Sunday, 26 August 2007


Spotlight is a directory for casting directors filled with actor's photos and agent details and divided into big volumes by categories of Gender, Age and Type (Leading, Character). It's a forbidding tome and I try not to think about it between the yearly ritual of sending back the photo (old) and a cheque. Spotlight also offers an on-line service that lists an actor's credits and while you're updating those, you're invited to fill out the section named 'Special Skills'. It's a minefield.
Of course, if you really have an accomplishment, then away you go. Concert piano, pilot's license, tap dancing, fencing awards, these would all be both useful and interesting skills to have mastered. But what about driving a car? Or swimming? Most people can do those things, you probably don't need to put them in, though it can be a problem if you can't drive or swim and most companies don't think to ask until the day comes on the set when you're supposed to reverse your car along the marina and dive in to save your screen son. Stunt doubles do amazing work but directors, not unreasonably, expect to be able to get a shot of their actor actually driving the car, or in the water, at some point. And when would be the good moment to confess that, no sorry, you never passed your test, as such, and you can't really swim, but you can float, like really well, on your front, with a very small inflatable?
Still, if you put in driving and swimming it might look a little desperate, next to all those sword fighters and opera singers. What about horse riding? Just how expert a rider should you be before you offer it up as a special skill? Who, while auditioning, would allow that they couldn't ride a horse, had never actually been near a horse growing up in Hackney. Get the job, and then worry about the horse. I do have some horse riding experience but I'm not very good. I've ridden side-saddle in a corset in a forest for a film and waited until I was well out of sight before sliding off onto the one good leg I had left; trees plus horse plus side-saddle plus corset plus bad rider equals bruises. So, I wouldn't put riding horses down as one of my special skills but I'd be absolutely willing to learn.
The most difficult skill I have had to master for filming was the illusion of playing the piano. Most of the time it is the upper body that the audience will see and that can just take a lot of time listening to the music and learning from an experienced pianist the direction and force of the hands and movements of the body. But if there are some chords you can master, some way of learning a piece by rote, then the director will have a better choice of shots. Romain Duris does this brilliantly in 'The Beat That My Heart Skipped' and 'Moliere' and apparently he was taught by his sister specifically for 'Beat', although he was already a musician. The effect is so seamless that you do not question his ability to play. When I was filming 'A Summer Story' there was going to be a scene of me playing a simple song on the piano while my visitor sang along and I set out to learn the piece. Week after week that summer I sat down at a dummy keyboard in my hotel room or in a lesson with a professional, trying to master the notes. Bit by bit the song came together, but I noticed that my wrist started to ache when I played and eventually it hurt all the time and I ended up with a splint. I had some sympathy from the unit nurse and the general feeling was that I must have been practising very hard, poor thing. In the scene that was filmed I played a few chords and then the camera pans away, but I was proud of those chords and didn't mind wearing my arm in a tea towel even after filming had finished. Some weeks later I was on holiday when the batteries on my Sega Game Gear died. Within 24 hours I was free of the splint.
So, I guess I do have a Special Skill after all. I can play 'Lemmings' 'til my wrist breaks.


  1. Hee hee.. you do make me chuckle ;oP

    I have a question for you, oh you theatrical sage: if you're able to eat 3 Krispy Kreme doughnuts (donuts?) in the space of 5 minutes, can it be considered to be an accomplishment? If not, I am afraid that were I ever to be in Spotlight my total sum of accomplishments would be: 1. I managed to pass my driving test but swimming proved to be just a little bit too tricky. I can't tap dance either but I can, and here is my real gift, pat my head whilst rubbing my tummy in a circular motion..

    I think you might have the edge somehow..

  2. 3 donuts in 5 minutes? That is most certainly a Special Skill and should receive recognition. It could be useful too, for scenes involving food. I always found it difficult to eat on camera until I did a film called 'Out of Bounds'. Eating pasta in one scene I thought I had finally mastered the trick of eating and talking and not giving the continiuity person a nervous breakdown, until I saw the film and realised that I had forgotten to swallow anything and looked like a deranged hamster. I bow to your accomplishment.

