Honesty vs. Truth for the Truthful Actor
I’m walking down Rodeo Drive feeling pretty good. I just had a great voice-over audition at my new fancy agent’s ofﬁce, and I’m feeling cute in my thrift store designer outﬁt.
I’m looking in the window of the Chanel store, mentally spending the residuals of my national McDonald’s commercial, which I will surely book, when the air is pierced by the loud cackles of two mini-skirted teenage girls looking at their phones as they walk toward me. One bumps into me as they pass. She doesn’t apologize.
Her purse costs at least four times my entire outﬁt. They both sport blow-outs and their make-up belies hours devoted to YouTube tutorials and hundreds spent at Sephora. I quickly feel poor, too short, and splotchy. One giggles and points at a picture on her phone, “Swipe left!!!” she squeals. The other giggles and sweeps her blond hair out of her eye. This one is wearing a long swingy sweater, a bit more modest than the other, whose mini barely covers her butt.
Just then I see something drop from Miss Modest’s pocket, or perhaps out of her hand. They hustle to the crosswalk, but the light has changed and they are stuck waiting, still engrossed in their phones.
I start to yell, “Hey you dropped something,” but feel too not-Beverly-Hills to draw attention to myself, so I walk to the dropped item, thinking I will quickly pick it up, give it to her and scurry away.
Then I see what it is … a hundred dollar bill. A CRUMPLED one-hundred dollar bill. A one hundred dollar bill that was obviously given little care, stuffed into a pocket, perhaps with OTHER hundred dollar bills, and so there wasn’t even enough room for this one. A one hundred dollar bill that is surely NOT needed by the teenager wearing Manolo Blahniks. I think about my unpaid cellphone bill. DAMMIT! I curse my good upbringing, ﬂatten out the bill, walk over to the girls and extend the bill.
They blink at me.
“You dropped this,” I say to the one in the swingy sweater. Fast, but not so fast I don’t notice she takes in my outﬁt and mentally, “Swipes left.”
“Oh, wow, that is like, so nice of you.”
“Not really, I—“
“You know what, you keep it.”
“What? No, I—“
“I mean, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it was gone if you hadn’t given it back, so you keep it.”
I know she is trying to be nice. I know she isn’t trying to insult me, but the truth is I want to push her face in. Instead I smile and say, “I really appreciate it, but it wouldn’t feel right,” then I put the bill in her gel-manicured hand and sashay off in my second-hand Nine West boots.
I’m gonna get that commercial!
In life there is honesty – and there is Truth. As exhibited in the little life tale above we have honesty; a good person does the right thing, follows the rules, is 'honest.' But the Truth is she doesn’t want to. The Truth is our shero feels jealous, humiliated, pissed off, and discouraged.
And so it is with acting. There is honesty – and there is Truth. We must be honest. To be honest we must do our homework: know the text, do our research regarding the character, the time, the place, and our relationships. To be, on the most basic level, honest, we must address everything in the world of the play, all that is obvious.
Honest, in a way, is akin to earnest. We must investigate earnestly ALL that is on the page, words and punctuation, even giving the playwright's original stage directions an earnest / honest attempt. We must know the world, of the play itself, and each scene we are in. We cannot, on the most basic level be honest if we don’t do the homework.
But we can go beyond honesty … to Truth.
We do this by asking more questions, deeper questions, once the basic ones have been answered.
Yes, I have to give the hundred dollar bill back, that is required. That is the story.
Yes, this character feels angry and humiliated, but how would I feel in this situation? If I am ﬁnancially ﬂush or if I think being jealous is bad and go out of my way to not be jealous, I might unconsciously separate myself from the Truth, and avoid the anger and humiliation of the moment. Despite all my homework, the moment will ring false.
So, what is my Truth about my own anger and jealousy? When have I wanted to push someone’s face in? And when have I felt this vulnerable?
Being vulnerable is the key to Truth in our acting. When we are vulnerable we allow the moment to TRULY affect us, and let go of doing a good job. The world of the play becomes our world. It is our Truth.
This is true regardless of whether the piece is dramatic or comic, naturalistic or magical. The Truth ﬁnds us when we are willing to admit who we are and make ourselves fully available to the moment. This means being willing to be embarrassed, to feel foolish, to trust that moving through that feeling will yield greater inspiration than trying to manufacture a result that keeps us from feeling uncomfortable.
Being 'honest', doing our assigned tasks as actors, saying our lines, moving about the stage, researching the era of play or movie keeps us in the realm of the comfortable. It keeps us 'in control.'
Truth resides in the uncomfortable, in letting go; noticing when we resist vulnerability, when we’re tempted to control, compete, compare, or seek approval.
When we commit ourselves to Truth we open ourselves up to an experience that transcends our ego and is worth more than the metaphorical crumpled hundred dollar bill for which we are tempted to settle.