Impersonation versus Acting - What's the difference?

For people who make a living as an impersonator, like Frank Caliendo and Rich Little, capturing the unique identifying characteristics, tics and vocal peculiarities of well-known personalities and casting them in a humorous light is much more important than creating a completely believable character. They are comedians, not actors. Believable isn't the point for them. Recognisable and accurate is.

Anytime you play a real, historical person on stage, particularly people we've seen and heard on video or film, you risk becoming an impersonator rather than an actor. It is easy to be so concerned about being faithful to their external nature that you forget to do the extra work required to find the inner person who manifests those externals.

Playing real people on stage is very challenging, just as talking directly to the audience is. Combine those two things in a one-person show, and you've got your work cut-out for you. Line reading becomes a very strong temptation is those situations. After all it's unnatural to speak to people who never talk back, who don't respond "in character", because they aren't character, they're audience.

There's an on-going debate among actors as to it's better to start with internals and move to externals, or vice-versa. It doesn't really matter where you start as long as you approach the internal aspects in an "organic" way. Whatever triggers that for you is fine, if it works. 

Jonathan Demme film director, producer and screen writer

Jonathan Demme was one of the most eclectic, delightful and original film makers in Hollywood. He also happened to be one of the nicest: the compassionate sensibility that lent his work his warmth and musicality was no put-on. Plainly put, he loved people. 

He rose to prominence in the 1980's with his comedy films Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988). He became best known for directing The Silence of the Lambs (1991), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. He later directed the acclaimed films Philadelphia (1993) and Rachel Getting Married (2008).

Throughout 1986-2004, Demme was known for his dramatic close-ups in films. This style of close-ups involves the actor looking directly into the camera during crucial moments, particularly in the 'Quid pro quo' scene in The Silence of the Lambs. According to Demme, this was done to put the audience into the character's shoes. Beginning with Rachel getting married, Demme then adopted a documentary style of filmmaking.

Jonathan Demme died on Wednesday 26 April aged 73. In 2008 Ryan Gilbey asked him whether he had anything to add to the formula he gave in 1986 for making a decent movie 'you get a good script, good actors and try not to screw it up'. He let out a joyful laugh 'That's the formula, baby!'.



Director Asghar Farhadi Acting on Principle

Film director Asghar Farhadi returns to Teheran with another riveting moral tale and new inquiries into human behaviour. Aside from The Past (2013) which is set in France, his dramas all unfold in Iran and mostly in and around Teheran. And if the context for his fictions may be specific, the themes they explore have universal appeal. A Separation (2011), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, played a huge acclaim internationally, which audiences relating to the pain caused by the disintegration of a family. To Farhadi, the human condition transcends all borders.

Farhadi's The Salesman, for which he was awarded Best Director prize at Cannes last year (Shahab Hosseini deservedly picked up Best Actor award), is a typically tense and supremely crafted study in mistaken identity, hypocrisy and the power of art to shine a light on our foibles and indiscretions. The main protagonists are a couple forced to move home as the result of a fissure in their residential block. They are both about to appear on stage in an as-yet-uncensored production of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'. The play's director offers them an empty apartment while they look for something more permanent. What he doesn't tell them is who used to live there and why a stranger should appear at the door when the husband is teaching literature to a class of mostly disinterested boys. What happens during the unexpected visit threatens the couple's peaceful existence and reverberates both on and off the theatre stage.

Farhadi's skilful melding of Miller's play and his own tale recalls Pedro Almodovar's deploying of Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire' within the narrative of All About my Mother (1999). Both tease out the complex fabric of the play to examine the predicament the film's characters find themselves in. The role of censorship adds another layer in The Salesman. The play cannot be performed publicly without approval from the state censor, which taps into a wider malaise in Iranian society regarding openness that the film explores.