I wanted to continue bringing up the topic of choices in acting. It’s not a small topic…and quite honestly, to me it seems to be the one topic to continue learning regardless of how much animation experience you may have or not.

Sometimes you watch a movie and someone in that movie that’s not necessarily the main actor just blows you away. That was the case of Tony Collette in the film “The Sixth Sense” and her character Lynn. Not only she was believable as her character Lynn, but also she was natural and she comes up with great acting choices. I enjoyed the film quite a lot when it came out and haven’t watched it again until recently. I’d love to show this one scene towards the end of the film where she really impressed me in all levels:

So much to study in this exchange.

  • She starts out very subtle. “Secrets?“…”What is it?“. What I like is that, she’s not the center of attention and lets the other person talk, giving this part of the conversation a nice balanced feel. Also her delivery feels natural and not over the top.
  • When the kid goes “the lady is dead and standing next to my window“, Lynn does a small pause and sits back. In this pose all that’s going on are a few eye darts of her searching for the dead woman. “You are scaring me“, her whole body language feels contained and there is not much going on other than her lipsync. It could be easy to go over the top (even if it’s a slow scene) in an animated shot, and animate the head, etc. However, the fact that she’s very still when delivering that line makes gives the scene a more intense feel. Be that creepy, scary, whatever makes you feel at that particular moment.
  • They?”…”You see ghosts Cole?“…her body language is still very much still. Sometimes less is more, and less will give your acting shot more intensity.
  • They talk to you?“: the mother in the film loves Cole very much and that’s a big part of who she is in the film and her personality regardless of what she’s going through, and this line could easily be delivered or acted out with a facial expression that reads almost making fun of what Cole just said “Ghosts want me to do things for them”. Instead, what I really liked in this part is that she stays as the loving mother, so her delivery “They talk to you?” comes off genuinely interested while trying to make some sense of what she’s hearing.
  • The exchange of him asking her what she’s thinking and asking her if she thinks he’s a freak, again, her performance is pretty straight forward. Staying on character, but also not going over the top. The next parts are the areas that really hit me.
  • Let me think for a minute…“, her subtext and facial expression reads as if she’s been close to being knocked out, in a smaller level. But again, the fact that her delievery of these lines are not big in any way, gives the scene more intensity (at least for me).
  • Grandma says hi“: She looks quickly, and her timing is faster. Her eyes (very subtlety) widened, and as Cole continues talking, she slightly starts to turn her head away from him while her eyes are fixed on him. Her mouth opens in awe, again in small increments. All this while still subtle it sure adds a lot. Her body language is both saying I don’t want to hear this, and also saying what crazy stuff am I listening to right now?
  • “What?”…a small detail that I personally enjoyed very much. Her lipsync anticipates the word “What?” for a little while. So she stays in the word “O” for a while. It’s quite a nice choice. Also notice her eyebrows raising slowly. They don’t really move much when she actually says the word. Again, it’s nice to anticipate slowly.
  • “Grandma saw you dance”: again, another quick look…this time, her head and body are more involved. This from a pacing point of view is just great, because it advances the scene. Goes somewhere. It’s important to go somewhere with our acting and our shots. The fact that she doesn’t say a word and just keeps looking at Cole and listening, makes this moment anticipate the rest of shot in such a powerful way.
  • At this point she’s thinking and remembering. So she’s darting around thinking, even when she breathes. Again, it’s nice to see her eyes anticipating the head move, by her thinking/remembering. It’s as if her remembering is taking her to places and the head moves with it. Weird way to think of this moment, but when we remember very powerful memories, it’s always interesting and very educational to see what our eyes and head do and how related they both are.
  • She’s still listening. This time her hand covers her mouth. It’s such a nice choice. In the book “ManWatching”, Desmond Morris talks about how covering your mouth sometimes indicates “holding back information”. The hand is covering the mouth since the brain unconsciously asks it to suppress the information. Could be true in this case or not. But in either case, to me, from an animation/acting point of view, this felt like a very original choice…that also gave intensity to the moment and how her character is feeling. In a way is almost like all this information she’s being given and that she’s processing, is too much for her to take.
  • On that same note, notice how she almost doesn’t know what to do with her hand (when it’s by her nose). Her facial expressions and how she covers her face/nose with both hands speaks by itself. Her body language, her shoulders raising and her spine starting to bend, shows me that her character is at her most vulnerable level. She’s obviously about to breakdown, to the point where she can’t barely talk. Even when she does talk, she takes a break to get air (hands by her neck), but also get her stuff together.
  • Do I make her proud?“. Her facial expressions at this point are not just expressions of sadness, but also of pain. Sometimes, as I pointed out in the past, just because a character is sad, doesn’t necessarily mean her facial expressions have to be sad. She’s having a really hardtime even speaking because of all the emotions going on in her head/memories.
  • Then she adds that last bit (non dialogue) after her delievery, which always gets to me everytime. Really powerful stuff for me.

I think her acting in this scene is not only believable but also powerful.
There could be a million other things that you notice…and probably not all the things in this scene spoke to you how they spoke to me. Also, there could be a million different ways to act this out and animate a conversation like this.

Ultimately, the great thing about what we do is how many choices we have available and how many different ways we can say something, and make an audience feel.
I hope this scene was as inspirational to you as it was to me.

Have a great week everyone.