The first part will be on Acting Philosophy and the second part is titled “HARD TRUTHS”. Without further ado, welcome to Moshood Fattah’s Cheese Talk.
- “Intelligence is important.”
I think when people talk about drama, they approach it from a rather formalist perspective; they see characters instead of human beings and dialogue instead of conversation. The biggest acting lesson is life itself and observing it is the best lecture. Everyday people go about trying to get something achieved and usually they have to get through an obstacle (almost always in form of a human being) in order to get it. It is the application of a method or combination of methods which a person employs to surmount an obstacle in order to get what they want that constitutes the core of acting.
Let’s use a real-life example; A woman wants her husband to change the outfit he just put on because she thinks it’s horrible… But she can’t just command him to change the outfit, it may bruise his ego, he may feel insulted and prove stubborn to protect his feelings. So, what does she do? “Honey, I like the way you look this morning- are you sure it’s just work you’re going to? Oh wait- You know what, I think if you wore that black cap, it will look even better!”
From the above, we can deduce certain tacts that the wife employed; Flattery, stroking of her man’s ego, feigning appreciation of the outfit and pretending like the suggestion to try a different cap came to her in that moment. You can imagine that her tone of voice will be cheery and soft. Cool right?
Well, except that- the man didn’t bulge. Then she goes again…”I’m serious I swear, this blue cap makes you look like those illiterate Yoruba men. People will just be making fun of my husband. Baby, please change it.”
Another set of tacts are employed here; Shaming, negative comparison, fear, soft requests…In less than 2 minutes of dialogue, the wife employed about 10 different tactics to get her husband to do what she wanted him to do. Great performances come from recognising that humans are great thinkers. Acting exercise: OBSERVE PEOPLE, notice how they lie, exaggerate, intimidate, open up to or close up from people. Your mind is more powerful than you know, it is tirelessly absorbent and by observing people, not only will you pick up new ways of expression, you’ll increase your capacity to read, predict, analyse, manipulate but most importantly EMPATHISE with people & develop the material (script) you’re working on.
The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present.
In simpler terms, empathy is what you do when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is not pity or sympathy, it is inheriting a person’s emotional state as if what they’ve also gone through what happened to you. It is the reason why you see movies where the acting is so good you forget they are acting and you cry with them when they die/lose. Well, it’s just a movie, they’re just acting. However, your mind processed it differently because it was too convincing. So, how do you get to that level of performance? It’s simple really.
- Have a heart.
- Harness the discipline to forget yourself.
An actor must be a truly loving, caring person who doesn’t run away from emotions or hesitate to be open about his feelings; fears, dreams, hopes and insecurities. A lot of the time, actors are concerned with “being someone else” and are quick to change accents, gaits and idiolects. What they end up playing are flat stereotypes, not “people.” Real acting requires you to be able to strip yourself naked (metaphorically, sometimes literally) I. A lot of the time, as humans we hide from our feelings or lock them up on purpose. Actors can’t do that, you’re depriving yourself of opportunities to expand your emotional range. Don’t be like those actors who say “I don’t know how to be angry.”
Acting Exercise: Confide in a trusted friend (or a group of friends) about an emotionally difficult time in your life or about a very embarrassing/bad thing you did that they never knew about. Not via text, but face to face. Narrate the story and live through every moment of it as you tell it, allow your mind experience it all over again, hold nothing back – embrace the hurt, anger, hatred, regret and laughter that comes with it, all these feelings will come in handy as an actor. Of course, it’s going to be exhausting and difficult to express, but hey- even in acting, characters always have to deal with internal conflict. Confront yourself! The more conversant you are with your emotions, the easier it will be for you to tap into them when acting. You have to keep your engine oiled and warmed.
