Echoes of You (2018) Interview with Actor Laurence Fuller
Directed by Henry Quilici
'Echoes of You' is gracefully composed as if itself was a piece of music. With its minimal use of spoken word, the emotional cues impact the audience without explanation, just raw unspoken emotion. With it's phenomenal acting, you truly feel every beat of the story.
I had the pleasure to speak with its star Laurence Fuller about his experience on this film and what it means to him.
We like to start off with the easy questions here at FilmBusters, so what is your all time favourite film and why?
You say this is a simple question, and in one moment I think of Julian Schnabel’s first film “Before Night Falls” and then his second in “Basquiat”, now his most recent in “Eternity’s Gate”. To be as passionate feelingful and devoted as his subjects Reinaldo Arenas, Basquiat and Van Gogh were and then to and then in these three biopics that make art out of these men’s lives, like a life in itself can be a work of art, taken in, reimagined and portrayed by a group of skilled crafts people, in honor of that humanity is such a beautiful thing.
And then I think of Nicholas Winding Refn’s stark retro exciting and provocative films, Tarantino’s satisfying rewriting of history. The Safdies contemporary take on the gritty New York style that was once Scorsese’s domain. Scorsese and the light he has shined on many important and exciting subjects from the Dalai Llama to the mafia and realized these visions with such mastery.
Arronosfky’s originality. Both Spielberg and Ron Howard’s respective ability to pluck the heart strings. PT Anderson’s commitment to a free and existentialist approach to creation that somehow through talent and showing up results in accidental masterpieces every damn time! And I resent you for putting me in the position where I have to decide and take on all the successes and failures of one film to the exclusion of all the others. Even within the context of all of them, I think of Barry Lyndon and I compare it to my feelings about 2001 Space Odyssey that there within the conversation between the two in my mind plays out a story of a rogue conman climbing the aristocracy through the side entrance finding his foot landing cleanly on each rung until a power struggle with his step son destroys him, and in 2001 an epic poem of a film that allows for a more visceral experience of time than any scientific theory could illuminate for me.
Or each character Philip Seymour Hoffman created from his early days as a journey man in one or two scenes here and there to his operatic intensity in Sydney Lumet’s “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead”, to his on screen battle of wills with Meryl Streep in “Doubt”. Then with almost prophetic finality in “The Master”, the epitaph to an artistic legacy redefining what it meant to be a screen actor, the Oedipal conflicts between the two, the fully realized social experiments which ended up being their characters. And between all these sorts, I feel a nostalgia for for Scorsese’s gangster films “Gangs Of New York”, “Goodfellas” and “Casino” which informed the masculine power struggles of my adolescence and ideas about American ambition, now I cannot wait to see “The Irishman”.
I had the pleasure of watching your new short film ‘Echoes of You’, which may I say was quite fantastic, with a sterling performance from yourself. Could you give us an overview of what “Echoes Of You” is about?
In one sense it’s about showing up to the task as an artist, fully committing to the fine art tradition in faith that it will make the world a better place for you having participated in it. In a more general sense it’s about teaching a man to fish. That conundrum we face when confronted by someone in need, that we ourselves are to be depleted if attending to everyone else, left empty. Yet just leading by example sometimes can be an exceptional gift. To be a positive role model. Leaders are put in this position all the time, people look to them for guidance when lost wading through the unknown complexities of modern living.
The interesting thing about being an actor, is you get to see people interpreting your behavior in all sorts of ways, sometimes spot on, sometimes you wonder what planet a person is on. Either way the receiving end of what we do is completely out of our control, when I was younger and out there auditioning for drama schools and I began to realize that it was actually a very liberating experience, you also just get used to the notion ‘ok well if you guys don’t to take me there’s dozens of other places out there who will recognize my talents’, and we are fortune to live in a world where there are many options. The competition for everything is much higher but so is access to a wide range of opportunities.
