Director Sam Mendes Talks About the Shadow Movie Underneath The Text “Part 2”
Director Sam Mendes Talks About the Shadow Movie Underneath the Text Part 2
Today we’re going to look at Part 2 of what director Sam Mendes has to say about movies, plays, and the shadow underneath the script. So much of the time we just focus on the written page and not on the other layers or secrets that lie beneath. The following is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times by Lynn Hirschberg about Sam Mendes and his approach to directing.
”Movies live and breathe and walk among us,” Mendes says. ”I didn’t truly realize that until I made ‘American Beauty.’ Theater lives in the memory, which can be very powerful, but it is not the same. A movie puts you in the center of the culture.” He smiles. ”And that’s the challenge — the game. You are playing for immortality.
At 16, Mendes became serious about school; in 1984, he enrolled at Cambridge. ”In my first term, they converted a lecture hall into a theater,” he says. ”And I thought I should try and put on a play that I’d found on a friend’s bookshelf called ‘Little Malcolm and the Struggle Against the Eunuchs,’ about students who are trying to overthrow their art school. A light bulb went off the first day of rehearsal. I thought, ‘I love this.”’
It didn’t take Mendes long to develop a method. ”I began to realize that there’s a big difference between loving a play and having something to say about it, having a secret,” he says. ”When I staged ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at school, that was the first time I found a secret that was mine alone. I staged it in a huge white arena, and the actors who weren’t onstage watched from the top. For each scene, they threw down a huge, single-colored cloth so that the arena changed in color and tone. It was very bold and visual and had a spice and romance that enhanced the text. After ‘Cyrano,’ I thought, I can do this, because I did that.
”I want to make a lot of movies. But I’m bad at developing things. I like the script to be fully formed on my desk.” He pauses. ”My greatest fear is running out of time. Since I’ve been 18, I’ve always been afraid of not getting to do all the things I want to do. One of my greatest heroes was Billy Wilder. I went to his 94th birthday party. I didn’t know him that well. He was sitting in his wheelchair, and I said — you had to shout; he was deaf as a post — ‘What’s next for you, Billy?’ And he said, ‘What’s next for me now is death.”’ Mendes laughs. ”It was brilliant. But, of course, Billy would’ve liked to make more films in his last 20 years. How could you be as great as Billy Wilder and not get work anymore? That haunts me.
But a full schedule trumps anxiety, and Mendes is running late. He is heading off to meet Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for ”Gypsy.” Mendes has pasted the musical’s script into two hard-bound volumes and plans to go over each scene with Laurents. Mendes wants to know what the mood was like in the rehearsal room in 1959 when Ethel Merman played Mama Rose; what Laurents was thinking when he wrote particular bits of dialogue; if, back then, strippers shaved under their arms. Anything. Mendes is searching for a secret. ”Always, always,” he says, rushing out the door. ”It keeps the game interesting.”
It’s an exciting way to work, looking for the shadow script and searching for the secrets. It can open up new possibilities to telling a story and creating a character in more thrilling ways.
Try adding this approach to your work and see what happens!
By Lynette McNeill
Acting Coach & Director
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