Know the text cold. Once you know the text, you are free. Once you know the text, you can improvise and do whatever you want. But you must know the text.
This was one little unexpected pearl of wisdom from an hour long Q&A session during which Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Tony”) dialogued with students of Thomas Aquinas College last year.
I normally do the flyby on hour long videos, but I’ve always appreciated the presence that Hopkins brings to the screen, and I was drawn to it for some reason, so I listened while I filled out my pre-admittance forms for my pill-cam examination this week and sorted through some mail.
I paused on the forms and mail several times to re-hear what Hopkins said and jot it down in my wee quote journal.
The above quote was the first.
Whatever I had expected to get out of this Q&A session, I hadn’t expected to glean the observations that I did.
For Hopkins, an actor’s script is his text. His counsel: “Know the text cold. Once you know the text, you are free. Once you know the text, you can improvise and do whatever you want. But you must know the text.”
For Hopkins a script is something to master so you are then free to, quite literally, act on it. If you don’t know the text, you have no idea what you are doing and you’ll make a mess of things. Know it cold to the point of getting it into your subconscious, and you’ll be free to act on it, to improvise with it, to see it come to life in your own unique performance.
What’s hard to communicate here is the fluidity and freedom in Hopkin’s passion.
The actor may need to know it cold, but the script is not a cold text containing strict boundaries for dialogue and action to be legalistically and mechanistically adhered to. But you must know it. And in knowing it, you must embody it in the part you play. And in embodying it, since you are a human being, you will bring your own unique nuances and turns to the performance of it.
My mind naturally went to what has been my “script” for going on four decades – Scripture, Holy Writ, that accumulated ancient community library we know as “the Bible” (“The Library” would actually be the better rendering of the Greek from which we get “the Bible” = ta biblia = “the books”). I know great swaths of it literally “stone cold.” It has been seeping into my personality and psyche for decades.
What a waste to devote a lifetime to the study and analysis of the Script, but to never get beyond quoting lines of it to other assembled actors during our rehearsals (church?) and arguing with other actors over their interpretation of the lines and their take on the plot.
How tragic to never get onto the real stage (life, like, wherever you live; all the world’s a stage, yes?) with the Script no longer in hand but in heart and head and then to give the performance of a lifetime.
Two challenges here present themselves.
Too many of us neglect the Script. And we think it archaic, religious (in all the bad ways), legalistic, unspiritual (“just move in the Spirit, dude”), etc., to do so…or we’re just plain too busy to bother with the Script ourselves and imagine that we are only the audience witnessing the performance of the actors (pastors, teaching clergy) on what we assume is the stage (church services). Result: we don’t know our own Script. We have no idea how to act on the Script – or imagine that we don’t even need to.
We are the actors not the audience. We need to know the Script or we won’t be able to play our part, period, and we will make quite the mess of things. And how do we going about knowing the Script?
Read it. Aloud. A lot. And start with heart of the Script. Pick a Gospel. Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.
Secondly, when we do set out to learn the Script, we become so anal in our rehearsing of it with and to our fellow actors that we never actually perform the play.
Actually, we still perform a play.
Just a very bad one that everyone has already seen too many times…