Most of my life I’ve been performing for ghosts, I suppose there’s something Romantic about that, I find them to be the most reliable guides. Often the living can’t separate their own agendas from what is great art, an all too human flaw, for which men and women should not be blamed, because I am human too and I have an agenda. I hope that it is right and will in the end do good for the world and make other people’s lives better for having experienced it, but it’s my agenda none the less. Ghosts don’t have an agenda, and their lives are subject to the machinations of history, history as dialectic, history as an open source of for the story of one’s own life and time to be directed and lived out as a piece of art in itself. You can see in the fullness of someone’s life who they really are, what they stood for, what they accomplished, what they left behind and what you chose to watch or take in from what they left.
In all of that is something about love, my character carries out the greatest act of love by showing this boy how to play this song he wrote in honor of his father. It was a gift from the heart, which the boy then had the emotional intelligence to see the benefit of, the will to carry out and transcend.
What led you to wanting to get involved in this project?
“Echoes Of You” recently had the opportunity to screen at Newport Beach Film Festival, I was very excited about this because of the whale watching community and conservation in Newport Beach, I learnt recently that in the echo of a whale, there is recorded, in the textures and every scratch of its tone; a map of everywhere it has been, its social groups, how it felt about its environment and all the other creatures surrounding. Contributions to this song by the individual members changes the complex fabric of its sound. That is just like us, and the echoes that we as people leave on others. You can tell so much about a person just by talking to them and then you carry a piece of them as you walk, some people you carry a lot of them with you.
The film is about a classical pianist who finds fulfillment in an unlikely place. As he’s auditioning and falling short of becoming a concert pianist he meets a young homeless boy and teaches him how to play a song he wrote for his father. This all comes back around in a really surprising, karmic and spiritual experience.
The director Henry Quilici really nailed that concept of the spiritual in art, and how the arts can be a compassionate, humanitarian thing. We treat it as a gift to someone else. And do I think I found it? Yeah. The experience of making this short was very emotional. It was an emotional part, and so it did require me to go into some vulnerable places within myself.
I remember first reading the script and bursting into tears when I came to the end. That message of faith in the capacity for even the smallest of moments can be reimagined through the artist’s lens to something illuminating and beautiful.
I think it’s rare to find that sort of message in the modern world, there’s a lot out there that’s just attention grabbing nonsense. It also depends on the person receiving the thing, to one person a flower could bring them to tears in pure exaltation at the complexities of existence, to another it might be nothing but a wet twig. It depends on the capacity for sensitivity and sensual faculties of the individual. As an artist that is the aspect that’s pointless to even try and control, any attempts to do so will leave the work itself feeling inauthentic. For those reasons I really have become immune to what the reception to my work is a lot of the time. To make anything of worth you have to have that sort of conviction in your own ability to create what you know to be good work, and to do what you want to do. The artist Anselm Kiefer said that each work of art cancels out those that precede it. He was talking about the language of history as a contribution to culture.
Ultimately this piece is about compassion. The longer I’ve been on this journey as an artist the more I see how my work coming back at me, in the little marks its left on others and that is increasingly rewarding, sometimes confusing, mostly rewarding, always interesting.
I think this film really shows that the only thing you can control as an artist is your performance, how someone else chooses to receive it is their decision, and that can come back around years later. Luckily just auditioning for drama schools alone gives you pretty tough skin, but then having to work with British drama school teachers, is a baptism of fire. They rarely give praise for anything. So usually by the end of it you end up not liking them but coming out stronger, more well versed in a lot of things. A lot of my peers did not enjoy their training at all. It’s not really suppose to be enjoyable in the same way that watching a film is enjoyable, when is coming of age ever like drifting with the tide, it’s more standing firm in the waves as the onslaught of the oceans force tears up all around you.
How was your experience working under Henry Quilici?
Obviously the extra weight was quite difficult, but I got used to working with another human being on top of me, eventually when it came time to shooting we decided that I should no longer be acting underneath another person, that this would essentially be inauthentic. However once Henry and I were standing on the level I could hear him better and see his face more clarity so I could receive his direction better.
There’s a huge difference when it comes to working with directors who are facilitating a group of artists to do their best work, and someone whose more interested in personal gain, same goes for the cast your working with and the whole team entirely. Some of the best experiences of my life have been on set. There’s a feeling of a family, when you come into an ensemble who are all in it to create something special. Henry was such a director and he brought out the best in all of us.
