The most important aspect of an actor's performance is likely the least
discussed--that of subliminal communication. Subliminal simply means
something that is below the level of sensation or consciousness.
The dialogue in a script is performed and received by the audience at a
conscious level as are the stage directions and actions the script
There is no limit to the subliminal messages you can
convey and imply as an actor and very few limits on how you can deliver
them. In a recent blog post, I told the story of a janitor at a
high school who was complaining that the
teachers at the school had no regard for him and often ignored him as
though he didn't exist. "Do you want them to talk to you?" I asked. Yes,
he answered. I told him to go to the newsstand and buy a copy of The
Atlantic Monthly and roll it up so the magazine's name could be seen and
stick it into his back pocket while he was at work. The next time I saw
him, he was stunned that some of the teachers had
noticed the magazine and began saying hello to him for the first time
and conversations developed. The sublimated message conveyed by the
presence of the magazine on his person was that this individual was
educated, likely intelligent beyond the stereotype of his job
description and worthy of attention.
If you were to watch John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
a quick glance at the hats worn by the three stars of the
film--Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt--pretty much define
them at a glance and without a word being spoken. Bogart, a slightly
nefarious city dweller, Huston an inveterate prospector and Holt, the
good guy in a white cowboy hat. The same could be said of Marlon
Brando's torn t-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire. Yes, Marlon
was obviously earthy and dangerous but the t-shirt gave us a sense of
how far he would go with it. These are subliminal messages but,
admittedly, they have more to do with wardrobe than performance.
important part of the Action/ReAction technique is the performance of
'interstitial' reactions. These are reactions that are performed in
between the phrases of dialogue spoken by the actor. Though their
primary intent is to resonate constituent groups in the audience so as
to grow an actor's fan base within the audience during a performance,
they also serve to tell a subliminal story that goes beyond what the
dialogue recounts and can create irony or tell a tale that adds layers
of back story to what the spoken words are conveying.
In the film Morituri,
Marlon Brando's character is offered a cigarette. The script merely has
Brando's character saying "No". What Brando did was to string four
different interstitial reactions together that told the story that, yes,
he did want the cigarette but, no, he'd made the decision to quit and
that he was going to reluctantly stick to the decision but that he was
thankful for the offer. That's a lot of subliminal story to tell but
Brando was the best there was. When he was finished telling his
non-verbal story, he said "No" thus telling the story the script had to
It is rare for an actor to begin his or her career with a
significant role in a major motion picture. Therefore, every actor with a
serious intent to have a professional career must know how to transform
a small, insignificant role into something that deserves an Oscar. With
this in mind, it becomes obvious that merely speaking the dialogue with
conviction is almost tantamount to playing the script 'on the nose'.
make a lasting impression on an audience and bootstrap up into larger
roles, one has to deliver a performance wherein the unspoken, subliminal
aspect of the scene is the most memorable and far more fascinating than
the words spoken by the actor. As we look back and study the best
actors in the history of cinema, we find that this is the mark of a
great actor and you can display that quality in less than two lines of
How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits)
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Examples of Responsive Reactions
Click photo to see clips from Stephen's movies
Action/ReAction at Stella Adler
Point of Departure
A Series of ONE...
Stephen and Dragonuk
Stephen Mitchell webinar for Stage 32
Ferrari GTO 3987 at speed by Yan denes
Ray D. Shosay's Journal
Dispatches from a (junior) suite in Paris
Ray D. Shosay's Journal (excerpt)
"Saturday, January 27, 2007
They say you can fool some of the people all of the time. Accordingly, I think we should concentrate on this group initially. We can move on to the people you can only fool some of the time at a later date if we deem it necessary. I hope to hear back from my agent about this as soon as he's out of rehab, as I don't think my messages have been getting through."
Ignorance is Bliss by Stephen Mitchell
Kindle or Paperback versions
Exerpt from Ignorance is Bliss
"Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Martha shift in her seat. She leaned forward, as though something was about to be decided. This caused her breasts to push up against the neckline of her dress in a way that couldn't be fully appreciated out of the corner of one’s eye. So, Martin turned his head to look directly into the abyss of her cleavage. He was vaguely aware that Murray was talking again."
Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)
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Ferrari GTO 3987
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!
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“You ought to meet Steve. The two of you have the same kind of Ferrari.”
Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso
One evening, I was enjoying a John le Carré novel and a glass of Bordeaux...
L'art de l'automobile
My first Lusso prior to restoration
It was only after Sinatra was gone...
Once upon a time...
Meeting Enzo Ferrari
I came across this on a late night stroll in Paris near the Louvre.
I bought Bentleys in England and Ferraris & Maseratis in Italy to re-sell in Los Angeles as a teenager. I met Enzo Ferrari, Juan Fangio and Steve McQueen. I 'grew up' on the set of Mission: Impossible and other episodic TV series of the era. For a few years, I owned a Ferrari GTO that is owned by Ralph Lauren today and valued at approximately $52M. I began my film career by writing, producing and directing Montmartre in Paris in French. I founded and ran a repertory company for film & TV for 20 years in Los Angeles. I created a TV series which had fans that included Marlon Brando. I authored the first new acting technique--Action/ReAction--that was not based on Stanislavski's Method. I am currently writing my third novel and shooting my spy thriller Exigence. If you can't make movies, live your life as though you were in one...