Practise, practise, practise. That’s one of our mantras at Marton House. We even run an actors workshop for non-actors where we teach people to do take after take of a particular everyday scenario they feel uncomfortable with until they are the best that they can be.
Sometimes though the first take is the best. This was more often than not the attitude of legendary film director John Ford, who regularly surprised his actors by not shooting further takes or alternative shots for the scene. He rarely rehearsed with his actors either so how could he possibly achieve the best results from one take?
The answer is simple. John Ford knew every single detail for the history of his characters. He intricately plotted back-stories, character traits, emotional history and so on. This information was then embedded into the actors minds, so much so that when he was done with them they would become living versions of the characters for a period of time.
This is a form of rehearsing, in its own way. It’s also a form of method acting, but without the need for the actor to ask the questions the director provides the answers.
John Ford’s trick was simply this – when you turn your actors into the characters they can only perform the scene in one way, just like the character would do if they were real.
John Ford was also a bit of a bully and employed some techniques to get his actors to perform that nobody could recommend.
In the film “3 Godfathers” there is a scene between John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr. where the 3 characters have to dismount their horses and shelter from a sandstorm. When the storm is over they all get up and shake the sand off at which point Harry Carey Jr.’s character looks around wildly for the lost horses. John Ford hated the action in the scene and as a show of his disappointment he threw a rock at the actor who looked around “the whole of death valley” for the horses.
It missed and injured actor Pedro Armendáriz instead, which meant they couldn’t film another take anyway.
Let that be a lesson to you!