All play and no work makes Jill a crazy b*tch…All play and no work makes Jill a crazy b*tch… All play and no work makes Jill a crazy b*tch… I have had several days off due to location and weather problems and being locked up in the wooden cabins of our hotel with endless carpeted corridors gives me a creepy resonance of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. Hopefully, this is as far as it goes and I will not end up killing everybody with an axe because of idle time!
Now that I think of it, an actor’s life comes with a lot of idle time. It haunts us and has been known to drive some of us quite mad. If you are not shooting you have idle time worrying about not getting work and when you are shooting you have idle time between shots, idle days off in a strange place, idle moments in daily hair and make up. When I first started doing films, I hated this idle time, coming from a background of theatre where you rehearse solidly for perhaps six hours at a stretch, get those lines, those movements, those thoughts out on the rehearsal floor and then leave feeling fulfilled with a day’s work.
On films I would feel cheated, sitting for hours in a van, getting out to give one shot and then waiting a couple more hours. I would feel I haven’t done enough ‘work’, I would feel my enthusiasm dissipate from the wait. But today, with a little more experience behind me, I wonder if it is this idle time that is partly responsible for shaping an actor. The time alone, makes you live in your head, makes you feel emotions which you may easily avoid when you are working or socialising and it may well be that the lack of escape from yourself is what makes an actor act.
It is not on the set, when you are worrying about the light hitting your face, or the wind messing up your hair, that you really ‘get into character’, sure you have to stay concentrated, not fumble lines and not get affected by the chaos around, but the major part of the work is behind the scenes, in your head and in rehearsal.
And that’s the hardest part because there’s nobody to direct you when the camera is off, nobody to tell you where to go next or what tone to take, it’s a journey you have to take alone.
The discipline of reigning that idle time, that’s the challenge of an actor. What we pretentiously call riyaaz, is actually just that, a reigning of idle time. Being able to repetitively rehearse lines, work on diction, do exercises and dig deeper into your character with the same energy, day after day, staying focused during the waiting period, is maybe what an actor’s job really is all about. That, and keeping from going mad.