The director and the actor, part 2

This will not make sense unless you read Part 1.

Time went on. The actor thought he was being quite patient with this inept actress. He made a constant effort to be helpful: pointing out every mistake of hers that he noticed, letting her know how extraordinarily difficult she was to work with, reminding her that she was not the person he wanted for the part, and telling her how unhappy he was about working with her. He even let her know how unpleasant her personality was. He thought all this would encourage her to improve but, to his growing disgust, she stubbornly refused to change.

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and, once again, he poured out his mounting frustration to the director. He expected sympathy — after all, they were friends — and that the director would force the actress to change her ways immediately, so he didn’t hold back at all in his litany of complaints. He must have talked nonstop for almost an hour, because the actress had so many faults, but he finally paused for breath, right after exclaiming for about the tenth time that she was a dismal failure of an actress.

When the director responded, the actor wondered of he had even been listening. “Neither of you are good at acting. That’s why you are both here. Hours of Our Lives is not just a soap opera; I designed it to be an on-the-job acting school.” The director anticipated his protest. “I know you think you are a good actor, and that the problems are all hers, but please listen to me.” After an extremely reluctant and begrudging nod from the actor, the director continued. “There are definitely some major things I’m working through with her. She can be a difficult student. She doesn’t always listen to me. She is easily distracted. Then there is her clumsiness, the problems she has paying attention — that makes for lots of mistakes. And, as you know, she sometimes wanders off the set. Her shyness, lack of confidence, and tendency towards self-absorption interferes with her acting, as does her impatience and her temper. But do you know what her biggest problem is?”

If the actor had been paying better attention, instead of feeling a smug satisfaction over hearing the director finally admitting how terrible the actress was, he would have noticed the tears of pain in the director’s eyes as he said, “Her biggest problem is that she doesn’t really believe that I’m her friend.” After a pause, he went on, almost as if thinking out loud, in a voice that was tender and sorrowful, “Once in a while, she plays her role exactly as I’m directing her. She opens up and pours her heart and soul into her performance. It’s amazing. You don’t realize it, but it takes other people’s breath away. I’m so proud of her, so delighted in her, those times when she manages to capture the very essence of her role, as if she were reading my mind. And I’m standing at the sidelines, overjoyed, whispering, ‘Brava! Brava!’ only…only she never seems to hear me…”

The actor hadn’t been following everything the director said but the following caught his attention: “You don’t make many mistakes. You’re not clumsy. You are disciplined, a hard worker, a loyal friend, and you’ve never wandered off the set. You try to follow my script carefully, except for those times when you either don’t understand it or disagree strongly. Then you can be quite stubborn and uncooperative in your refusal. And, most of the time, your acting is wooden, detached, lacking in depth and emotion, so the audience has a hard time connecting with your character. Because of the way you play him, he doesn’t seem genuine. But do you know what your biggest problem is?” he asked, only to be immediately interrupted.

Without letting the director get a word in edgewise, the actor seized a few of the things he had said about the actress, using them as an excuse to launch into a diatribe about how disappointed — angry and resentful even — he was that the director had forced him to work with such an untalented, unlikable actress, while refusing to make her change. When his angry complaints and accusations were at long last exhausted, he paused, hoping that he had finally managed to make his point.

Instead, the director went on as if the actor had said nothing. “Don’t you want to know what your biggest problem is?”

“Wait! You don’t understand. I’m not the one with the problems — she is! Why won’t you do anything about that?”

Again, the director spoke as if the actor had not said a thing. “The two of you have so much to teach each other — ”

“But I am trying to teach her! She refuses to listen to me!”

“Oh, no, you’re wrong. She listens to you. In fact, that’s part of the problem: she listens to you far too well, and she takes the things you say far too much to heart. Remember how I was telling you about the times she performs her role so magnificently? Afterward, I applaud her, tell her how well she did, how proud I am of her, how much I love her…but she doesn’t hear me. Do you know why? Your voice drowns mine out.” The actor tried to interrupt and defend himself, but something about the way the director looked at him made him stop.

He had never seen the director look that way. There was anguish in his eyes, and a sternness that was almost frightening. At the same time, there was a love so deep that it seemed impossible, and a tender compassion so overwhelming that it began to melt the actor’s anger and resentment.

“I love you,” the director said. “You are more than my friend; you are like a son to me. You know that. And I have not stopped loving you like my own flesh and blood this entire time, even though you have disappointed me so much, and hurt me with your anger and resentment. I love her too. She is more than my friend; she is like a daughter to me. It breaks my heart that she finds that so difficult to believe.” The tears began flowing down the director’s face as he spoke. “Oh, if you would only learn from me! You never bothered to really look at her, or you would have noticed she struggles with a limp. You see, she had a near-fatal and extremely traumatic injury years ago, and I nursed her back to health. It’s not something she likes to talk about, which is why she never said anything all those times you complained that she walked too slowly or wasn’t graceful enough. But your words wounded her tender heart. I had hoped that you knew me well enough and were enough like me that you would try to treat her as I do. But you didn’t. Your words didn’t just drown mine out; they contradicted mine, and they made it harder for her to hear me and believe me.”

The actor looked away in shame. He couldn’t bear the tears on his friend’s face.

“I’ve asked you twice if you knew what your biggest problem was, but you didn’t want to know. Perhaps you’re finally ready to hear it. Your biggest problem is that, despite all of our years of friendship, you still don’t trust me. When I wrote this role for you, when I cast two of my dearest friends to play husband and wife, I was giving you the most precious gift I could, besides my friendship. But you didn’t trust me. Instead, you despised my gift so much that you have been angry with me. Oh, how I wish you trusted me enough to want a truly close, intimate friendship with me! Because then you would understand me, and we could become like kindred spirits…and, oh…you would realize what a precious gift I gave you, what a priceless opportunity!”

It was a struggle for the actor to hold back his own tears.

The director continued, “You are dutiful, responsible, and a hard worker. Those are wonderful traits, but the script also calls for your character to be loving, gentle, encouraging, and compassionate. Unfortunately, I can never get you to put your heart into that aspect of your role. It seems too risky to you, and you always insist on playing it safe. It breaks my heart that, after all our years of friendship, after all I’ve done for you, after almost a lifetime of being loved like my own son, you still trust me so little.” Almost completely overcome by his tears, the director had to stop speaking.

***********

Continue with Part 3.


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  1. Pingback: The director and the actor, part 1 | Prone to wander…

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