‘Knight of Cards’ Seeks Discoveries through ‘Torpedoing’

March 5, 2015

Terrence Malick’s impressionistic drama Knight of Cups made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February starring Christian Bale. The elusive Malick, who refuses to be interviewed, is a highly regarded American film director known for his unconventional approach to filmmaking over the course of four decades. And Knight of Cups is no exception to his unorthodox approach.

“He didn’t tell us what [the film] was about,” Bale shared at a Belinale 2015 press conference. “He just gave me the character description. We worked on the character a great deal, worked on his backstory.” Indeed Christian asserted that there was no script to refer to during the production. “I never had any lines to learn, but I’d see other people , and they’d have pages.” Every day on set was a new experience for Bale because he never knew what kind of situation his character would be placed in next.

Christian Bale plays the role of a Los Angeles scriptwriter named Rick with the personality traits of the Knight of Cups tarot card. That is, he is addicted to success, artistic, inventive, refined, and represents change; he likewise is constantly bored, reckless, and unreliable. Rick plunges into a life of decadence amidst a landscape of glitzy Hollywood hedonism.

The director would “torpedo” or send a variety of unannounced actors as well as real people at the performing cast member in hopes of capturing a fresh and genuine response.

Other top-billed actors include Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman. Banderas told Collider he wasn’t sure if he played himself or his character. He described the shoot like this:

“I arrived to the set and basically what [Malick] said to me, ‘Antonio, we didn’t send you a script because we don’t have a script and so this monologue that I gave you,’ which literally didn’t make sense whatsoever, ‘I’m gonna shoot it in nine different locations and I’m gonna just improvise with you, and I’m gonna send you something that I call torpedoes.’ And these torpedoes, they were people that came in the middle of the monologue and started improvising with me. He sent me a beautiful woman, he sent me an ole lady, he sent me a bunch of three guys that are rappers. I ended up in a pool with three ladies with my tuxedo.”

Natalie Portman plays the part of one of Rick’s love interests. Working with Malick just before she was to start production on her directorial debut in A Tale of Love and Darkness, she expressed gratitude for the lessons she learned while performing her brief role. “[Malick] actually reminded me that the rules of filmmaking are not necessary; the way we do things, the rituals that we have aren’t necessary.” Portman said, for example, “If it starts raining, then you shoot in the rain, you don’t change the schedule to shoot something different, which you would normally do in film.” She learned to go with the flow on set, saying, “Allow the mistakes, and welcome the problems.”

Does this idea of torpedoing interest you? How do you do when there is no script to refer to, and all your scenes are improvised? While this technique in not new in comedy, it is a unique take on a dramatic film. And what are the most innovative, unconventional, or experimental projects you’ve worked on as an actor? Was it liberating or unnerving? Please share!

Golden Globe Actors Who Started in Commercials

January 12, 2014




“The only reason I made a commercial for American Express was to pay for my American Express bill.” –Peter Ustinov, English actor, writer, and dramatist

While it’s true, landing a role in a good commercial can make you some extra dough, it’s the exposure commercials grant that can make all the difference in building a successful career in the acting industry. Take for instance Golden Globe Best Actor nominee, Christian Bale. He was nominated for his role in American Hustle, and has already won countless awards including Best Supporting Actor in The Fighter in the 2011 Academy Awards. But his first acting jobs consisted of a role for Lenor fabric softener when he was eight years old, and a Pac-Man cereal commercial at the age of 9 in which he played a rock star. “I started my career without fans,” Bale once said. This is just another reminder that a career is built, and not preordained.

Likewise, Matthew McConaughey began his acting career in 1991 appearing in…you guessed it: commercials. Now he’s been declared the Golden Globes winner for Best Actor acknowledging his gut-wrenching performance in Dallas Buyers Club.

The much-loved Jennifer Lawrence just took home a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in American Hustle. She can add it to her growing collection including the 2012 Oscar and Golden Globe award for Silver Linings Playbook. So how did she start her to-die-for career? She kicked it off appearing in commercials for MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.

Never underestimate the power of legitimate work. Okay, you may be selling fast food, insane video games, side effect-laden drugs, or some other farcical product; but, you’re gaining valuable experience and you’re taking the steps to become a more seasoned, confident, and nuanced actor. Commercial acting is not easy. It’s like any other form of acting, but it’s expressed in 30 or 60 second increments. It’s authentic work, and it just could lead you to the red carpet of the Golden Globes. And the money’s not bad either!


The Mystery of Acting

March 1, 2013

Christian Bale in The Fighter

There are a million ways that actors describe the mystery of the actor’s journey. When the audience sees quality acting, it’s instantly recognized, creating a visceral response and genuine emotional impact. But how does an actor tap into this abstract ability? As complicated as it is to perform brilliantly, it’s another challenge entirely to describe the process. Here are a few examples of actors attempting to deconstruct the mechanisms of an unforgettable performance:

“I’ve always remembered something Sanford Meisner, my acting teacher, told us. When you create a character, it’s like making a chair, except instead of making someting out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actor’s craft–using yourself to create a character.” –Robert Duvall

“All an actor has is their blind faith that they are who they say they are today, in any scene.” –Meryl Streep

“You’re creating a different world and the actor’s job is to be able to convince the audience to enter into that world, whether it be actually something that you recognize from your own life or not.” –Christian Bale

“Never relax, and mean what you say.” –James Cagney

“Speak clearly and be human.” –Victorian actor, Henry Irving

“Part of being an actor is letting things come about organically as opposed to forcing them.” –David Duchovny

“Part of the reason of being an actor is you like playing other people’s lives and exploring all the psychologies in that and the emotions.” –Nicole Kidman

“Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.” –Rodney Dangerfield

“Being an actor means being an instrument for someone else. I want to give myself completely.” –Catherine Deneuve

“Well, I think any actor can probably identify with being a professional liar. You don’t always look at yourself that way, but I know a lot of days I do.” –John Cusack

“As an actor you become that lighting rod between the person who made the play and the audience.” –Christopher Walken

“Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn’t hiss or boo me.” –James Dean

“In the beginning was the Word. Man acts it out. He is the act, not the actor.” –Henry Miller

“Well, in order for me to be successful … In order to be a great artist–musician, actor, painter, whatever – you must be able to be private in public at all times.” –Lady Gaga

“That’s what sets apart one actor from another, and that you can’t teach. You can’t give someone that. When you’re working, putting a character together, or in a scene, that’s where things will happen that you have to have the intuition to notice them, and to register them.” –Gary Oldman

“There’s a fine line between the Method actor and the schizophrenic.” –Nicolas Cage

“Oh yes. I’m an actor, so I just learn my lines, and show up and do it. I gave it a little bit of thought.” –Anthony Hopkins

What great actor did I miss? Please share your favorites. And more importantly, how about sharing your own personal philosophy on the mysteries of this intriguing craft?