Speaking of the Fourth Wall

Recently people have sent me notes about some faux pas an interviewer made where I understand she somehow facilitated the breaking of the fourth wall by publicly reading some fan fiction to the principal actors featured in the fiction or having them read it (I’m still not sure), and then asking them some questions about it. The fiction was slash of course and wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun for her if it had been anything but slash. I also understand the author of the slash was upset. I don’t really care that any of this happened, and I’m not going to cover it much here except to say 1) if you put something on the Web, you never know who’s going to pick it up; 2) if an interviewer is dumb enough to purposely humiliate her interviewees when it’s not expose’ journalism, she deserves what she gets from it. End of story on that one. Unvarnished thought: big girls don’t cry.

Onto the main point of this piece.

The notes reminded me that I had not finished a blog series about those who possibly influenced Richard Armitage. My plan had been to cover Constantin Stanislavski, Edward Gordon Craig and Bertold Brecht during Fanstravaganza 3 in 2012. I wrote about Stanislavski and Craig, but I never got around to Brecht. Mainly because it would have taken us too far off topic to be worth it at the time.

Brecht was a German playwright of the early 20th Century and one of the most noted adherents to the concept of breaking the fourth wall. The fourth wall, in case some of you missed it in the discussions of the last week or so, is the imaginary wall separating an actor or actors from the audience. To break it is for a performer to communicate overtly to the audience. This was one device in Brecht’s repertoire of alienation or distancing effects which were designed to startle the audience so as to interrupt any identification with the characters or the story being portrayed. The aim was to make the audience become aware they were watching a drama and thereby make them aware of reality. The ultimate objective was to ameliorate the social conscience. From Brecht’s perspective, that meant creating sensitivity to the working class and reception of the solutions propagated by Marxism.

No, I don’t think Richard Armitage is a Marxist. And at first I didn’t associate Brecht with him at all, and mainly because Brecht is a glaring antithesis to Stanislavski who preached identification with a character in portrayals to the point of an actor not only inhabiting the character but the character inhabiting the actor, and all of it designed so the actor could establish an unbroken line of thoughts and feelings with the audience but never with overt acknowledgment. This is clearly the approach Richard Armitage is following when he’s described his character biographies (more accurately autobiographies when he’s working) and his distancing himself from the cast during breaks to keep from breaking character. And this unbroken line of thoughts and feelings is such an apt description of what so many feel while watching his performances. To think of him employing something startling to break that is, well, unthinkable.


But not so in his communications with us. They are in and of themselves overt and they always startle me when they come. How about you? :D And for about six years many of them have included verbiage designed to make us think on things for the betterment of society, make us pause long enough to maybe break the unbroken line. And look at the result. There is usually a flurry of amens (yes, I include myself in that chorus most times) when there’s instruction on behavior and usually there’s some action as a result. Brecht would be proud. ;-) Certainly, the cynical part of me almost finds the response laughable, but thankfully, the better part of me appreciates it for what I hope it is – a move to rise above the workings of a fandom and above the possible worship of a human being to something more important.

And maybe Brecht in no way influenced Richard Armitage. This is all speculation (thin speculation) on my part and not a definitive statement in case it’s not clear. And none of this is to say Richard Armitage is putting on an act or faking it when he sends a message, but never think communicating with the public is not a performance. And that’s not a criticism to call it that. It’s just characterizing his dealings with the public the last few years as something more than a simple conversation with a few people who admired his performances as his first communications seemed to be — the fun loving, easy going ones where he was like a giddy kid after Christmas and even acknowledged each gift he received. There also didn’t appear to be any awareness of fans being hyper focused on him, so no need to sublimate attention.

Candidly, I hate I missed out on that exchange because there was a vulnerability and natural quality to it that’s impossible now, and for those of you who participated, how cool. I’ve always thought that and wanted to say it to you but never have.

For the rest of you, if you haven’t looked at those earlier messages, do yourself a favor and read them here.