It’s an odd thing to exist as an entity, whose function as a work of art is to allow others, the director, the writer and producers to use as the raw materials for their creation, as well and contributing our own interpretations.
To make anything of worth you have to have that sort of conviction in your own ability to create what you know to be good work. As long as your constantly improving your artistic abilities everyday learning from the artists you respect what you create will be good work, as long as you know it to be good work, then does it even matter what anyone else thinks? Of course it’s nice to be recognized and have people celebrate my films, but for me that just serves as motivation to make more. “Echoes Of You” in particular, has turned out to be a very popular piece.
I would also however be really interested to make a film that vehemently splits a room. That people both love and hate on a large scale. I remember seeing the reviews for “A Single Man” the weekend that came out the front page of the two top newspapers in London on the counter, one read something like ‘“A Single Man” falls short’ one star, the other “A Single Man” a triumph!’. Later I was able to ask Christopher Isherwood’s (author of the original novel) widow Don Bachardy in that same livingroom the famous David Hockney portrait took place about their relationship and long marriage as each other’s muses, he told me it was passionate and always wrought with drama. I suppose that makes sense considering the response to the work.
Fine Art is in a constant dialog with history. Once it is a finished piece and put out into society then it is a drop in that river of either the fine art tradition which is a conversation that started as early as cave paintings to the stain glass windows of churches, to the Renaissance, to Romanticism, to Impressionism, post-Impressionism and then the Modern movement. Nothing is really outside of that narrative, if it is, then it is subversive and therefore still a part of the dialogue. Similarly it can be subversively traditional, like the rediscovery of a movement that happened in the past, yet may be considered passé today. But it still has to say something of value.
I’ve done some films where I’ve been proud of the performances but the other aspects of production were maybe not to the same level. And maybe that is a big difference between film and theatre, that a great performance can save lesser production values of a piece of theatre, but a film has to have every department working to the highest standards or modern audiences will be turned off by it. The standards today for production are incredibly high, people expect the best, and competition has driven those standards higher and higher for everything. For a piece that’s intended for a general population for today’s audience, everything has to be brilliant. Which is great and also presents all sorts of challenges which didn’t used to be so vital.
So I knew with “Echoes Of You” that the script was brilliant, I’d met the director Henry through his colleague Cameron Burnett and worked with them both on another project. The first meeting with Henry Quilici happened at the end of last year shooting his USC short "Tweaker Speak” about a meth addict dealing with the demons of addiction as he tried to get his daughter back. A very different piece. I noticed the things Henry would say were very to the point, very clear, uncluttered by doubts or abstract theory, his notes always referred back to the story or to human experience.
A couple months later I was contacted by Henry and his producer Cam Burnett (a young filmmaker with similar sensibilities). When I first read the script and came to the end, I burst into tears, it had come to me soon after I had finished reading a passage by John Berger in his book “A Painter Of Our Time” which detailed the life of an artist, most often one of constant sacrifice for their work. Henry had captured that plight so beautifully with this story, I had to do it.
Henry showed me a short documentary he made about discovering his grandfather through a box of letters and journals he found in the attic. We discussed how eerily similar the project which fills my days is, a film about my father, the late art critic Peter Fuller and going through his journals almost every day from the TATE archive. I’ve made my way through a huge chunk of his writings public and private, to piece together a singular man of principles in his writings. And now his echoes speak to me. Some things are so special they take more than just one lifetime to complete. That's really what this piece is about, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates said "Life is short, but art is long".
I found Henry to be incredibly clear about what he wanted, everything very specific in emotional terms, he spoke very subjectively and compassionately, not the sort of move your head a little to the left which can leave actors feeling like meat puppets and end up with mechanical performances. He worked as many of the best directors do, from the inside out.
