1. Actors who are unpleasant with Elizabethan English totally. They are able to recite it hardly. They stumble over phrases and words, plus they sound, generally, like they’re speaking a language they don’t really understand. I actually sound very similar when i actually speak Spanish most likely. I know how exactly to pronounce Spanish words, but I hardly understand the vocabulary. I’ve no idea what I’m saying.
2. Actors who’ve some knowledge with blank verse, but who change into POE-TREE mode when they speak it. They seem extremely self-conscious about the difference between normal speech and Elizabethan, and they really “hit” the differences, as if trying to let me know they “get it.” Or they possess some kind of “mid atlantic” Shakespeare voice.
3. Actors who are totally comfortable with Elizabethan speech, but who don’t revel in its unique quirks and features. They speak it as if it’s contemporary prose. They don’t do anything with rhythms, collection endings, etc. Imagine me reading Spanish and making it sound totally natural, but pronouncing “pollo” (chicken) with English Ls instead of with a Y sound.
4. Actors who sound as Elizabethan English is definitely their native language. They are not only comfortable with it: they OWN it. By which I mean they understand how to use its unique features as rhetorical weapons. They wield blank verse just like a sword. (Listen to Kenneth Branagh in any of his Shakespeare films.)
In general, one-through-four, above, will be the phases actors proceed through because they become excellent handlers of Shakespearean vocabulary.
I have already been concentrating on Shakespeare, however, the ditto applies (frequently in subtle forms) with speaking any writer’s lines. David Mamet and Harold Pinter are contemporary playwrights who create in an elevated (poetic) style. It certainly is interesting to listen to the difference between actors who are more comfortable with those designs and actors who aren’t. The difference is profound.
With Mamet, the difference can be heard by you by watching his early movies — the types he directed himself. Compare the acting in “House of Games” with, say, “The Edge” or “Glengarry Glenn Ross.” “House of Video games” starred mostly unfamiliar (at that time) actors, and, though these were people of Mamet’s theater ensemble, they spoke his lines in a stilted method. However, in “The Advantage” and “Glengarry” — also in “The Verdict” — you hear older benefits like Paul Newman, Al Anthony and Pacino Hopkins speaking the same type of language. They own the language than letting the language own them rather, and the full total result can be a quantum leap in believability.
(I also believe it’s interesting comparing the actors on the original version of “Star Trek” to the “Next Generation” actors. I’m not sure I understand why this happened, but in my opinion, though both series involved a lot of clunky, badly-written dialog, the original actors owned it and the “Next Generation” actors were a bit cowed by it. They always sound a bit wooden to me.
Shatner, famously, is histrionic, but he can sound real at times. And most of his costars sound very natural to me, especially Deforest Kelley. This may be because they were all working actors for whom “Star Trek” was just another job. The more recent actors knew they are part of a Big Thing from the get-go. But, in general, contemporary actors seem to struggle with genre shows and films. Older actors discovered a real method to perform those parts with a lot more simplicity and naturalism.)
I’ll end by concentrating on various other aspects, besides facility with language, that leads to naturalism.
– Playing an action. This is the brilliant idea Stanislavsky came up with, and it changed acting in a profound way. Rather than try to emote, the actor must find something to do — an achievable action — and try to do it. He finds a new action for each moment of the play and generally expresses it as an infinitive verb, e.g. “My action here is To Steal” or “My action here is To Convince.” In a sense, this sort of acting seems real because it IS real. You don’t pretend to try to convince someone; you really try to convince him.
– Vulnerability. When we watch actors, we are, in a sense, looking through a keyhole, trying to catch people with their (metaphorical — usually) clothes off. Actors must be willing to get (emotionally) naked in front of an audience. If they’re not, we can tell. This has nothing to do with “being emotional,” “crying on cue” or acting in some histrionic way. Rather, it’s about not really safeguarding oneself. It’s about hearing how many other actors say — really hearing — and having whatever response you have got, without editing it or trying to save face if your reaction is embarrassing.
Our culture brings people up to be so guarded, it’s rare for a person to be able to drop those guards. I think this is, to a certain extent, the X-factor people talk about when they say, “There are some things you just can’t learn. You just have to ‘have it.'” It’s impossible, during a standard rehearsal period (if it’s possible at all) to teach someone to be vulnerable.
– Humility. What do actors do if they’re in a bad play? For instance, what does an actor do if he has to deliver a joke that’s not funny? It’s not funny, he knows it’s not funny, and he knows the target audience won’t find it funny? But he also knows that his character thinks it’s hilarious joke. Bad actors shall somehow transmission to the market that they understand the joke is normally bad because they’re concerned the market will think they’re chumps if they don’t. Great (believable) actors will perform the moment as if they’re telling the funniest joke in the history of the world.
– Confidence. Which should never be puzzled with arrogance? Some actors, mostly through experience, just seem totally comfortable living on stage or on film. They are good at what they do and they know it. They aren’t arrogant about it. They just don’t worry that they’ll be able to get the job done.
Acting is very hard, and there’s tons of stuff to be concerned about actually if “all” you’re worrying about is remembering your lines, walking to the right place at the right time, and playing your action. If at the same time, you’re worried about a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with your character (e.g. will the critics like me? Do I look extra fat in this costume?) then you’re not completely focused on the character’s actions. The audience can usually tell.
Finally, a surprising number of actors — even professional ones, in films or on Broadway — do not learn their lines sufficiently. They have to grope a bit, to remember what to say following. The smart types develop methods to make it look as if they’re heroes are groping, trying to come up with just the right words to say at the moment. But it’s never totally believable. If even a tiny fraction of an actor’s brain is utilized up thinking “What’s my next line?” he can’t be totally in-the-instant. Great actors learn their lines so well that the correct words just pop into their heads when needed.