There are many different ways of working with directors. Some directors like complete collaboration using workshops and improvisation. Some prefer a steady progression through discussion and rehearsal with rigid adherence to the script. Some directors want to control every movement, every inflexion and some have such a light touch that you imagine you are not being directed at all. As an actor, you have to make decisions about the amount of control you are willing to surrender and you'll base your choices on your own techniques as an actor, but also on trust. Once a director has gained your trust, you belong to them.
The auteur director will not ask your opinion, they have a vision and it is your job to help them realise it. If you trust them then you will embark on the project with a certain freedom; the capacity to follow where the director leads. If you do not trust them then you're in trouble. The auteur director will not be interested in your doubts and fears, or your individual interpretation. They will let you do whatever you want so long as it is also whatever they want. You are the doll in the auteur director's doll's house, their moods and caprices are not unlike a child's. It is such a struggle for a director with an absolute vision to bend a hundred people to their will that their patience is often exhausted.
I have worked with a few such directors and they were the most exciting projects of my life. Franco Zeffirelli directed ‘The Young Toscanini’. We made the film over the course of nearly a year and by the end of shooting I was several months pregnant. As I was playing an Eighteenth century nun, neither my character nor my costume were entirely flexible. We filmed in Portugal, Italy and Tunisia and every location was impeccably commanded by Franco, every detail of the set examined. When the boat was the wrong colour we went home while it was repainted. If an actor was the wrong type, they went home and didn't return. Not wanting to go home, I lived in fear of being either the wrong colour or the wrong type. As it turns out, I was frequently both, but I survived to the end of the shoot.
I was thrilled to be working with Franco who behaved as outrageously as you would want a director of his calibre and reputation to behave. "Where do you think the f*****g camera is, you f*****g monkey?" he would shout at me, via megaphone. Some days I laughed, most days I wept but every day brought a new lesson about making a film and an insight into the creative life of this great auteur. At 23 I had plenty to learn and what an education I received. By the time filming finished I was completely obsessed with Franco and would have jumped into a vat of boiling oil had he so asked. Such is the Stockholm syndrome nature of being an actor in a good director's thrall.
When the film was screened for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing Franco again. He had looked after me in my early pregnancy and given me time off when my father was ill. I had much to thank him for. The day of the premiere arrived and we gathered on the Lido at the Venice Film Festival. Franco stood at the entrance to the hotel and I approached with trepidation. "Darling!" He kissed me and I waited for news of the film. Franco looked concerned, "You are terrible in this movie" My heart sank but immediately Franco brightened. "Don't worry, darling, I cut around you."
An auteur's work is never done.
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