In many ways I feel Echoes Of You is about time. Man and time have such strange relationship, as we exist in time but the way we experience it is never as it actually unfolds. As our internal clock passes with a tether to societies expectations of us, we too little consider the affect our actions are having on the people around us. The echoes of not just our voice in a cave, but our movements in the world each day. To show up each day sit down at the keys, explore the depths of our unconscious.
Echoes have are a vital component in the acting process, because what we end up becoming in a performance is an echo of that first reading of the script, and that feeling which bounces off the walls of our unconscious, the ever expanding and retracting self, is reshaped with every bump. Like throwing clay against a wall, picking it up and throwing it again against another. Time forms a totally new object, with the heart of the original idea, but with time and movement a new object entirely.
The time it takes for something truly special to emerge in our culture can be an arduous one, this is why it is so important for artists to have faith, to have the strength to step back and see a bit further into the future and into the past with all their actions.
For instance there is the intention to hit a piano key, the thought, the will to create music, the doing of it, the vibrations in wood and in the air which causes the sound and then there is the trace memory the sound makes into us. The next day the vibrations are gone but what is it that remains, what else can we call it but a feeling.
Pushing into these echoes of ourselves man finds again another feeling, another self, rewriting of ones own personal history reveals many selves splintered off into a kaleidoscope of you.
Even the best and brightest fall pray to doubts because of the time it can take from the conception of an idea to its real life manifestation. And yet there are moments that are eternal for us, moments which last in eternity as long as we last and when we give them to another they last forever in them. Those things we cherish that make the world better for our existing and their creation pushing forward a spiritual progress.
The compassionate passing on to generations is important part of this story. If we chose to listen, the we can take the best of somebody with us on the hardest roads in life that stretch out before us. It can feel like whispers in the wind sometimes when we talk about something that has a deep and powerful resonance to us.
This piece made me think deeply about the affects of what I wish to leave behind. What marks in the sand I wish to make. We’re all scratching up the dirt at the moment, thousands of impressions made, often without thought for their affects.
What matters are not the constant floods of change which define our generation, but the development of the spirit, the inner world which we must cherish and rely on to provide us with hope.
In the week before shooting I read Viktor E Frenkel’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” in which he suggests the survivors of the concentration camps in Auschwitz of which he himself was a survivor, had something to live for, that they could cherish on the inside. That they had been touched by great works of art, literature, theatre and music and these memories of beauty, got them through.
Confronted with a boy who is living through possibly the worst conditions a child could be subjected to in our society, I think Andrew gave him all that he had, and aside from the odd sandwich and a place to crash, what he had to give was music, the stronger Andrew could instill this dream of music, the better chance that echoes had of speaking through all the overwhelming obstacles this boy had to encounter.
That has always been something that’s interested me, how much should we use art of the same medium to influence our work. I feel that art should be the language to express the fullness of life. But the conflict then comes when confronted with another’s work that we stand in admiration, that admiration must then come from an ideal within us that we wish to reach. Then the choice becomes wether to run forward towards that same goal, almost like an Oedipus trying to surpass the father, or wether to stand back and remain in a place of fixed and constant admiration allowing it to either influence one’s work in another medium, or is it enough to touch a place within a performance, to shape the artists work by pushing a sound, an aesthetic a feeling further than they could have by themselves. The position of a conductor to a musician, a director to an actor, or a parent to a child, shaping the raw materials of a human being in a particular direction, for the purpose of benefiting humanity.
Henry I can see going on to work with Ron Howard, Brian Grazier, Spielberg, Ridley Scott and I don’t say that lightly, I think in time he has every chance to work as a filmmaker at that level. If I get the chance to be his Russel Crowe, once can only hope.
Your young co-star Zakary Risinger is quite the actor! How was your time working alongside him?
Zachary is an incredibly professional actor for being so young, of course these values have been instilled in him by his devoted mother, Heather Risinger, who was a pleasure to have on set. She told me recently that Zachary has since taken up learning the piano for real. I’m excited to see this young man’s career goes, I hear he’s already been cast in a number of TV shows and more interesting short films. He reminds me of the young Haley Joel Osment in that wisdom beyond his years.
