Whispers from the Wings

Guards, Mercenaries, Thugs, Soldiers

October 30, 2012

Youssef Kerkour in costume as a warrior, with his phoneI have my sofa positioned directly in front of my living room windows, so I can view the autumn river-scenery in HD widescreen. I make a mental snapshot of the view every morning and let it inspire my day.

The trees and foliage have turned varying shades of red. The temperature is dropping, so everything is taking on that new tint of crisp. Leaves are falling, the mist is hanging ever longer and ever lower, while the sun creates the most spectacular breaks of light on the top right hand corner of my view. Pretty spectacular stuff.

The view past the trees to the other side of the river is obscured considerably. Quite a full picture with all the leaves and bushes. But every day, leaves fall just outside my window. Soon, all there will be is branches and trunks. What used to be a picture of stuffy foliage will soon turn into a spidery weave of sticks that allow the view to penetrate clear across the river and far across the banks on the other side. There will be fewer colours, but there will be much much further to see.

I've been thinking about the great actors I've seen on stage, and how far I have to go if I'd like to be as great as they are/were. What makes them so great? Did they do their homework? What do they have in common?

I spend my time thinking about my Captain of the Guard in Orphan of Zhao. We have our first preview tomorrow night. When you're my height, characters of unquestionable size and questionable moral fibre are your bread and butter: your Guards, Mercenaries, Thugs, Soldiers and even the occasional Chef.

Those parts tend to call for a lot of physical presence and silence. When you do speak, the menace needs to remain. It sounds horrible to say this but sometimes it's as simple a formula as that.

What always happens though is that after a couple previews, the inner life of the character reveals itself and everything slots into place.

I've tried and tried and tried to create a full and complete inner life for the characters I play in rehearsals (before going in front of an audience) but it never works for me. Some can do it that way…I can't. So I plant little seeds that will grow in performance.

A character says a line to my character. I have an instinct to tap my foot when I answer them. 'Why tap my foot? Where did that come from? I don't even know what my character's name is - we've just been calling him Captain of the Guard. I don't know why I feel like I need to tap my foot on this line, but I'll do it and find out later!' - that sort of thing. It always works.

A couple shows in and it's completely clear where I fit and who I am. The leaves fall off the tree and the view goes on for miles. Not as pretty, but I see clearer that way.

And in case you want to know my opinion about the secret to great actors: While they're always clear and resonant… it's actually the stillness. If you pay attention to their stillness it'll take your breath away. It takes very little movement to move an audience!

Keep an eye out for me. The guard, with the spear, at the back, silent…

by Youssef Kerkour  |  No comments yet


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