- ON FORGETTING YOURSELF
You can almost do no wrong when you’re in character. Being/Staying in character in my own experience is the greatest acting hack. The more time you spend being that person, the more natural, honest and consistent your performance will be, because you’re no longer acting, you’re BEING a different person and your body will adapt to the vocal/emotional/behaviourial notes you have to hit. I’ll take an example from a short film I did last year titled ‘ISOLATED.’ Although it is yet to be released, this is a link to a BTS footage. In it, I play a guy who exhibits high spectrum characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition that affects behavioural, muscular and mental balance. I doubt I have ever come across someone with that condition till date.
Let me give you three quick anecdotes;
#1. The next day after shooting, a lady saw me and screamed! Apparently she had been on set that day and saw me in a corner; thinking I was actually living with a condition, she had felt bad for me, shed actual tears and even said a prayer for me.
#2. When clips of the BTS were posted online, a friend said my gait was identical to a classmate of hers in secondary school who has the condition. Like I said earlier, I have never met someone with the condition.
#3. All my scenes were shot in one day in rapid speed and so I had to be that character for about 12 hours straight, NO BREAK IN CHARACTER/BEHAVIOUR; meaning, as per the character, I avoided eye contact with everybody including the director. I had told the Production Manager beforehand to tell everyone not to call me by my real name or relate with me as myself through out the shoot. People were allowed to be mean to me and make fun of my condition. I didn’t touch my cell phone and had to walk with an irregular rhythm, often tripping and falling, for just 12 hours.
Guys, my body started doing things that I didn’t plan to do o. At a point I got comfortable with being that character and by the time camera started rolling, I wasn’t acting and everything that came out of me was gold. You don’t just wake up in the morning, go to set and deliver a great performance. AN ACTOR PREPARES. The more prepared you are the greater the chances that your performances will transcend the norm.
Keywords: RESEARCH. EMPATHY. IMAGINATION. LIVING AS THE CHARACTER. DISCIPLINE.
I.BUILD. MY. CHARACTERS. FROM. THE. GROUND. UP.
Here is another from my most recent work. ‘Man Enough.’ There are clips of my performance on my IG page (@moshoodfattah) so you can check them out to get a clearer picture. If you go through them you will see a very detailed write up on who this character is. I have very little in common with the character so literally every inch of him had to be created, in line with the play of course. On the last page are notes concerning a real-life person who I based my character’s experience on.
Fun fact: In the play, Thino works at Cheng-Cheng, the real life person I based my character on worked at a place called Cheng-Fa (in Ikeja Lagos). Apparently, I had researched my way to the source the writer created the character from! (Somewhere on my IG page is a video on the real person) To get a sense of the character’s state of mind, I was lucky to have a friend whose life was almost identical to Thino’s, I invited him over to my house to talk about his life and even invited him to one of my performances. You can’t begin to imagine how the peformance affected him. Then I had to learn about the character’s medical condition (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) and understand its symptoms well enough to be able to replicate the symptoms and progression. (Youtube is your friend). After every performance, men (and even women) would walk up to me to tell me how they could relate to my character, of course they cried, they were seeing themselves in me!
YOU HAVE TO RESEARCH PAINSTAKINGLY ON EVERY PART OF THE CHARACTER, EVEN PARTS OF IT THAT ARE NOT REFLECTED IN THE SCRIPT.
And what happens when you have reached the limit of your research? You use your IMAGINATION! Don’t be afraid to experiment, that’s why you have a director- their job is to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Navigating these waters is another shot of vodka but I’m not going to go into that right now. If you go through those notes, you’ll see that a lot of the character’s backstory are imagined. It’s fun! Allow your mind travel, vacations are expensive. Between research, imagination and developing empathy you’ll find there is very little space for YOU to exist. Well, isn’t that the goal- to play a character so well that people no longer see the real you?
But I’ll end this part with a few words of advice. Acting is reacting; this means that your performance isn’t entirely in your hands to create but with the help of everybody you’re acting with/responding to in a scene. So, be very aware and receptive of the energy your fellow actors are throwing at you. Let them influence you- allow them drive you nuts, hurt your feelings, love you and be comfortable relating with you (all within the confines of reason of course & also depending on the RELATIONSHIP between your characters as outlined in the script/by the director) and most importantly- don’t mess the scene up when your fellow actor or the elements of the location/set (weather, traffic, accidents etc) surprise you when the camera is rolling [Dicaprio cut himself by mistake while doing a scene in DJANGO, he didn’t stop acting- he blended it into the scene & the director was wise enough to not yell cut]. You could be ruining a scene that has the potential to skyrocket your career just by being a conceited prick. Don’t cut until the Director says so.