The minimal use of spoken word in this film, means body language is key to putting across the emotional punch of the story. Did this make your job harder and was the lack of speech out of creative choice?
I knew for this piece specifically if it was structured for the effect of a beautiful karmic experience, that was designed to inspire compassion. That in itself is very difficult to accomplish, so it had to be real love, really beautiful and powerfully compassionate. It had to be the biggest moment in this man’s life. Bigger than winning an Oscar. Like being rekindled with the love of one’s life, seeing their child or anyone they have loved and felt really deserved it, become a success in the world. I knew I had to open up and be vulnerable in front of the camera, which is impossible to fake, the camera sees everything, it took digging deep and talking to the ghosts of my past.
That’s the only way to get through to people with this sort of message, is to speak the truth from the depths of your humanity and have faith that people will listen, because if it is authentic then, they will, they will. All the lead roles I’ve had so far in “Road To The Well”, “Apostle Peter & The Last Supper” and “Paint It Red” have been about a person losing their faith and then finding it again with stronger conviction in some other form later on, that is much the same with this piece too.
I saw this film as an opportunity to contribute to something beautiful. The biggest thing was finding the internal objects for what the piano meant to me and my journey. The struggle that I’ve been through as an artist, and the people in my life I’ve been doing this for. I saw the ghosts of my ancestors who I imagined knowing, what it would mean to them to see me on that stage, the underlying sense of loss knowing that I will never have that, I will never see their faces in that audience. But to live it out like Stanislavsky would say ‘as if’ for the rest of us living to enjoy.
The accent was one aspect to this performance, I’ve worked with an American accent a lot in LA it’s bread and butter. Speaking in my natural voice out here people say to me ‘you have an accent’, but everyone who speaks a language speaks with an accent and we learned that accent when we were young from the people around us. The same can be done in adulthood if need be.
Andrew is very masculine, and very feminine at the same time. That paradox is something I could identify with. I’m a heterosexual male, but I also feel left out of the discussion when it comes to rigid gender definitions, I feel misrepresented. In my daily practices of writing poetry and Martial Arts, I feel in touch with the extremities of both the masculine and feminine within myself. I wrote a poem about it which took me the better part of a year to finish, thirty pages of prose, representing the extreme forces of male and female within me battling it out for Elysium. In part I was inspired by three female artists in England right now who have depicted The Minotaur, there is this masculine sensual creature that has a physicality, a powerful frame, a capacity to rule as king of paradise and yet by that same token a beautiful emotional complexity as he sits reading through pages of poetry. There’s something amazing and compassionate about that to see the redeemable and positive qualities of this creatures contributions to the world when all else would see him as something frightening to destroy. Regardless of some of the more superficial representations of The Minotaur throughout art history, I feel there’s something a lot more genuine and passionate about these female’s extension of where Picasso left off, the myth of the minotaur. In the paradox of extremities of both the masculine and the feminine.
Is it true that you learnt to play the piano for the role?
Comme ci comme ca, yes I did but just the first half of the song, I only had less than a couple weeks before filming so I couldn’t go full Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”, though in my defense he had three months.
Henry's brother Max Quilici wrote the main theme to Echoes. The piece was so minimally and yet effectively done, I felt there was no way I could do this part without learning at least some of the piano in order to play this song.
I also came across a documentary preparing for the role called Pianomania, about a piano tuner for some of the world's best pianists. He was someone whose love for the piano extends beyond the performance, becomes almost an intellectual pursuit, like preparing for a role that one never acts. The language that he began to use to describe moments within a sound were complex, abstract and beautiful. The joy and the passion for the music then became a dedication to the development of someone else’s craft.
Did the research you have been doing on your father help you to grasp the resounding message of this film?
Yes, that informed a lot, my father was particularly concerned with the spiritual in art, the emotional content of a painting, the personal symbols and myths that each work in a body of work creates. That there essentially is a soul that was left in the mark of the artist. The mark he left behind was deep and far reaching and following that trail has led me to discover all sorts of interesting things about the world.
