As Stella Adler once said, “Don’t call yourself an actor – call yourself a script interpreter. Because if you can’t interpret a script, you won’t be an actor for very long.” What does this quote mean to you? What is the point Stella is driving home? Do you know how to interpret a script? Why is she not using the word analyze?
A script is telling a story. This story has a beginning middle and an end. Although you can argue there are no “correct” ways to interpret a script, I would say there are many ways that are futile. How do you know which side of the coin you are on? It’s simple. Is your “interpretation” helping or hindering the telling of the story? Some may argue that is not the job of the actor. That the character you are playing has no concept of what story they are telling. To which I would say SO WHAT!? You are an actor, you are NOT the character in the story. No matter which ‘method’ you use, you will still never be the character, hence the word ACTING. Understanding the story’s narrative as a tool to help guide your interpretation is not outside the actors toolbox. In my opinion, when an actor grasps that THE TRUE NATURE OF A SCRIPT is to transform people, transform the protagonist, it’s the exact thing that unlocks many actors imaginations. Remember, we all agreed a script tells a story, beginning middle and end. That story, when told through a script, is about the transformation of it’s main character(s). Are the choices you’re making for the character you’re playing adding to the narrative or taking away from it? Is your interpretation helping to tell the story? How? Why?
It would seem to me that the answers to these questions would only help the actor make more dynamic choices, not less, and that they would help the actor get out of their ego and into the character. The choices would always come back to serving the story.
I am not suggesting that this should be the only tool an actor uses. If it were they would fail. An actor cannot skimp on all the other well worn devices of interpreting. Who. What. Where. Why. Objective. Conflict. Stakes. Etc… They are well worn for a reason, they work and are necessary.
Which brings me to why Stella uses the word INTERPRET and not ANALYZE. Analyze is cerebral. It’s what scientists do. Analyze has no heart, no soul. We analyze in hopes of finding an answer. INTERPRET, on the other hand, is flexible, it’s what artists do. It leaves room for ideas and ideas lead to imagination.
Imagination is what we do. There is no argument between imagination vs. personalization for me (that’s a whole other blog post). They exist on the same coin. One hand feeding the other. Some actors need the shoes, while others need the psyche and who’s to say which feeds which. Ideas of how to best serve the story is just another way into your imagination. These ideas will lead to you to an action. One that will be based in the story. There is not one right way into your imagination.
I asked earlier what Stella’s quote means to you? This is what it means to me: talent as an actor means very little. You can throw a rock in Los Angeles and hit a talented actor. So stop calling yourself an actor. Instead, understand that what you are doing goes well beyond talent, it is craft and craft is sustainable. Craft will feed and nurture your soul. Craft is flexible. Craft is your interpretation. If it’s talent you seek, I have plenty of rocks.