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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stealing Scenes in Just a Few Minutes: Samantha Morton and company

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Not everyone can be the leading actor of a film. Majority of actors have to settle with supporting roles, and some even get less than that.  However, I have observed, through many years of being a student of film, that you need not be the star of a movie to be remembered.  Some actors, particularly the great ones, can reveal so much about a character in just a few minutes than most leading actors can, considering they have at least one and half hour to present all the inner workings and complexities of their characters.  


Great supporting actors can be in a scene without any dialogue at all and yet you can already have a clear idea about their characters.  Some actors are so good that the first time they enter a scene, they are already loaded.  Their clothes, their hairstyles, the way they walk and stand and the small, sometimes, unnoticeable gestures speak volume before they even utter a single line.  These superb supporting actors are what drive my friends and I to go watch a partciualr movie.  Case in point, my friend and I were not really big fans of the "Twilight" saga but we are fans of Dakota Fanning, having already been aware that the sprightly little kid was able to steal a scene away from Sean Penn or Tom Cruise.  Her brief apperance in "New Moon" made the rest of the cast look like untrained actors.  The first time she came out of the movie, with her red eyes and pale skin and controlled icy facial expression, you knew she had done her homework.  The layers of her character were in placed. 

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Another perfect example is Samantha Morton in the movie "Synecdoche, New York."  She played Hazel a woman working in a theater box office. Hazel has no surname which is unsurprising because she was just a supporting female actor.  In her first scene, she wore a simple light colored blouse and mid-length shirt but she was sitting down so you could only see part of her knee.  Her hair was very curly and dark red, almost rusty color.  It was sloppily done that some strands fell on the side. Philip Seymour Hoffman (who played the lead role, Caden Cotard) greeted her.  Morton said, "Hey." Hoffman replied, "In search of the elusive (cellphone) signal." Morton answered, "the signal is good here, oddly," And she matched her lines by placing her hand on her leg and moving it gently to her inner thigh, at the same time placed the book she was reading on her chest.  This whole choreographed gestures were subtly done that they were so effective.  Matched that with her girlish voice that was borderline whisper, and there you have it.  You have to be clueless not to know that her character is attracted to the overweight Caden Cotard for a long time.   


Samantha Morton did appear from time to time in the movie, and every time she came out, she revealed so much about her character. When her character underwent changes in her life, you could see it by the changes in her gestures, the way she stood, the way she sat and even the way she had her hair done.  In my opinion, she stole every scene that she was in.  Luckily, the film was full of great actors that it was engaging to watch.  Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams and Hope Davis all owned the scene they were in.  They are outstanding supporting actors who are sadly, often ignored, but provide the necessary complex characterization that any film desperately need so that it would be at least tolerable to watch despite its other shortcomings.  It is also wonderful to see that a supporting actor such as Philip Seymour Hoffman is currently doing more leading roles.  I first saw him in "Scent of a Woman" with Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell.  Hoffman was already stealing scenes then. 

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Thanks to C.J. for giving me a copy of Synecdoche, New York.
Synecdoche, New Tork was directed by Charlie Kaufman. He also wrote Adaptation, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich.

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