I’m coming to the end of the 4th draft of “The Peter Fuller Project” (working title) about my late father the art critic, Peter Fuller, it has been a personal pilgrimage of sorts to find my father. He was one of the most controversial figures in at 20th Century art world in Britain and had a growing reach out here in the US too, he wrote 15 books, started the magazine Modern Painters and was one of the most widely read writers on art during his time. His relationships with the top intellectuals and artists of his day were deep and provocative. Working on this project has been a lifelong passion, and studying my father’s writing as I developed into an artist in my own right has brought me a consolation I didn’t think was possible. My hope is when it comes time to making the film that I can connect with this character and therefore with the spirit of my father. He died when I was three and there are so many things I would have wanted him to witness in my journey, so many moments I wished he could have been there for and so many questions I wanted to ask him. Yet a lot of his ideas he did leave behind for me to discover for myself, so it’s like going on an epic riddle to discover who he was.
The story is primarily about the deep relationship he formed with the top art critic of his day, John Berger and the Oedipal struggle he had with his mentor to find his own voice, the subsequent ripple affect sent shock waves throughout the art world and the movement that was forming around him at the time which lead to a number of significant movements in art history and the founding of his magazine Modern Painters. There hasn’t been such a significant Master/Apprentice type relationship like that in the intellectual or arts circles in a long time and possibly the most significant in the field of art criticism, which is often too mystified or heady to create a narrative for the general public, but not in this case. I’m telling the story through a relationship with his best friend growing up who becomes a rival and am piecing this character together through the real people in his life and my own questions that would have wanted to ask him, as my way of putting myself in the script.
I also have a two poetry books and an art exhibition in the works, keep up with those projects here: http://laurencefuller.squarespace.com/blog
The emotional content of “Echoes Of You” could not have been more ideal to communicate to channel some of those parts of myself and the experience of finding my father through his letters, journals and articles. It will be interesting to see how these two intersect in time.
Just to round things off, who is your all time favourite Actor/Actress?
Five years ago, I was sat at a cafe on Sunset Blvd reading a script, when one of the greatest actors in history walks in, he wore a checkered shirt, was unshaved and probably hadn't showered that morning. I went to the bathroom to work up the courage to tell him how much his work had affected me and my life, when I got back he was gone. Two weeks later he died of an overdose. I was so heartbroken I had not expressed myself to one of my heroes when I had the chance, so I sat down and wrote this poem for Philip Seymour Hoffman;
Art is the belly button lint from when you forget to shower that morning
Art is your mismatched socks and uncombed hair.
It is the crack in your voice when you wake up in the morning
The courage to say I'm just as fucked up as you are, ain't that beautiful?
The hair that creeps up your wrist to the back of your hand as time ticks by
Art is the yearning to come to the deepest part of you and me, to the common inevitable loneliness we feel everyday. Without the pretense of perfection, just the stains on our shirt collar.
A George Grosz drawing of a homeless drunk with a cigarette hanging from his lips.
The grey that we swim through with cement on our lashes. Art is the light in our hearts.
The feeling that we miss and the new one that we gain from missing.
Rubble in the darkness, broken glass in the day. I'm lost either way, but dirty and broken I stand before life with hope for better days.
I don't know where I'm going but I remember everyday from where I came. How do you still love me, despite me?
I want to be someone else
I want to see something else
I want to touch my skin and feel scales, see with different eyes
Hear with ears that fucking listen properly
My beard is itching and my pants are down. My throat hurts and my back is all scratched and scarred, quick somebody get a camera.
I don't care that my eyes are red, they're suppose to be red I have responsibilities. Fuck it there's a drink in the fridge and art on the walls, let's talk.
I've developed 509 characters that will never be seen by anyone. I give everything I have to every performance. Even if they slap me in the face tell me I'm done, tell me I should have done it differently, tell me to get out the room and let the next one in. I hold my head up and do it again, to prove that I can. Not because I need a job, I have a job. But because this thing we're doing is important. Not that I'm important, but that years later that audience can be looking down a rough and broken road and see my face and the sacrifice I made for a dream. A moment between strangers and start piecing that road back together or walk over it despite all its bumps and potholes.
