When an actor’s performance is dull and plodding, it is usually because the actor is trying to supply a predetermined effect ( this may manifest itself as line readings [we’ve all heard the gag of the actor struggling to workout which word to stress in the line] or the actor trying “to do an emotion” or “do a character” or plot out a “character arc” or a combination of all of these) in order to control all aspects of performance and lessen the fear brought about by the truth of the moment. In this case, the actor is less apt to reveal himself and his true nature, with all it’s strengths and weaknesses. By repressing the truth of his personality, the actor succeeds in generalizing his work, his performance becomes safe, predictable and polite, and false. I knew an actor who was exciting and charismatic whenever I met her in a bar or a cafe and I loved having her attention, but she was almost invisible when I saw her on stage, her performance was tedious and I had to wrestle with myself in order to listen to what she was saying. She was trying to control what the audience thought of her, and as such, she had drained the personality from her work.
Charles Laughton’s performance as Quasimodo in the Hunchback Of Notre Dame is one of the most piquant, individualistic and moving, in all cinema. It is also a great technical tour de force: Laughton wore heavy make-up and heavy prosthetics, he even ensured that his “hump” have extra weight so that he really was carrying a heavy load, and which also served to change Laughton’s whole physicality, he also employed an accent not his own. As impressive as this is in terms of creating an illusion, it is not the reason for the power of Laughton’s performance. No. That lies in the essence of the performance, which is Laughton himself, or put another way: the revelation of Laughton’s personality, the truth of it, in all it’s glory and all it’s wretchedness. Laughton wasn’t trying to control the moment, he gave himself up to the moment and confronted it, as it came to him, with as much courage and commitment as he could muster, and we, the audience, are compelled by an individual wrestling with the questions of his life.
There should be no difference between the actor when he is working infront of the camera or upon the stage and when he is living his normal day-to-day life. There should be no difference. The actor and his work should be one.