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Director Actor Relationship Seen By The Actor

A subjective attempt to describe the relationship between a director and an actor during their creative work on a film or a theatre play based on my own experience.


I’ve been an actor for over eight years. Doing what I do I have met many different directors. Some were more experienced; others were less experienced; some who were educated to become directors and others who are so-called autodidacts. Few of them were even respected in the business or had received awards, but there were also some who almost nobody had heard of yet.

The very first meeting with a director is for me a critical factor in our mutual work afterwards. This is the moment that a lot of things depend on later. It is kind of like a blind date, the meeting of two strangers after which there are only two scenarios possible: either they have another meeting, or they don’t feel like meeting each other ever again. How do you make the first scenario happen? How do you make them want to meet you again?

For me, the incredibly vital thing is to find a common element with a director, even the smallest feature which would relate to my personality. It may be a shared idea behind the creation we’re about to work on, the way we look at the world around us or a passion for the same books, the same music, etc. It could seem completely unnecessary. An actor’s task is to dutifully create a credible character. His acting abilities should be sufficient enough, especially after a few years in the business. However, finding a common idea for work will be paying dividends in a mutual inspiration, primarily when working on something and it appears that some solution does not meet the director’s expectations. Then an actor “infected” with a project’s inspiration or philosophy will come to their aid.

During my work, I recall this first meeting many times. I verify words I heard then with reality. If it appears that all problems shape up well, I feel safe and am sure that a director knows what he is doing, that he is in control of a project of which I’m only one of the elements. On the other hand if nothing good results from such analysis I become suspicious that on our first meeting a director wasn’t honest with me. For some reason he deceived me, perhaps trying to bring me on board their project. I instantly lose trust and slowly begin distancing myself from a project, instinctively putting out my flame of creation. I become a craftsman just trying to DEFEND my part decently.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t treat a director like he is a kind of demiurge who should know an answer to every question. I ‘allow’ him not to know. I impose one condition only – absolute honesty. If on our first meeting I hear „I don’t know that yet” as an answer to any of my questions, I respect it a great deal because I know how brave and honest you have to be to acknowledge you don’t know. This is the kind of person I want to work with. I don’t expect answers to all my questions right away because of creativity, although it requires logical thinking, is not a science. Well! While working together, many factors may need changing which I understand correctly and sometimes even hope to happen. However, an essential condition is consistency and work logic, compatible with the initial honesty thanks to which the trust between us can be born.

Perhaps what I write now is highly unpopular amongst actors, but there are situations when I don’t have to understand the director’s intentions. I trust them, so I do whatever they ask me to, and I don’t have to wonder or fear if their words are sensible. „When we start shooting, the most important information for an actor is on which foot he should enter the frame and not a general idea of the film”, said Michael Haneke in one of his interviews. How true! Eventually, an actor whose concentration is not disrupted by any doubts resulting from the lack of understanding between the director and me focuses only on the credibility of the character he plays. Haneke’s words are a luxury for an actor. When a choice of on which foot he enters the frame first is the only worry an actor has, it means that there is a fantastic understanding between him and a director. Doing work based on trust and honesty the director and actor can reach another level – to understand each other with no words at all!

Honesty, honesty, honesty: from the very beginning. I can repeat these words endless! Thanks to honesty the synergy can be achieved. It fundamentally affects later stages – the confidence an actor places in a director, and consequently total submission to their vision which becomes coherent thanks to it. Only then the success of the project is possible. 

The article was written by Pawel Palcat & Marek Olchawski


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