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Friday, June 21, 2013

In long-form TV there aren't any bad actors

Actually, there aren't many bad actors anywhere, in spite of what we all say when we think we're being clever. There are plenty of things which make actors look bad, which is a different thing.

The Sopranos provided James Gandolfini with the opportunity to look great. It's an opportunity that wasn't open to actors of earlier generations, no matter how talented they might have been. Long form TV takes actors who are vaguely familiar rather than recognisably famous, provides them with characters whose back story probably isn't even known to the writers at the time the show starts and then allows them the time and space to create - and for once create is the right word.

I can't think of any film performance of the last ten years which lives on in the back of our heads the way Gandolfini's turn as Tony Soprano does. That could be because most films are dumber than The Sopranos. It's also because films don't unfold the way The Sopranos did. We can close our eyes and see Tony. We can't remember a particular line. There's no "do I feel lucky?" We just see him mooching about, looking, hesitating, rubbing his nose, smiling, covering up his feelings, being a person, behaving

James Gandolfini was obviously very good. But long form TV gave him the hours, days and even weeks of screen time it took to be great. His life was cut short and that's something we should leave to his family and friends. In purely professional terms very few people get the chance in life to do one thing which is both big and clever. In that sense he was lucky.


1 comment:

John Hartnup said...

"There are plenty of things which make actors look bad, which is a different thing."

Yeah, my girlfriend's taken to watching Law and Order, in which I decided all the actors were terrible. Then I spotted one or two actors I'd seen in other things, and thought were good. So now I'm convinced it's down to script and direction.

When you're churning out episodes of something non-prestige like Law and Order, you don't want to waste time on 'just one more take', or long rehearsals. When it's The Sopranos, you polish it til it shines.