END OF PART 1.
Q: This is a question I have asked many actors. And generally, I like to ask actors all sorts of questions because I have learnt that writers have to be close to the acting craft. This is a general observation and I may be wrong but here goes: Is there a reason why there aren’t a lot of speeches and monologues in our movies. Also, why are dialogue heavy films largely discouraged or even when they do happen, there’s something not quite right.
Moshood Fattah: I don’t think we still have these monologues and speeches, I can think of a number of them in Nigerian cinematic flicks. They probably don’t come across to you that way because they aren’t delivered HOLLYWOOD style.
Dialogue heavy films are generally diminishing globally, American films don’t have the weight of dialogue they used to have in the 50s and 60s. I think people’s attention spans have shortened with time, especially with the advent of action flicks, romcoms and their rapid fire editing styles. Films with more action than dialogue sell more than the reverse, so guess where the pendulum swings.
Dialogue heavy flicks demand a lot more commitment and more thorough directors who understand how to conduct a scene. You usually get the chance to hone that skill if you’re from the theatre or are capable of producing your own films with complete directorial control.
Q: What do you do when you have to work with a script you know isn’t up to par. Number 3, Which renowned personality would you like to act on screen and why?
Moshood Fattah: Well, I once worked on a script by Isaac Ayodeji – “And The Winner Is” and we talked about rewriting certain parts with the blessings of the director. But then again, not all great movies are obvious from the script. You have to learn to take that leap of faith and trust the director. Sometimes a good director is more important than a good script.
Q: The Nollywood we have presently seems to be converting a lot of Singers or Professionals in other fields into Actors. My concern now is that, we’ve seen great stories but the Actors who enact the characters beat the essence of Art down. How do you think Professional Actors can influence the choice of Producers in Casting to improve the quality of Production. And what do you suggest that the Upcoming Actors should do to improve their capacities?
Moshood Fattah: Why do I smell a Seyi Shay sub here? Truth is, some singers actually deliver great performamces; Beyonce in Cadillac Records, Lady Gaga in a Star is Born. Really, the actor’s field is fair game. Only a few actors have the power to influence casting on projects that really matter, otherwise there are just another bunch of labourers working for the executive producers.
Q: A friend of mine asked me this question and I don’t think I gave her a sufficient response. So here, do actors live the moral lessons of the characters they play in their real life? Like if your character lives a reckless life and at the end, finds redemption or changes his ways, do you as an actor take on that change and apply it in your personal life?
Moshood Fattah: I find that certain characters I play leave a part of themselves in me, long after we wrap. Of course, playing different characters helps us see the world from different perspectives and appreciate life better. Human beings are imperfect and complex and have the capacity to TELL LIES. I know after playing Gandhi, I began to meditate more. Playing a police officer in Fela and the Kalakuta Queens made me feel more empathetic towards police officers and playing Ela in Moremi made me respect soldiers even more.
I made a list of hard pills and things that I wish I knew before even going to study performing arts and things I could have done differently in my career and also stuff I’ve noticed with others.
- LANGUAGES: The more languages you can speak fluently the wider your opportunities will get for work. Mastering both international and indigenous languages are very very important. You’ll be surprised to find yourself excelling and making more money doing voice acting, speech synching & commercial/advert work than your “actor friends”. Imagine being able to do Yoruba/English/French filmd.
