IMITATION IN ACTING by Simon Furness
Some actors prefer to start with external details. It is more difficult…..and the result is not so subtle, the choice of elements not so wise as it might be if you followed the inward thread of the part first. It is like buying a dress without being measured.’ Richard Boleslavsky.
Imitation offers the actor another window into creating a character. Imitation has a long and noble tradition in art. But it’s misunderstood, especially because we prize the individual and originality. But all artists starts off by imitating artists they admire before acquiring their own style. Look at how many imitators were spawned by Marlon Brando and JamesDean.
Most people think of ‘the American style’, typified by early exponents of the so called Method, as working from the inside out, ie you cultivate your inner life and then allow that to form the foudation of your performance. But you can work outside in, like building a barrel, to borrow Stanislavsky’s analogy, a barrel which you then have to ‘fill in’. The classic British stage actors used to work in this way all the time, eg Laurence Olivier and the series of ‘noses’ he employed for various roles. It’s a valid way of working. Stanislavsky also worked this way, eg the story about the character he found by smudging his own make up one day in a mood of despair.
As character actors we have to expand our parameters. Imitating helps you reach hidden parts of yourself. By presenting these different aspects you help to create a character.
By imitating a physical mannerism like a way of walking, it will trigger a whole range of feelings inside you. The imitation is there to inspire a range of individual responses.
Like any other physical impediment, the aspect you imitate has to be practised as you go about your day so that you can sustain it with ease. We are looking always for a feeling of ease in our work.