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Mamet Does Ghandi

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Tim Wilson
Re: Mamet Does Ghandi
on Sep 22, 2010 at 6:36:06 pm

I know way more about this stuff than is probably healthy, but here goes.

The Actor's Studio is the home of the acting practice known as The Method. It is very inward-directed - a discipline to literally create inside yourself the state that the character is in. (Grossly oversimplified, but close enough for now.) There's a lot to like about the results of The Method. Its first great practitioner was probably Brando, who helped usher in a new era of realism in motion picture acting that leads through actors including James Dean, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. All of whose acting can sometimes be quite mannered, but still, certainly an emotional truth.

But some aspects of it can be really squishy. The "Inside The Actor's Studio" TV show delves into minute aspects of biography, since of course one's own experience shapes the role. Hence James Lipton getting kind of maudlin sometimes, and guests sometimes getting a little weepy.

Mamet has no use for this whatsoever, which is some of what makes this clip so funny to me. It appears to be a mostly friendly...I'm not sure rivalry is the right word, but Mamet's approach at the Atlantic Acting School in conjunction with NYU is very, very different than his colleagues 20 blocks uptown. (Chelsea vs. Midtown for those keeping score.)

Along with actor William H. Macy, he articulated an approach called Practical Aesthetics. I heard Macy describe it - on Inside The Actor's Studio of all places - as, "I don't care what you feel. Show me what you DO." The actor's analysis starts by understanding the specifics of what happens in the scene, the specifics of what the character wants (the "essential action"), and is rooted in "As if" - as if these events are happening to the actor. The performance, says Mamet, is ultimately an act of will by the actor.

Literal, specific, will. Sounds like Mamet, eh? Add in the specifics of the LANGUAGE as well as the action, and you get the picture. No riffing on a Mamet script. And why would you want to? Just say the words. Practical aesthetics.

(Yes, studying acting in high school before studying film in college. Not that I DID much of either. I mostly just studied it. I love this stuff.)

Which is a typically long-winded way of saying, I know it's the title of the clip, it's not "Mamet Does Gandhi," as much as Mamet making fun of a Method actor's approach to playing Gandhi.

Not that you need to know ANY of this to enjoy the clip. But he's very definitely having fun at The Method's expense, which was certainly part of my specific enjoyment of it. Great, great stuff.

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