Earlier today, I was watching some Joan of Arcadia and Desperate Housewives DVDs–while I did some reading, of course. What I was watching included the interviews with cast and crew, as well as commentaries on specific episodes.
What amazed me was that the actors talked about their characters as if they were real people–independent of themselves! The lady who plays Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives, for example, said that the creator of the show knows Gabby better than she does. “But you are Gabby,” I thought. Actually, Gabby is part of a story that the actress is enacting.
I read something similar a few years ago, when James Doohan died. Doohan played Scotty on Star Trek, and he said that he liked Jim Kirk, but he didn’t care much for William Shatner. Again, my thought was, “But William Shatner is Jim Kirk.”
There are lots of characters on TV whom I like and admire. But I wonder: how would I feel if I met the people who play them? Would I feel bad if, say, Stephen Collins blew me off? “Eric Camden doesn’t like me. I must be a bad person!,” I can envision myself thinking.
But actors are not the people they play.
And yet, at the same time, they are.
On the Joan of Arcadia DVD, I was listening to the commentary by the director and the creator. They said that they’d write an episode about a particular character, expecting him or her to be in that episode alone. But something happened! The actor gave life to the character. There was some sort of spark or chemistry, and they chose to use that character again and again. When the character was merely a name on a sheet of paper, they could envision using him only once. But when he became a flesh-and-blood human being, they saw a lot more potential.
And so the actor is not the character, and yet the actor is part of the character. Eventually, the character develops a life of his own, apart from the actor and (in some sense) the writers.