Friday, September 21, 2007

There's Something About Sandra

Fernando Meirelles, the director of the movie Blindness in which Sandra Oh stars as the Minister of Health, has posted a blog entry about the shooting of the movie. He talks about the intangible qualities of the actors and tries to answer the question: Where does charisma comes from? Twitch has provided a translation of the blog entry from Portugeese.

This is what he said about Sandra:

About Charisma

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13 September, 2007

Sometimes I find myself looking at these charismatic actors and thinking about where does their strong attraction on the rest of us, mere mortals, comes from. Sandra Oh (Sideways) has it in bundles. In the first time I met her she had already left me with a strong impression, I even remember the colour of her dress (and usually I can’t even tell the colour of the clothes I’m wearing). It was blue, of course. We were introduced by screenwriter and director Alexander Payne, at that time I didn’t even knew she was an actress, we were at Cannes and I thought she was a wife accompanying her husband in the premiere of his movie (All about Smith). And the wife impressed me. Where does that strong presence come from?

Anyway, I was happy when she asked me to do something in the movie, whatever we could offer her. She is Canadian, a very good friend of Don McKellar, our screenwriter, and so insisted in participating. So we created a few lines for the Minister of Health, to justify her travel from Los Angeles to Toronto for a day of shooting. After lots of negotiating she managed to convince the producers of Grey’s Anatomy to give her the day off.

It was worth it. A minimal role that was supposed to be played by an extra, turned into a real role. That was the lesson of the day: every role deserves a great actor (and every great actor can transform a role). Still regarding charisma, there’s also in this movie another actor, a young guy in his early twenties called Mpho Koaho who impressed me straight away as soon as I saw him in castings. At first he was supposed to have a single line in the movie as a pharmacist assistant who unsuccessfully tries to score with Alice Braga, but the guy is so interesting that little by little I’ve been giving him space and his character as grown.

In the scenes with lots of people I have always asked Guilherme Ayrosa, our sound-guy, to let his microphone on so we can use the punch lines he improvises. I encourage him to make these funny remarks and started to put them in some small scenes where he wasn’t supposed to appear in. I even thought in including him in the main group of characters who escape the asylum and give him some small extra scene in São Paulo. I think José Saramago will forgive me for that, the only reason he didn’t include the pharmacist assistant in the main group of characters was because he didn’t have the chance to meet Mpho.

In both cases, Sandra’s and Mpho’s, their charisma is eye-popping, they have huge doses of “je ne sais quoi”. And I keep asking myself: Where is that charisma? In the eyes? In some perception we capture with some sense beyond the five most famous ones? I have no idea. I only know we cannot develop it. It’s like being tall or having dark eyes. It comes with the package.

Yesterday I had another confirmation of the existence of charisma. When it was time to start shooting with Sandra we realized, that because a communication failure, the wardrobe technician had sent the entire cast to the set wearing the wrong clothes for that scene. We were forced to send them back to their dressing rooms, and while we waited, looking at the monitor, I commented with César Charlone, our cinematographer, how beautiful the light expecting the actors was. He told me that beautiful was the space we were in, not the light he had created. Cinematographers don’t do alot, only 20% of the work he said, what really makes a beautiful picture is cenography, art direction or the actors themselves. To illustrate his thesis (of which I disagree, especially in his case), he told me that when he frames Ronda, Julianne Moore’s stand-in*, he’s left with the feeling that something is missing in his work, but when Julianne takes her space, the image seems to get filled with light, the picture completes itself and the image begins to look like “cinema”. What is their magic?

By Fernando Meirelles

*Stand-ins are the people that after the first rehearsal, when the actors are in make-up, take their places so that the photographer can light the scene and rehearse the camera movement.

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