2012 Academy Award Nominees physicalize their characters

By |2017-12-20T18:33:38+00:00April 16th, 2012|Blog, TV & Film|


Image of Bernice Bejo in the Artist

Bernice Bejo in The Artist. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Silent stars Keaton, Chaplin pioneered technique, “The Artist” cast conveys freedom, hope through body work

Acting Movement Coach Jean-Louis Rodrigue is in demand when Oscar nominees want to present the most honest and authentic on screen persona.  “The best filmmakers know that physicality is fundamental to great storytelling,” says Rodrigue. “The expression of the soul through physicality is key to the character.”  Rodrigue has worked with Academy Award winners Hilary Swank and Juliette Binoche, and Oscar nominees Josh Brolin, Sir Ian Mckellen, Mary Mcdonnell, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lynn Redgrave.

This year, in particular, there are several films featuring outstanding performances by actors who know how to bring integrity to a role through essential body movement.  Michelle Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and Michael Fassbender are among the thespians who have done an excellent job on this front according to Rodrigue.  There is an artistry in convincing audiences that the character we are watching on screen is a real human being.  It is extremely important for film directors to understand why this work is critical to convey a truthful story.

Image of Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin

Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin celebrating their Academy Awards

Directors Darren Aronofsky and Ang Lee understand this concept, they have a deep appreciation of physicality and have worked with Rodrigue to learn about the Alexander Technique. “The Technique takes the interference away,” explains Rodrigue.  “Effort and tension, prevents the soul of the character from emerging through the performance.”


Keaton, Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbank’s Physicality and “The Artist”

The two greatest actors of the silent era were Keaton and Chaplin.  While watching them perform, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to their extremities; their hands or feet.  Their movements tend to be either delicate or nervous looking.  Both men learned to use their physique to maximum advantage.  They capitalized on their small stature (5’6″) by pitting themselves against larger, stronger antagonists.  Chaplin holds his head poised directly above his body.  Most people push their head forward and down, in a slumped way.  Chaplin’s assumption of a rich man’s prideful carriage was inherently comic, adding intrigue and an unlikely air of dignity to his indigent wanderer.

By contrast, Keaton thrusts his head forward. This off center head position not only reinforces the angularity of his costume, but also has the effect of directing our focus away from his body toward the object of his attention.  This was an appropriate choice given the characters continuing attempts to figure out a baffling world.


Image of Bernice Bejo in The Artist

Bernice Bejo in The Artist. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

In “The Artist,” the actors along with director Michel Hazanavicius have connected with the zany grace and uncanny weightlessness of the character’s movements to convey a brief and fragile freedom, and especially, a sense of hope.  All the characters in the story have a blissful up energy and a deep vulnerability that fights on with the weight and reality of life. “The Artist” a love letter to Hollywood, got hugs, kisses and the best-picture Oscar at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony here in Los Angeles. The film also took the awards for best actor and best director, in a minisweep that found the movie industry paying tribute to not just the movie but to its own roots as well.


Rodrigue’s comments on actors who use movement to physicalize characters:

Meryl Streep won Oscar for Best Actress for “The Iron Lady” – “She’s the master, she lets go fully in all her roles. Her body is malleable and available in such a way that she can morph completely into her characters: physically, mentally and emotionally.

To deliver Margaret Thatcher’s speeches in the “Iron Lady”, Meryl Streep learned that her vocal stamina came from a place that even she, the grand dame of acting, had to work to locate.  It was somewhere below and behind the diaphragm.  “She had the capacity to go on and on and on and on, and on and on, and just a moment, I haven’t finished yet, “ Ms. Streep said at the film’s premiere in New York, adding: “She had a way of overriding interviewers that I’m going to emulate for the rest of my life.”

Michael Fassbender – “No wonder he’s in demand.  In ‘Shame,’ he is wildly connected to his body.  He has amazing bravery, intense physicality. He’s like a wild beast.”

Charlize Theron – “The level of authenticity in her character’s behavior in “Young Adult” was extraordinary.  Charlize knows herself and allows a high level of vulnerability through her body and her emotions.”

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo – “The silent film era required an incredible amount of physicality. Dujardin who won the Oscar for Best Actor and based his character on Douglas Fairbanks, and Berenice Bejo studied the actors of the period, integrating every aspect of behavior and style.  They had star presence and personality that came through the screen.”

Image of Bernice Bejo in The Artist

Bernice Bejo in The Artist. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Michelle Williams – “Michelle slept with Marilyn Monroe’s photograph above her bed for years, she was destined to play her.  She studied her behavior and movement, but did not try to copy her.  Michelle spent time connecting with her own body and allowing her own version of Marilyn to come alive.  Williams worked with highly regarded UK based movement coach Jane Gibson.”


Copyright 2012- AlexanderTechworks

Subscribe to
the Newsletter

upcoming workshops & news