- THE INDUSTRY DOESN’T LIKE UGLY: Presentation is everything. You have to look like the kind of roles you want to be cast for not just at auditions but events and everywhere you are going to be photographed. I know it sounds superficial, but yes, people have packaged their way to the top. Don’t look down on it, brush yourself up your dirty looking thing. SKIN quality is important. And I mean not just your face but your entire body. Invest in creams [Don’t use cheap bleaching creams o, they only soil the skin and we both know how irritating badly bleached skin looks on TV talkless of a cinema screen], toners, sunscreen, anti-acne are also important. Clean your dark knuckles, elbows and knees. Also keep your hair neat and healthy. PEDICURES & MANICURES are important. Understand that the camera lens is very invasive and will pick up on every detail on your body & people will notice and talk when they see embarrassing flaws. Do you remember one Nigerian actor who was dragged for a movie where boils were noticed in his armpit area? Don’t be that guy. Having a healthy body is important, HIT THE GYM, GET ON A DIET, GET THAT BEAUTIFUL BODY GOING FOR YOU. Actors are usually cast for models in fashion campaigns and adverts. Don’t stop yourself from making money on the side. Whether male or female, invest in your MAKE-UP KIT. FOUNDATION, POWDER, BRUSHES, WIPES, CLEANSERS, FANS, EYE PENCIL, CONTACT LENSES… Better to have yours than share with people and then have a bad skin reaction. If you don’t have the best fashion eyes, just wear all black and throw shades on. ALSO INVEST IN SMELLING GOOD.
- HEIGHT IS AN ADVANTAGE: If you want to be a leading man/woman, especially for guys. If you’re a short man, you’ll have be a really really great actor to be able to get leading roles and most likely you’ll do much better being a character actor than being a love interest. But don’t feel too bad, God is kind and you’ll find that very few “love interests” are great actors, most of them can’t do characters.
- TRIBAL SENTIMENTS ARE A FACTOR: In Nigeria, there are cliques and tribe plays a part from the Calabar people of Royal Arts to the Igbo tribe in Iroko and Yoruba actors in Scene one, tribe has a large part to play in relationships but it doesn’t always happen out of malevolent reasons, like minds always cluster but with a good character, reputation for good work and great networking skills you can break barriers and eat from every table.
- YES, ATTEND EVENTS, FILM FESTIVALS, MOVIE PREMIERS AND AWARD SHOWS: Be visible.
- AUDITIONS AREN’T THE ONLY WAY TO GET ROLES: Email/Text Directors and Producers, showing them your show reels and CVs, I know working actors who get roles off that alone. Tag them in your videos too. Also don’t feel too precious to jump on acting challenges. And on that note.
- INVEST IN A PHONE WITH A GOOD CAMERA: Performances always looks better on dope camera lenses.
- BE AVAILABLE TO TRAVEL: You need to have a passport just incase a job that requires you to travel presents itself, it’s even easier when you have a red/blue one or if you’re widely travelled.
- ACTING IS NOT A SAFE JOB: This job has very low job security. Your next job isn’t guaranteed or sometimes even in sight, you could go months without working. This is why YOU CANNOT MAKE ACTING A FIRST CHOICE UNTIL IT TREATS YOU LIKE ONE. Financial independence is very important, because once you have your income; you can actually refuse to do certain jobs without getting scared that you will starve. A lot of people do certain jobs because they are broke. HAVE MULTIPLE SOURCES OF INCOME, there is power in that.
- THAT BITCH CALLED SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE: Apparently, certain jobs require it to get cast. I still haven’t warmed up to it but it’s important to keep your internet footprint clean at least. Take down distasteful pictures and statements, have professional looking headshots for your SM profiles pictures, have your name written with the correct spellings and your handles too. What is @gistwithkwin or Horlusholah Hadenhyi??? Even your email addresses should look professional not Tayo4luv96@gmail.com. Use your formal names on all professional handles and make sure you have more followers than the people you are following. Also invest in getting mentioned in electronic media; blogs and new sites… FOR THE RIGHT REASONS. If the media people don’t come to you, approach them.
This is my Submission. Thank you
Moshood Fattah, is an actor with degrees in Performing Arts from the Universities of Ilorin and Lagos. He is an environmentalist and proud father of three cats. He is an avid Jay-Z fan and has an incredible feet fetish.