Mature Interpretation

Meryl Streep, a good example of an actor who practices mature interpretation.

Meryl Streep, a good example of an actor who practices mature interpretation.

Good acting comes from the application of technique. Mature acting comes from the way we think about the script. The way we extrapolate from it. Combining it with our own understanding of life. Mature Interpretation is a result of who we have become as people.

We see plenty of strong actors, with fluent emotional instruments, who give good performances, but their work hasn’t yet grown-up. Because it’s an immature reflection of life. We sometimes see less talented actors give more mature performances because they’re better at reflecting the complexities that come up in the real world of relationships.

Maturity is more accepting, though not universally accepting. A mature person accepts pain and discomfort, because she knows that the best things in life will be accompanied by terrible circumstances. But a mature person is not foolhardy and will not accept needlessly destructive behavior. A mature person draws a line and fights passionately when that line is crossed. But before that line is crossed, a mature person recognizes bad behavior and continues to negotiation for what she wants.

Mature Interpretation is anti-sentimental, while finding a way to include your tenderest feelings. Anti-sentimental, while finding a way to live by your ideals. It’s full of contradictions.

I saw a man interviewed who said he had left the Catholic Church at 15 years old because he couldn’t accept the hypocrisy. He went back to the church at 40 because he’d come to understand that all groups, like all people, are hypocritical. (Yes, even me.) But he fought the Church during the child molestation crisis to win full disclosure and compensation for the victims; then went to mass on Sundays.

Likewise, a character, interpreted maturely, will tolerate the hypocrisy of the other characters, impatiently accept the bulk of it and draw the line somewhere.

Actors are often passionate people who believe strongly in their political opinions. A good exercise is to articulate what’s wrong with your own point-of-view and what’s right with the other side. (Making certain, of course, never to do so in a fight.)

A mature interpretation assumes the character is aware of the myriad considerations comprising her Given Circumstances. If you assume she’s more with-it than you are, you’ll have more fun playing her and the audience will be more excited by your work.

But what, you may ask, if the character is suppose to be stupid? Play her as a savant. Believe me, if you play straight stupid we’ll assume that you’re an imbecile too and curse you for wasting our time.

Watching a young actor rehearse the simpleton, Lenny, in the play Of Mice and Men, is often a study in tedium. But at some point in the process, if the actor is good, he finds a way to play the part at the Top of his Own Intelligence. It is, after all, perspicacious to spend at least some of one’s time stroking puppies.

Someone once said, “Always play that you know.” This is a handy thought to apply in any acting situation and the hallmark of Mature Interpretation. The sister-thought that really helps is, “And always play that they know.” Thereby raising the intelligence of the other characters, so that the whole altercation is happening at a higher level.

And now, the final side to the triangle: “Always play that the audience knows.”

— Rob McCaskill

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