Thursday, January 29, 2009

Classical Sci-Fi?

A television show once had a television agent say "classical actors and science fiction are like peanut butter and chocolate." Indeed in Hollywood this love affair with classical actors (especially British ones) seems to see this as true. Sir Ian McKellen as Gandolf in Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men. Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard in Star Trek: the Next Generation and Professor Xavier in X-Men. Dame Judi Dench as M in the new Bond movies. Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek. And of course, the entire adult cast of the Harry Potter movies. We at Ghostlight Chicago have touched on this theme before, but let's look at this a little more.

One one level this makes sense. Shakespeare and most classical texts use heightened language - not the terse short responses our modern ears are used to. It takes a great level of energy and skill to get through the longer lines. Just the same, there is usually a level of heightened language in science fiction - the scenarios call for long explanations of fantastical situations and often less than well written scripts. It takes a certain level of acting skill to slog your way through the techno-babble and keep the audiences engaged in the plot.

But these classical actors are not unaccustomed to supernatural powers. Greek tragedy has the appearance of Gods and immortal beings. Fairies and sprites abound in Shakespeare. These actors know how other worldly beings speak so having to perform as aliens, wizards, and the lot is no challenge.

But at the same time, these roles can also be the most fun; both for the actor and the audience. There are little quirks and nuances that can be readily exploited to make fascinating characters. And sometimes the more unlike us they are, the more the reveal our humanity. Once you have studied the cannon of Shakespeare: Lear, Viola, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, and Mercutio... well, there aren't any characters that are more challenging, human, and diverse than are found there. So playing anyone else, even an alien, is a breeze.

Happy Birthday: Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

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