Updated: Jun 25, 2021
It would seem instinctual to assume actors are good liars, as this is what we do for a living. Things couldn't be further from the truth - pun intended.
Reel and real are two different things, but with social media and the age of living a dual life as a norm, this distinction is slowly changing.
Covid times have been challenging and empowering for creatives. For me, it was a unique chance to be with my thoughts, and try to develop my creative self. I started acting with the idea, that I would have to live small lies, constructed from fantasy. Isn't this true though? From the outside in, we assume that acting is the ultimate form of lying?
Good actors, I soon realized, never lie, at some point in their psyche, they become the character, and that is what draws us to them. Who would think that a Richard Gere personality could fit into the homeless life in 'Time out of mind?' or the rom-com actor Heath Ledger best known for his roles in romance movies could transform into 'The Joker,' which became so real for him, that he ended up developing those dark characteristics in real life?
The theory became real-life during the shooting of my upcoming short film, 'Ghalti'. While I was rehearsing for my character, Ayesha, I had to become her. I had to make sure what I said while being her was authentic. In essence, I was living her life, feeling her fears. This involved planning, it involved research and rehearsal. I spoke the same lines in different ways and tried to absorb as much as I could about her in the few short weeks of rehearsals.
I first started constructing her by looking at other Pakistani actresses and trying to see the way they talked. This interview was the first thing I looked at!
I noticed the way Mahira Khan spoke, the slow, measured way of enunciating and soft voice. This was a good starting point to build my character.
And this is where my own experience taught me what this weird statement was trying to display. I wasn't pretending to be her, I had to mold her from clay, through different people and influences, and ultimately bring a person to life.
To me, it still felt a little off, because Ayesha had facets of subdued strength in her, and was supposed to be a voice of reason, a person who could at once look poised, and in another instant tell her husband off.
Without revealing too much about the story, I would describe her as a woman of means, who is trying her best to come to terms with her current situation and still trying to keep everything held together.
Ultimately, my greatest influence came from real life, where I took my grandmother's gentle, sweet-talking demeanor, and ferociousness I saw when she would, on occasion get mad.
This process grounded the character for me and helped tap into both her anger and strength, through an authentic voice.
Urdu was a new language for me, though similar to Hindi, some words automatically did not come to mind. I practiced watching Hum TV series, picking up colloquialisms and dialects. In the short time that we had, I chose to give her a neutral dialect, not attempting to learn a heavier dialect form - sometimes, it's about what not to put in, as much as what to include in a character. As creatives, we tend to bring in as many elements as possible, however, it is often when you pull back a little, that you come closest to an alternate reality you are trying to create.
I say this because when someone lies, it is mainly improv, you are not performing, you are convincing someone what you are saying is not, in fact, false. However, constructing a new reality altogether requires finesse, a psychological involvement, and a deep backstory. You are not trying to convince anyone anything, you are simply being the character.
There are of course other forms of acting, but this method-acting approach has become more popular over the years, in most major movie industries, because as an audience, we have matured to the way we see life depicted on camera. This makes it even more exciting for actors because we get to push ourselves further than the surface.
So if an actor is a liar, that means they are not doing their job well!
Trailer of my new movie Ghalti (Mistake), directed by Dominico Di Lillo, starring Gaurav Nijjer from and created in collaboration with the Met Film School, which highlights the story of an immigrant man trying to come to terms with his family's expectations, and current reality.