That's what you did for me. At 18 I sat in an empty London theatre, watching Capote, waiting to get into drama school along with 6,000 other hopefuls. An unreachable distance between that moment and my dream of being in films. I found hope in the courage of your performance to bare yourself completely in another's skin. I sent a text as the credits rolled "mesmerizing". I went home and spent what pounds I had left on PSH for the win. You won.
RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23 1967 - February 2nd 2014)
I love Philip Seymour because of his capacity for vulnerability. There is such strength in that. One of my favorite of his performances is Owning Mahoney. You get to see in this man, his intention was not a determination to win, he didn’t believe in himself enough for that, though he won it all, more money than most could dream of, he stayed at the table and negotiated himself out of every penny. If he’d really wanted to win he would have said thank you when he was handed exactly what he wanted no questions asked. Only an actor like Philip Seymour could have figured out and embodied the complexities of a character, though self-destructive, fascinating to watch.
Also I’ve always felt a great affinity with the work of Daniel Day-Lewis even to his Oedipus-like relationship to his father the Romantic Poet-Laurete Cecil Day-Lewis.
If it is a Method at all, it is a method to break the rules, a way out of stagnant thinking and rigid ways of being, into a lucidity, a more natural state. I’ve never felt more at peace than when inside of a character, never more at home than within a story, it exists as a sort of protection where I can be truly myself, and it is only Method Acting which I have found allows me this freedom. It was Daniel Day-Lewis who first showed me this was possible in cinema through his performances on screen.
I was 14 when Gangs Of New York came out, people have different opinions about the film as a whole, but what Day-Lewis did with Bill The Butcher, changed the course of my entire life. After I came out the cinema I immediately started reading the myths and stories about this man, remaining in character the shoot of the film and this illusive philosophy called The Method, which serious actors took on wholly and seemingly was only accessible to the greatest actors. I read every book I could find on the subject starting with Stanislavski's My Life In Art, finding a rich history of the craft which had preceeded me. I went back through all Scorsese’s movies and became obsessed with the collaboration between DeNiro and Scorsese.
Ironically I don’t think there’s more that can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performances that can be read in the books of Stanislavsky, Strasberg, Adler or Sigmund Freud. But that his commitment to these ideals is a full one, which is really the rare thing, and that is an easy idea to put down in writing but the personal experience that he must inevitably go through over the course of a year in time, looks completely different than it does when it comes out in print.
There are two factors that play into this, one is the complete Mystification of what it means to be a "Method Actor". The other is that words can only take us so far in the discovery of a character, experience and experimentation are the real chariots which gallop us through the craft, which imagination can only design for us.
Day-Lewis does nothing to aid the confusion, as he so rarely speaks with any literal explanation of what he does in public. It seems he doesn’t consider it within the job description to expound on the craft of acting, or to detail an approach, and I think he’s right about that. He’s not an acting coach, he’s a leading man, would knowing the exact thoughts passing his mind in every frame of the film enhance your viewing of it? Probably not. The cinema after all is a projection of man’s dreams. Day-Lewis considers his audience after the fact, but in his devotion to the part, he considers them infinitely more than the actor who winks to his audience. He wishes to be subjective in the creation of the performance and then compassionate to his audience receiving that story. I understand his choice for ambiguity, I’m sure he’s also disappointed to see what is often a year of his life in preparation for a character reduced to a sentence or two in a tabloid headline. “Daniel Day-Lewis weaves 10,000 dresses in preparation for his latest film”. I've also found it to be troublesome to develop the necessary language, as so much is a preverbal.
At some point during my adolescence I found out that he attended BOVTS and so I set my sights on trying to get in, without expectation, as there were 5,000 applicants every year and only 12 places. I remember how exciting it was for me reading that letter of acceptance. Often during that time I would sit on the steps of the building and imagine what Day-Lewis' time here must have been like, the teachers often talked about him, about performances he gave which foreshadowed the greatness to come. The intensity he had about everything, he'd often stop by on his motor cycle to visit them. I tried to imagine what he had learned from his time there.
