Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney
Los Angeles; co-directors and co-screenwriters, 'Paper Man'
Good work is good work, no matter how you get there. However, it's thrilling to witness character-building based on externals. An actor puts on a piece of wardrobe and suddenly his or her posture changes. Those tangible, external choices are satisfying because, as a director, you can actually participate in the actor's often mysterious process by picking out the shoes you think that character might wear. We're big on the physicality of a character. It provides such an important shorthand in the visual medium we work in.
In "Paper Man," for example, Emma Stone had a very specific way of walking—dragging her feet—which she developed for the character of Abby. It spoke volumes about how this girl was stuck, emotionally speaking. Similarly, the moment Ryan Reynolds got to wear his superhero cape for the first time—pow, he suddenly snapped into a specific persona. It was clear to us that these externals were the triggers for the interior work. Likewise, when Jeff Daniels wore, at our suggestion, a drab, gray, and cumbersome coat, it was wonderful to watch that coat become the character's security blanket, and symbolic of the change he was resisting. Of course, we have complete respect for actors doing their internal work, but we feel that's their business, their private process.
Los Angeles; 'The Red Baron,' 'Operation Dead End,' 'Deadly Measures'
I will say this up front: I prefer good actors over bad actors, and I don't really give a damn how they manage to be good. To elaborate: I've met all kinds of actors and encountered all kinds of techniques. Some cry because they "become" a character. Some stare at a spot on the ceiling, provoking tear flow. Some have the makeup artist blow eucalyptus into their eyes. Some think of the tragic loss of a sibling. Some don't cry but their performance without tears is just as great. Some cry based on Stanislavsky's methods. Some stick to their high school acting teacher's sermon. Some need two hours of silence before you can shoot. Some tell a joke, play the scene, and cry, and make you cry, and when you cut, they're telling the next joke.
Still, the more you understand how an actor approaches a part, the better you can communicate and cooperate, and the more detailed your work will become. However, there are many great actors I've worked with whose essential artistry remains a mystery to me and perhaps even themselves. After all, we're dealing with emotion, and what's great about emotions is they're beyond our realm of control. Often our job is to have the guts to just allow them to happen.
Los Angeles; 'Pâté,' 'After.Life'
Both! As long as they arrive where they need to be, as a director I adapt very easily. Personally, I think each method has its strong points. I don't believe in any rigid division, and I don't think contemporary actors favor just one technique over another. They take a more integrated approach these days. Ultimately it all depends on what works best for each actor.
On "After.Life," I was very lucky to work with three incredible and very passionate actors: Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Long. They were all very different in terms of how they like to prepare and work. Liam loves to be in the moment but also passionately believes in rehearsal. He builds his characters from specific choices, focusing on the minute details of a character—how he unties his shoes, how he pours a cup of tea. For his role as a funeral director in "After.Life," he spent time at a local funeral home. He wanted to be very precise in how he handled the instruments and how he moved around the prep room.
Christina's extremely intuitive. She came to rehearsals with a very clear idea of her character, yet was flexible so we could still discover nuances while on set. Justin's approach is less cerebral and much more physical. His role was very emotional, and we often used memories to bring back certain feelings and emotions.
Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Eckerling
New York; co-directors, 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl,' Off-Broadway; Sunde: 'What May Fall,' 'The Asphalt Kiss'; Eckerling: screenwriter, 'The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing'
We like it best when actors have balance and can approach roles from different angles. We feel that physical presence in an actor is important—as is the ability to make strong emotional choices. It's great to work with actors who work from the outside in, because they trust their bodies to help define their emotions. Actors who work from the inside out are great too, especially when their strong psychological choices manifest themselves physically. Actors who work inside-out usually benefit greatly from being physical, because it brings about more discoveries and helps them get out of their head. Actors who work outside-in benefit from being encouraged to make strong choices supporting their physicality.
In all cases, it is important to make sure that the actor's physical work is consistent with his or her internal choices. For us, it's about connecting the layers of character, which allows the actors to take more risks and make bolder choices. That said, we've generally found that listening to our actors and adapting to their own methods often brings the best work.