Wednesday, July 15, 2015

“Actors should show their deeper feelings”

Says veteran coach, Chris Edmund, whose most famous pupil is the Hollywood star Hugh Jackman

By Shevlin Sebastian

One night, in 2013, acting coach Chris Edmund went to the sets of the film, 'Wolverine', in Sydney, to see his student Hugh Jackman at work. This was at the end of a long working day. “But Hugh's focus remained absolutely intense,” says Edmund. “At every take he was working hard. Very few actors have that kind of focus, dedication and capacity for hard work. I remember thinking, 'Now I understand why Hugh has achieved so much and given such amazing performances on stage and screen.' These qualities have played a vital part in his success in Hollywood.”

Edmund had come to Mumbai recently to give acting workshops for established actors and actresses in Bollywood as well as beginners. He is a veteran at this. Edmund had been the head of the Acting Department at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Perth for many years. He also had teaching stints in places like London, Hongkong, Dublin and Singapore.

But Edmund is frank enough to admit that very few make it. “Acting is a highly competitive business,” he says. “People have a good career for a while. Then trends change and they no longer get the parts they want. Then there are times when actors drop out in their thirties because they have kids to look after and need financial security. ”

Sometimes, the opposite happens. “People get breaks later in life, because they are at the right place at the right time,” he says. “So, there are all sorts of factors in the life of an artist.”

But there are exceptions too. Exceptional talents like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are still doing cutting-edge work in their seventies. “If actors are smart they can reinvent themselves,” says Edmund. “They have to keep changing with the times. The great actors are on a constant quest to keep perfecting their craft. That kind of attitude can help you sustain a long career.”

Incidentally, the actor Edmund admires the most is Marlon Brando (1924-2004). He, of course, had a brilliant career in his early years - 'A Streetcar named Desire, 'On The Waterfront, 'the Godfather' and 'Last Tango In Paris' - followed by a long and painful decline.

Brando changed acting completely,” says Edmund. “He was physical, organic, in the moment, and brave. He took acting to an extraordinary level. I admired his courage. I love actors who are able to show their deeper feelings. In fact, in drama school, I encourage students to go deep within themselves. But if they say it is painful, then they will not be able to go far. You need to be strong in this regard.”

However, this inner mining can have a negative effect. After the 'Last Tango', Brando had said, “I am never going to go as deep as that. From now on I am going to take the money and not push myself.”

And he never did. “After a time, good acting comes as a cost,” says Edmund. “People can no longer take the strain. And they will say, 'I'll just drive a car'.”

Despite these pitfalls, a lot of students in drama school have high expectations. “Unfortunately, they are in an industry that can be harsh and cruel,” says Edmund. “Building up resistance is necessary. You need to be resilient. And at the same time you have to be sensitive in order to produce good art. So, it is a very precarious balance.”

Unlike earlier times, you can no longer be a suffering artist and wait for roles. “An actor has to be proactive,” he says. “You need to have an awareness of marketing. The industry is changing all the time. So actors have to respond to that. An actor should develop a canny understanding of the various aspects of the industry.”

Asked about his opinion on Hollywood films, Edmund says, “They are too formulaic. Tried and tested themes are the norm. There is a conservative attitude because of the huge cost of making a film. I prefer to watch TV which is breaking boundaries. But the exciting thing today is that you can buy a camera for a few thousand dollars and go out and shoot a film. Young people are so sophisticated about films. I believe the film industry will reinvent itself to remain relevant.”

Meanwhile, regarding his Mumbai experience, Edmund says, “I was delighted to work with [founder] Dalip Sondhi and the [Perth-based] SDDS International Institute for Dramatic Art. I interacted with a wide range of actors and found them to be committed, focussed and anxious to take everything possible from the workshops. It was a joyous experience. I hope very much to return and continue to work with such talented and dynamic people.”

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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