this was also the approach of many early directors, and a common misunderstanding among newcomers.
In theatre there is always continuous feedback from the audience and their fellow actors on scene. This helps the actor to stay on the flow of their own inner emotional state, and to reassure them that the message has been well received. Therefore, the actor has always many sources of external support.
This is in sharp contrast with film: a single shot rarely goes more than 1-2 minutes, and is repeated several times in a row in front of an audience (the crew) who is focusing on single aspects related to their job (light, makeup, costumes) and may not be particularly interested in the performance in front of them. Furthermore, the sets are usually very weird places, full of cables, cameras and, except for what is on frame, they look completely detached from the context of what the actor tries to display. How can you pretend that night is day, company is loneliness, and that rain is falling on you when everything around you is dry? In theatre, both audience and actors agree that they are on a fake world, but they ride on it and become part of the same collective fantasy. In film, the weight relies solely on the actor (with help from the director) to pull the illusion through.
Therefore, film actors must source from their internal experiences in a way theatre actors don’t. And you cannot cheat the camera on that: it is usually very obvious when an actor is not experiencing something and try to compensate for their lack of inner feeling by overacting. In theatre this is ok: it is part of the agreement between actors and audience that they are in a fake world, and it also helps convey a feeling for the viewers that far away from the action, as they can see better the more exaggerated a gesture is. In front of the camera, however, this is an overkill: all viewers are as close to the action as the director wants them to, they are fully immersed in the world the character is in (as opposed to the constant reminder of the broken fourth wall in theatre).
In my experience of both sides of the camera, this has implications for casting: an actor will play best a role that is suited to their personality, or to their shadow personality (the complete opposite), but nothing in between.
For example, I am more of a romantic comedy lead type (a little bit sloppy, a little bit funny) in real life, and I can play this role very well. But I cannot play a Bond-type of character, more of a macho, action type for film, I just look ridiculous. I can pull this off in theatre by overacting and it works. However, I can play my „shadow personality“ type very well, one incarnation of which is, perturbed, cruel characters with a component of spirituality and occultism. This was a big surprise for me, which I discovered during Viktoria’s workshops, when I played a scene from „Spalovač mrtvol“ and an improvisation scene of a gay sadomasochist sexual maniac that has people in the cellar.
So, I know I can be a good fit in roles 100% aligned with my type/personality, or 100% against it. Of course, some actors have a wider range, but even those actors have stronger and weaker spots, which I suspect are related to the situation described above. Minimalism above full expressionism and leveraging types and anti-types in actors are two of the most important lessons from Viktoria’s courses.
The challenge for the camera director is then to help the actor reach this state/anti-state and access those parts of their personality. As a director, I found that for this is better to try to talk to the actors in terms of situations and how they should feel there, rather than giving useless instructions like „do it angrier! “, which might work for theatre. For example, during small talk I pick up on pieces of their lives that I know I can use later that day. If someone tells me they love rock climbing during a break, and they have to shoot a scene where their character is annoyed, I’ll tell them: „you had a hard week, you want to relax on the climbing wall, and there is a group of bros that bought a group voucher blocking your route, so you have to push through “. This usually helps the actor relate with the feeling the scene requires.