I was working with an acting teacher at BOVTS we were rehearsing one of the plays Bernard Shaw I think it was, restoration piece, during the break I asked him if he’d ever worked with Day-Lewis. He told me a story about a monologue Day-lewis was working on where he sat on top of a motorcycle flicking a lighter near the gas tank as he was threatening his father with his own suicide. He said the performance was so powerful he had chills, when he was finished he said ‘now go set the world alight’.
After Phantom Thread came out I wrote this poem inspired by his performance;
“Where is she in that crowd? Where does she run? What does it all mean when I watch that star light up the sky buzzing in the night, I can’t catch it and put it in my pocket can’t flit and flicker, hold on man, make dresses while you can, that’s all you can do, that’s what you were built for, I’ve cut silk shadows on the floor. Don’t get anxious and drop the balloons again.
She came in, to all that structure caused rupture to all the trodden footsteps left before, stomping on each one with dancing shoes tapping on my chest. I’ve slipped and lost my place, all those Gentry waiting for my grace and yet I’ve simply crumbled structures I built up, held cups slipped through my fingers, sudden stops in that mushroom soup. She would not come quietly with a purr but with the flamboyance of a roar. Took your medicine while you swam through all the memories, shook out those demons trapped and locked up down there, forgive them for rattling cages, they clutch the bars calling out and out it all seems different now. Strange romantics rumbling in you to stroke the cat once more. Not what you thought but what it is. Cat and bird or lion and eagle, both regal, maybe both at once, maybe spun like cotton and sowed to as a crest. Cut silk, pin the hem, wrap it all in fresh garments from places you’ve never been before, brush the dust up from the years gone by, your study making waves in the air with fabrics of new design.”
My favorite of Denzel Washington’s performances has to be “The Hurricane”, wrongly accused of crimes he did not commit, he spends his life fighting for justice. There is a man who fortifies himself in that prison cell, strengthens his mind and because he is strong in his convictions, he knows in his heart he did nothing to deserve the abuse inflicted upon him, with a young and passionate legal team who believed in him, they found the evidence needed to absolve him, he did not fall into Stockholm syndrome and he was able to counter his accusors with tort. Denzel’s performance is in that role really spoke to me; “From that moment on I would be a warrior scholar, I boxed, I went to school, I began reading… I gave up all the worthless luxuries that most inmates crave.. I made up my mind to turn my body into a weapon that would eventually set me free”. That sums up my feelings about artistic life, in some ways it will tie you to a way of life which demands your entire being, and an independence or spirit. To show the world who you are and what you have to offer. Most recently Denzel also delivered a beautiful yet largely overlooked performance as Roman J Israel, another piece about a man who looses his faith in only to find it again with stronger conviction later on.
Gary Oldman recently delivered an Oscar winning performance as Winston Churchill, beating out Daniel Day-Lewis the same year as “Phantom Thread” and though I loved every minute of his performance, it was big, bold, powerful, intelligent, masculine and yet at the same time vulnerable and childish. I loved his performance equally in “Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy”
Joaquin Phoenix I loved him as the sly, manipulative, effeminate emperor in Gladiator and then when he started doing really experimental stuff with that strange documentary he did with Casey Affleck making all those quirky TV appearances, I was still with him, I got to see a press screening before there was much known about the movie and believed it was all real right up until it came out that it was a practical joke of sorts. Then in “Her” so emotionally resonant as he connects with this form of AI that surpasses him and rips his guts out. Then again in “The Master” he surprised all of us with this incredible come back opposite one of the all-time greats Philip Seymour Hoffman, the transformational character work he did on that for me solidified him as one of the best actors in cinema history and now I can’t wait to see what happens with “Joker”, apparently it’s brilliant too.
Speaking of which when I had the honor of being a part of The Heath Ledger Scholarship a few years ago, I wrote this poem for Heath;
“Forever a rebel in shackles, Chained to the screen as it flickers, 24 frames a heartbeat”
It has been a pleasure speaking with you Mr.Fuller! We really appreciate your time and hopefully we get the chance to speak to you again in the near future!
You can watch 'Echoes of You' right here: