Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Richard Eyre & Charlotte Spencer

Magazine article Screen International

Stars of Tomorrow One-to-One: Richard Eyre & Charlotte Spencer

Article excerpt

Director Richard Eyre tells Star of Tomorrow actor Charlotte Spencer about tempering performances for stage and screen, the perils of over-protective agents and how Emily Blunt set a benchmark for young actors.

Charlotte Spencer: What are some of the qualities you recognize in a leading lady?

Richard Eyre: Well, I suppose they'd be the qualities that are in all actors I admire. And so I wouldn't necessary categorise them as "leading ladies". I look for, first of all, wit: wit in the sense of humour, wit in the sense of spirit, but also intelligence. They've got to be quick-witted. In the theatre, that sort of mercurial quick wit is everything. The first thing that draws you to an actor is that they can think quickly - you sort of take for granted the technical fluency and competence. Or you should be able to take that for granted. Another thing is a capacity to be still, when necessary. Not to feel that everything has to be filled with a movement or a gesture. Having the inner confidence to be in repose, because that has enormous authority. And then an inherent ability to use space: there's this myth that being centre stage is always the best place; it's not. The best actors are always the ones who know how to use space. Bad actors just kind of stand there whereas good actors always seem to find themselves in the same relationship to the other actors in the space. They seem to be able to define space. And it may be a stupid thing to say but what distinguishes the real actors from the non-actors is a desire to communicate. If you look at Judi Dench, she always wants to communicate with the last person in the last seat. If you don't want to do that, then you shouldn't really be doing it, because it's a basic lack of desire to - on a crude level - make yourself heard. Those are a few of the ingredients.

Would these qualities be any different if you were looking to cast someone for a screen role as opposed to a stage role?

No, I think not. Because it's about the desire to communicate. We've all seen actors who think they're communicating and think they're giving a great film performance, and it's inert. Of course there are massive differences between film acting and theatre acting. The quality I mentioned earlier that is so attractive in the theatre - the mercurial quality - sometimes looks insane on film, over busy. So of course you have to adjust, but it doesn't mean that you aren't animated and you aren't desiring to communicate. If it's all for yourself, then it doesn't communicate. With film, the critical thing is it only matters when you're turning over. It doesn't matter what you do before, what you do after, how wonderful you were in rehearsal. That's the moment. It either lives or it doesn't live. Whereas on the stage, you're in much more control.

Can you answer that same question in regards to child actors? Obviously you first cast me when I was 12 [in Mary Poppins].

I find you have to go into a zone in your brain where you sort of switch offyour objective faculties of judgment. Because often the children who are very competent are the ones who've been to stage school. In fact, I've just been auditioning eight year old boys. The least interesting were the two who had been in Billy Elliot because they'd become little actors. The fascinating ones were the ones who were just natural. Now, the really good ones can be both highly skilled and experienced and appear natural. That's exactly what you were, this supremely skilled 12 year old. At the same time you were truthful and natural. After all, the game of acting is pretending to be natural, pretending to be spontaneous. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse in order to appear as if you're making up the lines as you go along. With child actors, I've found if you go into a sort of blank and let your instinct take you, it works. It took me towards Charlotte, who was just brilliant. It's definitely more instinctual than casting adult actors. …

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