Screencap courtesy of RichardArmitageNet.Com

note: I guess I’ve said enough about the messages for now. Onto the next thing.

edit: and no, I wouldn’t be in an uproar if Richard Armitage were conned into reading some fan fiction like that. He’s a big boy. :D


As with the other days, please remember this is part of a much larger conversation about Richard Armitage, and you would be pleased by checking out the rest of it here.

My apologies for the delay in posting, and no, today is not about Richard Armitage and Peter Jackson. It was supposed to be today, but I’m a day behind. Sometime I might tell you why.

This piece was originally titled ‘I Think Therefore I Am a Great Actor II,’ but my need for cuteness has waned, and in its place is an overwhelming desire to be understood. The need is so great that it’s also contributed to this post being tardy, and I began drafting it a couple of months ago! Actually, the post has been brewing from the day I started this blog. No, before that.

I knew fairly early on what overwhelmed me about RA’s portrayals, but the language to explain it has eluded me; otherwise, I would have explained already. My stumbling block is not in finding some words so much as it is in wishing to use words that have no inflammatory nature. If my ability to handle words were better, then I could deal with the dangerous ones while curtailing the seemingly endless qualifiers.

In case it wasn’t obvious in the last post, the drug I keep taking is the reality created by Richard Armitage’s characters. I would say truth, but people trip on the word truth. Maybe because it’s often assumed to be the sum of all truth instead of just a truth. That does seem to be the inference from a significant number of people when the word appears. And perhaps it is such an important aspect of our lives, it rightly deserves that reaction. To be clear, I do have a definite view of the source of the truth, but it has such a richness and depth, I could never sum it up. It’s not that simple.

And people aren’t simple. It doesn’t matter who. Everyone has myriad emotions for myriad reasons with myriad manifestations of them. For another person to portray this authentically, and I don’t necessarily mean realistically but rather a portrayal that gets to the heart of a person, certainly can’t be simple. It requires what Stanislavski called “the magic if” which is an actor accessing his imagination to give a character thoughts and feelings, and in turn mannerisms and personal habits in order to convey the inner man. When I first heard Richard Armitage wrote back stories for his characters, I wondered if he was a devotee’ of Stanislavski’s method, but it wasn’t until I read the Vulpes Libris interview in July 2009, that I was sure. Oh, what a wonderful piece. For all of the supposed intellectual resources of the major media outlets, an interview on a fairly unknown blog remains my favorite, because he shared in more detail, before or since, how his mind works with respect to his craft. Thank you again, Lovely Book Foxes! I think many of us would love to read those diaries. Maybe one day.

From that interview, something else began to be clear. This tapping into the imagination and using it to make a real point of connection is Richard Armitage’s obsession, and thankfully for us, his genius. When I was reading Craig, he made an illustration of a young man wanting to become an actor and how it wasn’t really about wanting to be an actor but something else:

Perhaps you quarrelled with your parents when you were eighteen, because you wished to go on the stage, and they would not let you. They perhaps asked why you wanted to go on the stage, and you could give no reasonable answer because you wanted to do that which no reasonable answer could explain; in other words, you wanted to fly. And had you said to your parents, “I want to fly,” I think that you would have probably got further than had you alarmed them with the terrible words, “I want to go on the stage.

Millions of such men have had the same desire, this desire for movement, this desire to fly, this desire to be merged in some other creature’s being, and not knowing that it was the desire to live in the imagination, some have answered their parents, “I want to be an actor; I want to go on the stage. — Edward Gordon Craig, from On the Art of the Theatre

I saw Richard Armitage in that. Oh, not the quarrel although there could have been a quarrel, but in the desire to merge with another creature’s being. And it occurred to me that for all its appearances, this is not flying:

The heart of these characters was never revealed in any way that was terribly meaningful to me. The entire time I was watching I felt like an outsider who didn’t understand the intense relationship between these two people but was aware on some level of the writers whispering into my ear, “This is the scene where you should care.” But oh, what do you think this part would have been in the hands of Richard? And I’ll bet Kate Winslet’s performance would have been world’s better as well. I could get faint if I think about all the possibilities, and especially as I’ve been learning what flying really looks like:

