Thursday, February 14, 2008

Delving Into Geoffrey's Soul

Or at least his particular motivations. That is what I have spent the last hour or so doing. I did some last night, and more this afternoon.

Now that I am off book, I can afford to look deeper into what makes this character what he is. The Lion in Winter is a cerebral play, about cerebral people. (Except, perhaps for the John character.) Geoffrey is the most cerebral of them all. It even says so in Goldman's script...

"The most cerebral in a cerebral family."

This is the reason I have been spending some extra time on thinking of Geoffrey's goals, scene by scene. Now, in theory, this is done by every actor in every show they are in. And indeed, I do it, to some extent in every show. But it is an uncommon script that offers so many different possible goals, all legitimate, for any given character at any given moment. So many twists and turns. So many loyalty shifts. So much wit and so much deception. It can be played cold, I imagine, with the actor relying solely on the lines to carry them through. I prefer however to know exactly what Geoff is doing every step of the way...even if what he is doing is the act of trying to figure out what he wants to do. (This occurs a lot for him during the play.)

Of course before now I had an overview of what Geoff was about. I feel better now, though, having gone scene by scene, sometimes line by line, to determine what sort of clever things he may be up to. Not all characters would require that detailed of a study. But as I have said many times in this blog, each show, each character is different, and no one method for performing is going to work under every circumstance. A simple approach to a complex character probably is going to be lacking for a show like this. I have probably not examine the inner workings of a character to this depth since I was in The Laramie Project.

And I welcome it. I love to stretch the thinking muscles of my acting as much as the performance muscles. I consider it a treat most times to have a role which requires intellectual exploration. I feel the character has been rejuvenated in my mind in the last hour or so, and I look forward to putting some of my new conclusions and analysis to work tonight at rehearsal. It has added confidence to my portrayal, and hence will make the scenes stronger.

Here is not the place to mention every single decision and conclusion about Geoff that I have made so far. But I do have some general, broad concepts I will share. These, of course, were always there in the background of my portrayal from the very beginning. YetI have sanded of the edges today, and will continue to do so this week.

1) Geoff NEVER says anything by accident. Whether he is jockeying for position, cutting someone down with his wit, or merely making an observation, it is always done with absolute intent. Words and thoughts are his weapons. Richard would probably never draw his sword unless he felt he had to. Geoff doesn't speak, for the same reasons.

2) Geoff is almost never resigned to defeat. John is used to getting what he wants, and doesn't know how to act when he does not. Eleanor has "suffered more defeats than you have teeth." Richard fights his way through life. But Geoffrey...he is always thinking. Henry calls him "a device, with wheels and gears". A simplistic, but somewhat accurate assessment of the man, I feel. The gears are in fact always turning in Geoff's mind. So when one part of a plan does not pan out, he is instantly concocting something else. Less likely to be distracted by rage, like Richard, or by emotion like his mother, Geoffrey can always take that step back, and reevaluate everything around him, and at given moment he needs or wants to. Knock down Geoffrey's house, and the first thing he will do will be to look at the debris, and determine what can be made from it.

One exception may be in the final scene of the play. For those of you who might come see it but do not know how it ends, I will not spoil it here. But suffice to say, he may briefly be at a loss.

3) He is not simply a device. But he wants to be, and usually is. He succeeds in convincing people that he is such. There is enough flesh there, however, to occasionally slow down the wheels and gears in his head. Not often. Probably only twice in the play. But the moments it happens are among my favorites in the play, because of their contrast to what Geoff normally is.

Again, there are other things I have, upon further study, come to conclude about Geoffrey. But they are either more minor, or more scene specific and complex to go into here. These three characteristics, however, give you the sense of framework around which I am building this character.


Muzak Box said...

It sounds like you have a good handle on the character and probably don't need any more advice. It's a pretty meaty part and you probably have enough think to do already! But I'll give you a little any way...:)

What I like to do is to re read the play looking for every reference or reaction to my character ignoring whatever role I'm playing completely. And then I ask to the questions why does she think of me like that? How is he wrong about my motivations and what is confusing him? What is attractive to me to her? Why do I repel him? I find it useful to do this so that I can see what my character looks like from the outside so that my internal choices make more sense in context. The show I'm doing now has almost no room for that kind of work so I don't have a really tangible example at my finger tips (one of the reason I started me blog, acting is like a 2 month long dream state that I wake up from the day after closing with a vague sense that I kind of remember something happening. I've decided to start writing some of it down) but if you have time take a scene and completely ignore everything including your lines and just look at yourself through the people that are talking to you and reacting to you.

Ty Unglebower said...

A very astute suggestion. And indeed, though I am not usually quite as specific as what you have laid out here, I do indeed take the reactions of other characters into consideration when I build these realities.

I think what I tend to do as observe how the other actors in a play react to me, and ask similar questions. But there is also much merit in painting a picture of one's character from the outside, based on brush strokes other character make, as written.