Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mystery Guest, Sign In Please

I don't like to insert myself too much into my reviews, although it's a bit inevitable. If you're giving your opinion—if you're writing a blog—you're writing about yourself. But, as these stories involve other people...and interesting people, I'll give a brief glimpse into my past life—a couple stories about my time as a recording engineer that I'd like to share. They're two instances when I got to see a glimpse of things to come, and they are a clear example of sentiments expressed in "The Last Word" that always ends this blog-page: "A great talent can come from anywhere."

This is the first of two. The second will be next week.

I was working on a radio play series for National Public Radio, here in the States, sponsored by the Boeing Company called "Sixteen Stories of
Anton Chekhov." One of the plays had the cream of Seattle acting all in one room. Folks like John Aylward and Ted D'Arms, who've done decades of stage plays and made it to Hollywood. This particular radio script was based on Chekhov's "Sleepy," an unblinking, unsentimental story about a young nanny who is basically a slave in a 19th Century Russian household: she cooks, she cleans, she does laundry, she takes care of the baby--the constantly fussing baby. She's exhausted--sleep-deprived, actually, and haunted by visions of her mother and others trudging as refugees through a driving rain. Tough story. Tough in content, and tough to execute in that the girl narrates most of the story. Especially, when at the end, in her delirium, the girl smothers the baby.

It's a devastating, tragic story.

Cast in the role of nanny was a very young girl. She was, actually, the daughter of the fellow who helped secure the Boeing funding, who had inquired if there was a role his aspiring actress-kid could play. Well, yeah, this one. It would be an acting challenge for anyone, but this girl was relatively untried. The director assured us that she seemed okay in the reading, but was prepared to either work with her for a good performance, as well as lowering his expectations.

We assembled the actors in the studio together and hoped for the best.

When she began to perform, it became clear that she was prepared for the ardurous task of recreating this part. Her voice was a low, hopeless, exhausted monotone. It drew you in. You hung on her every word. Early on, we started exchanging looks in the booth. She was good. Could she sustain it? And we noticed something else. The actors in the studio weren't looking at their pages, or fussing with their parts. They were watching her. She was this tiny little frame, huddled, her face intense, focussed on the script, and all eyes were on her. When the actors' parts came up, they were always on-cue, and when they had to be rough, they cranked it up a notch in intensity, barking their lines. The actors in the dream sequences, inched closer to their microphones and made their parts more intimate, more haunting. There were very few pauses, not a lot of takes--it had the intensity of being done live and they had to get it right, riding on the wave of this little girl's heart-breaking performance.

By the end, we were all drained, our jaws on the floor. Not only was she better than expected, she was better than we COULD expect. At the end, there was silence as the final haunting words were spoken with a tragic depth, and no one wanted to move, to hold the tension as if it would all go away if anyone said anything to break the moment. "Wow," someone said in the studio. "Yeah!" The actors congratulated the young actress. "Was it okay?" she looked up at the booth. "Yeah, it was VERY good. You'll want to hear this."


We brought her in and let her listen to the recordings, and she began to relax. "Who's picking you up?" we asked. "My Dad." "Well, he's going to want to hear this."

Dad showed up. "How'd she do?" We praised her to the skies (in all honesty), and told him he should listen to what she did. We played it for him, and his eyes became cloudy, listening to his daughter's performance. He was obviously proud, as well he should have been. She did an amazing job, and when we put it together and combined it with sound effects, we took extra care with it, she was that good. And doubly amazing because she was so young and the acting was so mature.

This aspiring actress' name?
Anna Faris.


Mike Lippert said...

Wow what a story because, even in her two dramatic roles (May and Lost In Translation), something about Farris just irks me.

Simon said...

Nuh-uh! Dude, that's kind of epic.

Also, while Lost in Translation and May are dramatic movies, I wouldn't call her roles in them dramatic. Although, in Translation, she does a dead-on Cameron Diaz impersonation.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Heh. I thought she was doing Ashley Judd in "LIT." But I see Cameron Diaz in that performance, too. The things about Faris is she's fearless; she's not afraid to look stunningly dumb (or irksome--see LIT) for a performance. Don't forget she was in "Brokeback Mountain," too.

Both artists (Anna—I call her "Anna" *cough*—and the one in the story I'll be talking about next week) manage to skirt the conventions and do both comedies and drama. And that takes some talent.