I was asked recently if I wanted to act in a film.
Henry Beardy of Sachigo Lake First Nation is in his last year of the two-year film production program at Confederation College in Thunder Bay and he was shooting his thesis film – a story that involves two guitarists.
I’ve played guitar for more than 10 years, and Henry asked me weeks before the shoot to be an actor, but I declined.
“I don’t like to act,” I told him. Much like I don’t like hearing my own voice in recordings, I don’t like seeing myself on video. I have this self-perception of how I look or sound to others that is obliterated once I see or hear myself. Worse, I knew if Henry completed the film, it would be publicly screened in the spring.
I’m also not a great actor. I acted in two other films while I was the film program. In the first year, I acted in a classmate’s film. In a few shots of the final product, I can see myself trying not to smile. In the second year, I acted in a first-year’s film where I played the father of my classmate. I ruined a few takes by flubbing lines or breaking character by laughing.
On a Tuesday, Henry emailed me in need of an actor. The actor he had found might be canceling due to a scheduling conflict and the shoot was the coming weekend.
I had a similar situation when I shot my thesis film earlier this year. My actress backed out and I was scrambling to find someone else. It was stressful and nerve-racking. While I was able to find someone, I knew it would be more difficult for Henry since his choices were narrowed due to the need for someone who can play guitar.
After sleeping on it, I told him I’d do it. I figured that not only would I be helping a friend but also, as someone who wants to direct my own films, I could see what it’s like as an actor to be directed.
In film, directors lead the production, obviously. But usually, the director’s creative input in how the film will look is done in pre-production in working with the director of photography (DP). Once on set, the director’s focus is usually the actor, and most great acting performances are the result of great directing.
“What’s my motivation?” is the cliché question for actors, but I usually asked, “What am I doing in this shot, Henry?” and he’d tell me which lines to say and what actions to do. Often, I’d ask for more details. In one instance, I had to look at another character talking to me then look down all reflective-like.
“What am I thinking about?” I’d ask Henry. “Am I apprehensive? Why do I feel like that?” These are details directors should know and Henry always had an answer.
My character had some dramatic moments and I tried to draw on past experiences to feel what my character is supposed to feel. In one scene, I was essentially saying good-bye to my younger brother, and as I acted out the scene, I thought of my own younger brother. In one take, I actually felt my eyes start to well up.
I surprised myself in how serious I took the role. I expected myself to break character a lot and start laughing. This happened once in one scene.
I had been on set for nearly 12 hours and was tired, and then I had a sugary drink and felt “silly,” as one person put it. It didn’t help that I was joking with crewmembers before the shot. I ruined each take because I just started laughing when I was supposed to be somber. I think we got it on the fourth take.
There was a scene where I’m supposed to be angry, but I don’t think I pulled it off that well because I had to force it. Maybe it was because we did that scene in segments, so I wasn’t able to build up to it during the performance.
In the end, I had a fun time being a part of Henry’s film. I had a fun scene where I’m playing guitar in a dank basement with dramatic lighting and smoke effects. There were also scenes on a stage with colourful lighting where I had mini jam sessions with the other guitarist between setups.
I’m still nervous about seeing myself in the final product but Henry seemed pleased with my performance.
“That’s exactly what I wanted,” he said on a few occasions.
I don’t foresee an Oscar for acting in my future, but I certainly would consider acting again, because sometimes you just gotta challenge yourself.
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