|Veteran director Daniele Suissa on film acting: “It’s done
at the level of the eyes.”
Actors who have only trained fox the
stage often find out the hard way that film acting is very different. “Basically,” says
Daniele J. Suissa, “the difference is that for the theater, we
must hear the intention of the character. For the camera, we must
see the character’s intention.”
Suissa, who received her formal stage and film training
in Paris and Los Angeles, has directed more than 30 stage plays,
10 feature films for theater and television, and hundreds of TV
commercials. The Toronto-based director has directed both in French
and English, two of the five languages she speaks.
Her most recent film, Pocahontas: The Legend is
in English and is scheduled for spring release both in both the
United States and Canada. It stars Sadrine Holt (Black Robe),
Miles O’Keefe (Tarzan, the Ape Man) and Tony Goldwyn (Ghost).
“Film acting,” says Suissa, “is done at the level
of the eyes. The eyes should reveal what the character is thinking
inside. We should virtually be able to read the actor’s eyes like
When Suissa works with screenwriters she drops dialogue
in favor of character eye expression whenever possible. “After
they work with me once, they learn to trust my instincts about
these matters,” she says. “The script remains true to its intent,
but words are dropped in favor of their visual depiction by actors.
The fewer the words, the better the script for film.”
“Dialogue becomes a subtext in film acting, with
the actor’s expression being the text. In theater, dialogue is
the text, and the actor’s actions are the subtext.”
Suissa has seen a lot of stage actors run into trouble
when they begin to work in film or television. “They aren’t aware
enough of the lens, so they can go over the top without realizing
They are surprised to see that they did not come
across on camera the way they thought they would.”
Here are some further tips from Suissa for actors
who want to learn more about acting for the camera:
• Get as much training as possible in the use
of a camera. Find out about camera lenses – how they work and how
they affect your performance. You certainly don’t need to become
expert, but you should know how much of your body
is being photographed.
• Work on portraying your character’s motivation
or intent through your eyes. Most actors are surprised how inexpressive
their eyes are when they begin to work with them.
• Watch films without the sound. Can you understand
what the characters are feeling? Can you understand the basic story
and relationships of the characters without the sound?
• Become comfortable with the intimacy of a
camera. Frequently, it’s only inches away from the film actor,
particularly in close-up work. Think of the camera
as an observer. Don’t think of it as something that restricts you,
or it will restrict your performance.
• If you audition for a commercial, remember
the product is the star, not you. Make your use of the product
• Don’t let action shots throw you. They are
taken in short segments because they are intended to come
together in the editing room. Just make certain you
sustain the character’s motivation throughout.
• Be prepared for countless takes of the same
• For the theater and the camera, the basics
are the same. Remember that you are a storyteller. Understand the
story. Understand what your character feels and wants. Understand
your character’s intent and motivation.
The need of the character is always paramount. Forget “performing.” For
the stage and the camera, become the character…