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Lindy Davies: An actor's craft: approaches to screen acting

Published in IndiVision News May 2008.

Lindy Davies is an AFI-winning actress, and a prolific actor trainer, director and performance consultant. She has worked as performance consultant for many years with Academy Award® nominated actress Julie Christie, whose recent performance in Sarah Polley's Away From Her won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, a SAG Award, a Critics Circle Award and many others. Lindy's work includes Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson; Alan Rudolph's Afterglow for which Julie Christie received a 1998 Academy Award® nomination; Dennis Potter's Karaoke; and Kenneth Branagh's production of Hamlet. She was one of the key contributors for the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab for emerging directors in 2006. From 1995 to 2007, Lindy was Head of Drama at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).

At the IndiVision Project Lab 2008, Lindy was a Performance Consultant, and here she shares her thoughts on ways to approach working with actors to elicit compelling screen performances.

Lindy Davies: I am not an acting coach, I can promise you. I can't coach actors, because I am philosophically opposed to it, I am passionately against it. I want to talk a little about that because I think it's terribly important in terms of where we all are and where we're going. Why am I not an acting coach? Why am I philosophically opposed to it? Well, it would be like having a directing coach, or a producer's coach or a writer's coach. I believe in the autonomous artist - it's something I believe in passionately.

If there are 10 actors in a room, I will work with these actors in 10 completely different ways because no one works the same. I don't have a system, I don't have a method - I have an approach, and that approach changes with the culture and the artistic and the atheistic sensibility I'm working with. But here are the key values of the approach.

First of all I value the actor - why wouldn't I? I think acting is the art of compassion and that to me is the most important art to be practising at this time in this world. Secondly, I value collaboration above all things. For me, there's a seamlessness between the relationship between the cinematographer, the editor, the composer, the actress, the writer - that whole. I can't separate that because I experience things in a non-hierarchical way. I don't like the term 'acting coach' because it means I'm focusing on the acting. But I'm not; I'm involved in a film. And the two things that actors understand intuitively, and directors always forget this, are time and space. So if you make someone aware that they're in a particular progression that is not character-based but image-based, an actor will do it. An actor can do anything; you just simply have to give them the parameters. Essentially the process I developed brought two things together - form and the organic, spontaneity and the formal, instinct and reason. So as a director, the main thing you need to do is never put the actor in an objective state when they're in the process of actually being the character - take them aside and have a conversation. You need to know that there are states that we go to between there, we go into a subjective state or an objective state.

The nakedness that's required - that complete vulnerability, that ability to mercurially change your state, and go to another place, which changes the state of those who watch - has to be protected. And you have to be in a situation where you can be there. So that is the subjective state, where I walk across the line and I become someone else. And that's what was so wonderful about hearing about Wonderland and hearing about the Dogme stuff - they understand completely that if you allow the actor to change their state, with a strong plan in place, a strong score, which is the script, then something wonderful can evolve through improvisation. The mistake we make in this country is people think that actors can just improvise without a script to start from. It will be banality, it'll be boring, if they've got no role-play to start from - when they've changed their state and become someone else. You're only going to get them on a bad day and the lack of form is going to be unbearable, which is why the writer is essential.

That whole ritual of the becoming of this other person, that you are entering another zone, that altered state of consciousness - that is the subjective. The objective is when I come out to look at it and say, "Oh God, the arc wasn't right there, that wasn't happening". What happens when I work as a director is I never give notes and the reason I never give notes is that I don't have to because I am talking as the actors are working and I'm talking in the subjective so they don't think, "Oh, I'm doing something wrong", and switch into the objective. They're so used to this, that I'm just talking and making offers in the subjective such as, "She notices what's on the floor, my God, the bag's green, what's she going to do with it?" I just throw things in and allow them to stay in the subjective.

The other thing that's most important that I never do is the 'how'. When I'm working with actors on films I never talk about how. That's their province, in their training as actors. What I've done is work out a way where the actor can go to the depth of their subconscious and have their imagination ignited so that they give us the perspective of another's life.

You can find out more about Lindy Davies at

Lindy Davies, actress, actor trainer, director and performance consultant talks to participants at the January Lab.

Lindy Davies was a performance consultant for Julie Christie in Away From Her.

The Tango Lesson, one of the many films Lindy Davies has been a performance consultant on.