Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day Lewis both render excellent performances as Satin and Hawkeye in the movies, ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, respectively. However, with the genres being quite different for each of these movies, both performers had to face specific demands in terms of their acting and preparation for their roles in each of these films. Acting is something that not most people can do and do well. On film acting takes on a brand new life when compared to acting on stage.
While many people claim that acting on stage is much more difficult than acting on film, what most people don’t know is that in film, there is no room for falsity because the performers are expected to be the exact copy or portrayal of the character that they perform. In stage acting, on the other hand, actors usually own the role and in many cases the character is forgotten in favor of the actor. For instance, in Miss Saigon, it was not the main protagonist ‘Kim’ that people wanted to watch for but Lea Salonga.
The case is different in film; for instance, in the movie, ‘The Queen’ Helen Mirren had to perform as an actress to be as truthful and accurate as she can be to the real Elizabeth, Queen of England. The demands in film and stage acting are different and albeit dissenting opinions, film actors go through more rigorous preparations before they are seen in their films so that the truth becomes more apparent and vivid to the audience. This means that acting on film is a craft of truth and that it should be something that actors and actresses assimilate and internalize to be able to perform well.
In ‘Moulin Rouge’ Nicole Kidman played the role of Satine, a turberculous, love struck, performer/courtesan to whom a struggling poet falls in love with. Satine is then torn between two men, one a wealthy Duke and her true love, Christian, the poet. This film can be considered a hybrid because it is both a musical and a romantic comedy and it is surprising that Nicole Kidman had to use her real voice in performing as Satine in the many instances in the film where the character had to sing.
The actress admits to having had gone through voice lessons to prepare for the film, which initially gives one the idea of what the film demanded of this particular actress. Other than getting voice lessons, Nicole also had to take dance lessons for the numerous dance numbers that she had to do in the film. Save it to say that the film was created in the Bohemian tradition which involved ostentatious set designs as well as loud colors and surreal scenery. These took their toll on the actress as well; being set in a bohemian environment required that the actress also exude a bohemia air.
So, Nicole as Satine brought life to the character (pun intended) as she portrayed the calloused personality and soft, longing girl that Satine was. In effect, Nicole had to convey two characters that belonged to entirely different spectrums, one, an insensitive and gold-digging whore, and two, a lonely girl in love who would want to break away from the demands of her job. Satine’s conviction, however, lies in her dream of having a show of her own and finding her one true love, so Nicole had to balance the calloused personality that Satine was known for and the gentle, thoughtful, and loving girl that had dreams of her own.
Another acting demand that Nicole had to meet for this film was the need to remain indifferent yet hopeful throughout the film. The challenge here is to be indifferent and allow small slivers of hope to shine through in her almost subdued acting. The reason for this is that Kidman had to maintain the mood of the film and while at the same time excluding herself from the fanfare that characterized most of the actors.
The mood was quite surreal, a mood to which the wealthy Duke belonged to but the film offered another dimension, that of Christian, a more realistic and truthful dimension, so Satine had to be adequate for both worlds to successfully exist. Hence, Kidman, while being portrayed as a colorful and surreal character had to retain a certain degree of anchorage on reality in her performance to also make her fit for her true love, Christian. All in all, Kidman’s performance as Satine was out of the box because she had many demands on her beyond just the initial demands of learning to sing and dance for the film.
Her performance successfully brought her character to life and effectively conveyed the kinds of messages and emotions that were required of the character at certain points in the film. In this particular film, Kidman had to act more accordingly to emotional acting than on physical acting. Physical acting, while all acting is in fact considered physical, is the kind of acting that requires the performer to use more physical language instead of emotional language as opposed to emotional acting.
This means that a character has to make full use of physical faculties to illicit a physical response instead of using these faculties to illicit a subtle emotional response from the audience. Physical acting is more evident in action and adventure films of which ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ is one. In this film, Daniel Day Lewis who plays Hawkeye, a white man who is part of the dying Mohican tribe refuse to join the English Militia and come across two Indian women with whom love stories blossom amid the war.
Immediately, it becomes evident that there were demands of conviction for the actor as he was expected to again, be torn between defending the Mohicans and the woman that he loved. While this film may be considered an adventure in all its aspects, it has elements of a love story and may be considered a hybrid. Perhaps most contemporary films now are considered hybrids because conflicts are created on the basis of various relationships and situations that pass for different theme genres.
Going back to Lewis, another demand that this actor had to meet was the physical demand for the film – Lewis had, according to some sources, undergo agonizing weight training to get into character. He also had to assimilate to the rugged environment of the forests in which his character lived; this meant that he had to learn how to hunt and fish and survive only on the resources found in the forest. In addition to this, crew members involved in the film reveal that Lewis also had to learn to skin animals and carry a long rifle at all times to remain in character.
This is a film where the environment is an important element of the acting, and may even be considered a character because included in the demands of the actor was that he had to learn to interact with the environment and approach it like it was part of the story, as in fact, it was. Comparing this to the earlier film, “Moulin Rouge” Lewis had to do more physical acting than emotional acting because while there was a love angle in the film, Lewis also had to convey the savageness and fierceness of the Mohicans, the tribe which he represented and had to embody.
So, despite gentle and passionate scenes in the film, these were only added to give a deeper dimension to the conviction of the character, but more importantly, Lewis had to act like he was part of the environment and like he was the meat and bone of the conflict to portray his character more accurately and more realistically. In both of these films, the acting demands are quite clear and in any film in particular, any actor will have to meet these acting demands not as an obligation or a duty to the director or the producer but as a responsibility to the audience that has faith on the way actors and actresses should perform in character.
Films are often driven by the way characters act and how the actors and actresses meet the acting demands thrown at them. Any effective and successful film will have actors and actresses fully meeting the demands of both the technical film and the creative aspect which is the story; and only then when the actors and actresses do meet these demands will they be able to give back to the audience a film that will grace movie history and hopefully transform into a timeless classic.