By BRUCE DENNILL
Can you distil what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theatre?
I don’t hold any form of acting above any other. The goal for me is to tell the character’s truth, whether you do it in a more theatrical way or a filmic way, at the core of it needs to be the truth. I do feel a slight draw towards film because of the subtle nuance that can be achieved on screen. The intimacy that can be shared over this medium is far more intense than it is on stage because the camera can get closer to you, the actor, than an audience can in conventional theatre. That’s not to say that you can’t have intimate experiences with other situations, but film is where I discovered my love for acting, so I guess that’s where the slight bias comes from.
Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?
Absolutely. Stage acting requires the actor to fill the entire proscenium arch and the auditorium with their performance. It is definitely ‘larger that life’. For film, the style is far more subdued, as the camera is dictating, to a large extent, how ‘big’ you can go. The goal is believability and relatability. Many actors have and continue to give typically ‘large’ or ’theatrical’ performances in the film medium and still have it live in the world of believable within the film. Nicholas Cage is a great example, as is Jim Carrey.
Film and television can involve an enormously lengthy creative process, with months or even years passing between coming on board via auditions and the premiere of the piece. What’s that like emotionally as a performer – investing heavily in something and then having to wait?
Most things in creative fields suffer from that ‘hurry up and wait’ feeling. Most musicals take just as long to come to fruition – opening night, in that case. But it is a strange one for me. Aya was shot two years ago and had a remarkably short pre-production process. It actually made South African history, being written in two days, prepped in five days and shot in three days – the first film of its kind in South Africa. Now, having been to many film festivals all over the world, it’s at the SA Indie Film Festival and still telling an incredible story. But I find the emotional investment as an actor must be 100% in the prep and the filming. After wrap is called and the film heads into post-production, it’s time to leave it to the creative collaborative process that is filmmaking. Unlike the stage, where you have to relive and rediscover the story eight shows a week, with film you are only needed to go to the emotional lengths the character requires while you shoot. So I do wait in anticipation to see the outcome of everyone’s hard work and investment, but the wait doesn’t weigh on me in a negative way.
How important is a message for you in terms of the types of stories you prefer to get involved with? Are you part activist (and if so, for what causes), do you want something that primarily presses artistic buttons, or is it a matter of simply working first and foremost? (Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three…).
I believe that we as artists have a responsibility to explore stories that are difficult. Both film and theatre have a magical way of bringing difficult to digest subjects to the surface, which opens up, sometimes, a much-needed discussion around finding solutions. I wouldn’t say I am an activist – not yet anyway – but I do feel a social responsibility to use my art to educate as well as entertain. Both are needed. Art for the sake of art is wonderful, but art for a purpose is magical and, I believe, essential. I am an actor and a storyteller. My job is to say words, but it’s my passion to convey the truth within those words.
What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?
I often have this conversation when it comes to roles. I believe in collaboration, as collaboration is far more interesting than one singular opinion, so I need a director who is willing to discover the role with me and ask questions that I may not have highlighted within my own preparation for a role. It colours the performance in such a beautiful way. It’s mutual respect not only for one another, but for the character and the story that both the actor and director are trying to tell. This is mostly for film in particular, as most soaps don’t have the luxury of time to create character, and often directors are cycled through during the filming process, so this approach won’t work. Ultimately, I think you need to understand the beast you are working with to best know how to work within each medium of acting and how to interact with the art form and its directors. I find a lot of the times, both actor and director are unprepared and do not fully understand the rules of engagement for the specific form. As a general rule, I don’t put up with rudeness, but that’s on a human level, and that follows me everywhere. If you are worth your title, you won’t treat others badly, as each art form requires collaboration and no one will want to collaborate with bad behaviour. That goes for actors too.
Does the way a film or show is distributed make a difference to you – the impact of the big screen and epic sound in a cinema versus a film or series being watched on a laptop or phone? Please answer as both a performer and a fan.
As a fan, I grew up fantasising about the big screen. It’s magical, and the most fantastic things happen there. I would still love to see myself on the big screen, but the actual size of the screen is irrelevant. If people are supporting the art and watching the story that is being told and the viewer is being affected, that’s a win for both the audience and the creators. It’s no secret that we as storytellers need the consumer to support our stories so we can continue creating. So I hope that on which ever platform they choose it comes with that financial support. But don’t believe that screen size snobbery is helpful. The most important thing is that the art is supported and seen by as many people as it can be. Yes, the cinema is a subversive experience that cannot be replicated on a laptop or phone, but there are almost a billion different opinions and everyone should all be able to enjoy our creations in their preferred way.
What are your current projects?
I am currently working on some amazing projects, both as a writer and as an actor. I love the journey of discovery with every character. The most satisfying thing I have come to treasure from creating any character is finding the truth within their words said with my mouth, and their actions made physical using my body. I can’t say much about the project or the character that I am playing in an upcoming film, but I will say the heart is always the most incredible thing to discover of the character – especially the stories we are telling about grey characters that bear the burden of their evil and choose to fight for their light.