Watching Myself and the Actor

There was an earthquake this morning. It shook the whole house and knocked pictures off of shelves, and the cats went apeshit. Facebook and Twitter lit up with Los Angelinos commenting and making jokes to try make it all feel better. It’s always a deeply humbling experience.

Another humbling experience? Watching myself on screen. A lot of actors hate it. I don’t necessarily hate it, but it is rather odd. It isn’t humbling because I am blown away with my ability, but rather because on first viewing I always see the mistakes and shortcomings. It’s impossible not to. And it’s jarring to see these moments that usually look a lot different than they felt when I was doing it in the moment. Often, when I go back and watch the thing again I feel better about it. I get over myself, and see the movie for the movie instead of for my performance. I try to make that happen on the first viewing, but no matter how Zen I get about the experience, a lot of elements creep in and lead me to distraction.

Last night, the writer and the director of a short film I worked on last year came over to my house to screen it for me. It’s called Butterfly Dust (hopefully coming to a film festival near you) and I thought it came out quite wonderfully. Still, every time I was on screen I was wondering things like, “Why the hell was a looking down so much in this moment?” or “Why didn’t I annunciate that word more? I needed to hit that!” When the screening was over, the writer asked me what my experience was as an actor watching myself. Did I become to hyper-critical of myself to see the movie for what it is? Did memories of the shoot itself creep in and distract me from what was actually edited and presented on screen? Were moments that didn’t make it into the final cut frustrating for me and a further distraction?

I answered as best I could. Yes, the fact that I’m in the movie is quite distracting when I try to take it in as a viewer. And yes, memories of the shoot and all that surrounds each and every moment that the audience doesn’t see do leak into the brain. In some instances in the past, I have been frustrated by what I considered great moments that didn’t make a final cut. In the instance of Butterfly Dust, however, I had no recollection of moments that I would have liked to see on screen that didn’t make it.

It’s a little easier, too, to screen these things in my own home as opposed to screenings filled with an audience. I’m talking about the first time viewing, here. When I toured around with the indie feature I did a couple years ago (Fuzz Track City, coming to video and streaming services very, very soon) I wound up seeing it so many times it no longer bothered me. But it is undoubtedly surreal, even now after all these years working as an actor, to see myself in a story. Especially in a story that I really like, as is the case with this short film.

I suppose if this sort of thing happened to me on a regular basis, I might be more used to it? Or maybe not. Either way, I’m doing my best. But screen acting is weird in that way. It’s two experiences clashing with each other: the making of the movie and seeing the movie itself. It’s a great problem to have, however. Be assured of that.

It’s a great problem to have. Unlike an earthquake.

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