This is a weekly column behind the scenes of Alex LeMay’s latest project, DARK JOEY. DARK JOEY is a collaboration between LeMay and writer Jim Uhls, who wrote the major motion picture, FIGHT CLUB, as well as his writing partner Ric Krause. Follow along here: #Film-School:lemay-makes-a-series
Last Monday was a huge milestone for our series. We had our first table read with the cast at screenwriter Jim Uhls’ house. You met the cast and creative team in my last post, but that didn’t do them justice. Matt Mercer, our male lead, and Deanna Russo, our female lead, came to the reading completely prepared. In our brief conversation before we began, it was clear they had definite opinions and had made very concrete choices about who they believed their characters were. I have read the script probably 150 times in the last three weeks. I thought I had I locked in how I wanted to approach it. After hearing them talk about what they wanted to bring to their characters, though, it was clear I needed to sit back and let them do what they were hired to do. The best directing choice I could make at that time was to stay out of their way on this first pass.
So I simply told them that I didn’t want to discuss my approach to the script until I heard them read it, un-influenced by me. They had never worked together and had only met each other socially a few times. Two actors, just having fought LA traffic at the end of what I assume was an already long workday, reading for a director they have never worked for. The result was amazing. Matt played his character as a frustrated, exhausted recluse rather than the bitter, heartbroken shut-in I had seen this character being. He brought a layer of someone who was still trying, rather than someone who had given up. It made his character much more active which gave him a much larger emotional arc.
Deanna, on the other hand, brought lightness to the villain character and extracted a ton of humor. She played completely against type, which made her character that much more dangerous and threatening. I was simultaneously terrified and rolling on the floor. It was nuanced and brash and the audience is going to fall in love with her brand of evil.
Together, they made the script come alive. This, on the first read-through. I can’t imagine what they will bring to set on August 19th when we shoot this thing.
When you work with professional actors, let them do their job. These are people who are both psychologists and detectives. They burrow into the psyche of their characters and make choices that you as a director can build on. They are your partners, not your props. Let them bring their own style to the work and let them make big choices. Actors want to challenge themselves. If you as a director limit or strangle their ability to make choices, they tend to not want to work with you again. Now, that’s not to say you can’t bend or mold those choices, but letting them have a say in their performance will give your film or series a depth that is bigger than one director’s vision. Hire professionals and let them do their job. Oh…and have fun, damn it!