  3. Great piece...and I'm sure your piano playing was great too!
    I've had to think very hard to identify my special accomplishment. I don't cook as I am allergic to cookers - I didn't realize they go so hot until I accidentally touched one the other day, ouch!
    I can swim, but try not to interfere with water unless it's in a jacuzzi;
    I can eat, talk and splutter at the same time, but hey, who can't?
    Mmmmm, so it was thinking cap back on...going back to last year when I did a Rocky Horror Spoof I realized that I did tap dance quite well - well enough to list it as an accomplishment? Mmmm, the jury is still out on that one.
    Then it came to me in a blinding flash....I can pole dance...yes I can....and possibly too well!..ha ha. I did an exhibition for my local W.I. and they are still speaking to me!
    In fact, I've had a request from their chairperson (a very forward thinking woman) to start classes, but am having difficulty obtaining the equipment, and I don't know how our Village Hall Committee will react to the request to install 35 dancing poles.
    Oh yes, I am very proud to say that this skill - and believe me it is a skill - is definitely my accomplishment!

  4. Sophie, I saw 'Out of Bounds' recently and I do remember the eating scene very well, and thought, at the time, How is she doing it? So I tried it with a few friends and we all agreed it took us too long to swallow in between talking, which would amount to lines of dialogue. So see all is not lost. . .now when casting directors look under W for Ward they'll find Sophie. . .eats well, doesn't speak lines with her mouth full and never swallows!
    All the rest might as well go home.

  5. Ha ha! Yes, well maybe not a special skill to be repeated often, at the risk of clogging one's arteries..

    You know, it takes a special kind of skill to look like a 'deranged hamster'. Years of Strasberg's workshops couldn't teach you that technique. Indeed my dear, it is I who bow to your accomplishment!

    Hope your week has been splendid so far, although it's only Tuesday..

  6. Pole dancing is probably one of the official Spotlight options, before pole vaulting and after polar bear (impersonation).

  7. Loving reading about everyone's accomplishments!

  8. I have no accomplishments or I would have written sooner. I can draw but have never sold any of my artwork. I guess my biggest accomplishment is my 15 year old daughter who is an honors student. Have a great day!

  9. Donuts, pole dancing, novels, art and children. A diverse account. But surely selling artwork isn't the indicator for skill : )

  10. I thought I should perhaps tell you about two other actors who have 'accomplished' the art of eating and talking simultaneously - although it wasn't on stage so I don't know if it will count as an 'accomplishment';-)

    I was privileged to meet Linda Gray (Dallas) and Suranne Jones last night...and guess what? Both ladies could eat sandwiches and talk at the same time - something they did with great finesse ;-)

    Check out their pics on my blog.

  11. Well, I saw 'Terms of Endearment' last Thursday, and I have to tell you...Suranne Jones held a telephone receiver to her ear using her shoulder, buttered two slices of bread and...wait for it...licked her fingers while delivering her lines in an American accent! And guess what?...She didn't splutter once, though there was a lot of sucking. How's that for an accomplishment?

  12. Not an accomplishment or is it? Singing and throwing horse manure ;-) But it's definitely a laugh.

    Take a look at the video of my latest accomplishment and that of my good friend too. Remember, I didn't say I could sing ;-)

    Check us out on

    The film is called Fling it here - Fling it there. Enjoy!


  13. Sometimes an actor will really surprise me when they demonstrate the unusual things they can do. Glenn Close was absolutely amazing when she sounded like a crying baby. She demonstrated it on the Graham Norton Show, November 2007. Youtube link: (about 2 minutes into the clip). It’s the most realistic imitation of a baby I have heard. She also demonstrated shoe golf in that show!

  14. I saw this picture/list today and thought of your post
    How about the New Year's Resolution # 14: 'Learn to do some of the special skills on my resume.' Some of the other points were pretty funny, as well.
    (Link may break up in my post. Hope it'll work for you).

  15. That does seem like the way to go. Write it down, then learn it. Although I have been on set when the 'horse riding expert' actually got on the back on the back of the horse. For the first time. Not a pretty sight.

  16. When I saw this outtake the other day, I remembered the comments for this post, about eating. In case you do not mind another link, here is a friend of mine trying to stuff himself while saying his lines. Who knows what he was trying to say/mumble. It’s the director, Hella Joof, who starts laughing out loud. Jonathan Spang as Agger in ‘Fidibus’ (2006): (21 seconds)