My life as an actor, part one
By Simon Barget
Back at acting school, they taught us how to act. They taught us nearly all the things you need to know to be a decent actor. They teach you voice and method, and how to hold yourself, how to move your body, enunciation, pronunciation, modulation, deviation, context, they teach you which side of you pans out best, they taught us how to project and win an audience, how to be demonstrative and get people on your side, if it sounds a little forced and contrived that’s because it was.
And it’s funny when I look back to the time before acting school and the time after, because they were such different times, the demarcation was so great, because before acting school I was just a regular person with absolutely no awareness of what it meant to act, to be someone else, how the tiniest things you did inside came across on the out, the subtlest minutest details you wouldn’t believe and it was like I look back to the time before I started acting as if I was clumsy and stupid and unaware and the way I see myself in my mind’s eye before I was let’s say ‘shaped’ is not a pretty sight for me, and I’m just glad at the person I became and I am now knowing all the things I do.
The school wasn’t far from my house and I could even walk there though most of the time I took the bus. And I remember getting to the outside bit with the gate and the front stairs and just feeling, perhaps not being acutely aware of it at the time, just feeling like this was the place you needed to be to move on in life, this was the place we were all supposed to be, and I felt sorry for all the kids that didn’t make it to our school, I really looked down on them, that’s if I ever bothered to cast a thought in their direction, all the kids that were doing something else, I mean they were like nothing to me, because the only thing I ever had on my mind was acting and becoming this big star.
And at the beginning, I didn’t necessarily feel like I could do it. I felt silly being someone else, doing the exercises they made you do, like for example, we stood in the big hall and Mr Proctor told us that we had to imagine that everyone in the group was an animal and we had to mentally name them and then we had to just circle round the room and whenever you came upon someone you had to tell them what animal they were and why, and I just remember one of the guys, Dan, coming up to me and saying I was a rat , -- the irony was that he looked just like a rat himself - because I was shifty and weasly and tricky and basically this was just a licence for telling people you didn’t like them, because the glee with which he delivered this obloquy was just off the charts, and when it bordered on the abrasive it felt uncomfortable and I started to wonder whether it was natural to be acting if this was the type of thing you had to go through. And then it got worse or better depending on your point of view: all the times we had to do those one-on-ones staring gormlessly into each other’s eyes not moving, and then just saying what comes up, like: I feel like you are judging me, or I feel like I’m judging you but I feel like I don’t want to judge you and now I’m aware that I’m thinking all of this and that I should be saying this because that is what I’m thinking and I’m supposed to be telling you everything I’m thinking and why I’m thinking it but I really don’t want to hear what you are really thinking about me because I’m fucking petrified it’s very fucking harsh etc. and then having to share this with the group, it was all a bit removed and crazy.
But I wanted to act. I was destined, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
And then it was only after leaving acting school that I realised that actors are certain types and that I was one of them, we get so identified with the role and the scene that we can’t not be what we are, plain and simple, we forget that we’re doing it, and speak to any major actor, speak to Philip Seymour Hoffman if you could, and he’d tell you it’s the same, he simply merges with the person and forgets that he’s somebody else, PSH gone and in comes …. what’s the character in Synecdoche, what’s his name, oh shit I forget, it’ll come to me…YES, Caden Cotard. He IS Caden. He oozes Caden.
And that was pretty much it. After acting school, I was a proud actor. I was actor in form and everything else. Which goes back to what I was saying about fame or nothing, all actors are doing it absolutely right, all are inhabiting the person, and I don’t care whether you’ve won Best Supporting Actor ten times in a row or five BAFTA’s, your bit-part actor is no different, zero difference to the people you see accepting those awards.
So I just wanted to share one more thing. That often when I’d come back after class I was so in character that I forgot, you cannot believe this, I literally forgot who I was, and I had been so transported that I had been come the role we were playing that day in class. It’s a weird feeling. It’s a weird feeling to forget and then it’s a weird feeling to remember but what I never ever forgot from those days on was that I was an actor and that it was in my bones.