Stars in Your Eyes? Here’s Looking at You

The eyes

truly are a window to the soul. Or the character, or even to getting

the audition. I’ve named the style of film acting I teach"Les

Yeux"because of the emphasis on the eyes in expressing

a "beat (an emotional intent; a specific attitude). When you

act on stage, the entire body can be used to express how you feel.

But the film actor is confined to what is captured by the camera

lens – usually the face – and the focus of the face, of course,

is the eyes.

All stories are told from someone’s point of view,

or the way someone sees something. We have to see clearly how characters

act or react to something by looking at their eyes. Famous directors

like Frank Capra have said the secret to becoming a star is the

actor’s ability to communicate through his or her eyes. Think of

modem film actors like Jane Fonda inKlute,Danny Glover inThe

Color Purple,Jodie Foster inSilence of the Lambs,Anthony

Hopkins in anything, Whoopi Goldberg inGhostand Tom Hanks

inForrest Gump.Their eye work distinguishes their screen

work.

On the big screen, a single tear slowly moving down

a distraught face might convey anguish more effectively than screaming

and flailing, which can be more appropriate for a stage performance.

Silent films feature overdramatized eye work. Features likeOrphans

of the Stormstill hold up, however, because the story is told

through the eyes of characters superbly portrayed by Lillian and

Dorothy Gish.

One actress who made the

transition from silent to sound films and who continued to modify

the emphasis on eyes was Greta Garbo. Casting directors under­stand

the significance of the eyes. One casting agent tells me when she

looks at a head shot, she coversall but the eyesof the photo

to determine whom she recommends for a part. Film animators know

this secret. Eyes are always drawn disproportionately large in animated

characters from Mickey Mouse to the Lion King, because they convey

the character’s feelings.

Stage plays are full of words. Screenplays are full

of action, with an emphasis on facial expression. Once we determine

what the action is physically (wide shots), the usual practice is

to move in for close-ups. Close-ups show what the characters are

feeling – whether the emotion is emanating from the gut, the groin

or the heart. Even in action films, no one would care about allthose

explosions if they didn’t see the reactions of the characters they

care about. Is our hero afraid? Confident? Overconfident? Hurt?

Happy? Is the captured villain delighted – or vengeful?

It’s important to understand that the eyes only reflect

the degree to which the entire body is engrossed in thought, feeling

and expression. Your eyes only reveal the degree to which you are

concentrating. Actress and director Melanie Mayron ("Melissa"

in TV’sThirty Something)says it’s more important to concentrate

on the thought than the eyes.

"If you’re thinking and feeling," she says, "it’s

going to be seen in your eyes as well as every part of you. The

camera may only capture your eyes, but your entire body must be

included in the thought."

During the filming of the featureMissing,director Constantine

Costa­Gavras instructed the young actress Mayron, "Remember,

you are saying, ‘They are taking him away! Help! Help me!"’

So she began to memorize the words until he added, "But of

course, it’s all in the eyes."

"I realized he only wanted to see the thought,

not hear the lines!" she said.

As for her own directing technique she says, "I rely

on the craft of trained actors. If I’m not getting what I want,

I find out what they’re thinking and feeling, to make sure we’re

going in the same direction." She is currently directing a

remakeofFreaky Fridaywith Shelly Long, to air next February

on ABC.

How important is it. to speak with your eyes on film?Hollywood

has consistently rewarded voiceless parts with Academy Awards. Jane

Wyman(Johnny Belinda – 1948), Marlee Marlin(Children of

a Lesser God – 1987)andHolly Hunter(The Piano – 1993)all

received the Oscar for playing mute women.

The point is not to overemphasize the eyes. It’s to be aware

of their power so that you don’t neglect an important weapon in

your film acting arsenal.

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