It’s made me want to fly too. It’s made me want to tell stories and express some things I never have or felt I could. A few months before I knew RA existed, I did start a journal, which was something to relieve tension and rant where it could do no harm to anyone — except perhaps me. It was never for me to be a writer. But as I watched his performances, I got so stirred up and eventually knew I wanted to do in written form what he is doing. Mostly, I want to create another world in which to reveal a reality. Isn’t that what Tolkien is all about? More on that later. :D

The next post is about Richard Armitage stretching himself professionally.

I Think Therefore I Am a Great Actor

Continuing on with my contribution to FanstRAvaganza 3:

I’m not going to pretend I understand all there is to know about Richard Armitage. Someone said earlier it would take at least a “40 parter” for that. May I suggest the parts would be infinite. I believe that’s the case for all of us. We are all complex. Some just make themselves look simple and in the doing of that lose our interest. Just know that this series is my attempt to shed a little light on what I’ve learned about this fascination with Richard and his characters. Also, there is no way I can do justice to Constantin Stanislavski, Bertold Brecht or Edward Gordon Craig within the confines of a blog post nor even a week of blogging on them. But I can highlight some salient points with respect to our guy.

When I first became aware of Richard Armitage, I just let myself enjoy the sensations his performances created in me. My greed for those feelings had me watching some of his shows over and over and over, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to feel like I was taking a drug. I’m fairly sure I appeared slack jawed to anyone who might have observed me in the process or shortly thereafter. And each time I came down from the high, I would intensely question myself about it. A common question was: how old am I? Never mind. :D The point is that I was old enough to know better than to be silly about some actor.

After I passed the initial euphoria, I had to explain (at least to myself) what had created it. A good looking guy with a great voice in a romantic role? That was it? I’m not quite so air headed or needy for male affirmation that it would generate this reaction. So I went in search of others who had a similar reaction. I lurked the forums for months, and there were some wonderful fan writings about the impressions Richard Armitage had made. Many others were overwhelmed by what they were seeing, but none of them (at least that I read) captured what was niggling in my brain, and candidly, I became frustrated by some of the rhapsodizing. I wanted it to answer me, and it just seemed like some were the same things said about every other good looking or compelling actor. I did watch other actors I appreciate for comparison — Edward Norton in ‘American History X,’ Gary Oldman in ‘My Immortal Beloved,’ Sean Penn in ‘Dead Man Walking,’ Russell Crow in ‘The Insider,’ Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘My Left Foot,’ ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being,’ and ‘In the Name of the Father’ and even Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ All great performances, but it was abundantly clear they all had great writing and/or stories to propel them. Even with that, none of them had quite the same effect on me as Richard Armitage in much lesser roles and with less adept writing.

And what was the effect? An identification with something so real it made me feel I was there with the character and seeing the situation through his eyes. Some of those roles above had moments of that, but none were able to make me almost continuously see the story through their eyes — feeling their pain or frustration or joy or elation — as I have watching Richard Armitage. The only thing that has frequently had this effect on me is reading a well crafted book where a character or a scene has gotten inside my head, and I’m with them and in them, and sometimes I have to read books or parts of books again and again to experience the thrill of that moment of connection.

The scene in The Sun Also Rises where Jake is in the church trying to pray and then steps out into the sunlight is one of them. If there was ever a scene that I consider orgasmic, it’s that one. It nearly took my head off. There are others which come close, but that one I can barely speak of without almost having a meltdown, and I even got misty eyed typing these last few sentences. But with Richard Armitage, I was taken to that place of connection with almost no words. It was in his action:

Action or rather movement was integral to Craig, “theatre has sprung from movement.” Notice he doesn’t say words were the impetus. He does give deference to writing as the body of a play but movement was so important that he suggested the need for an Uber Marionette (sometimes described as inhuman) as the perfect actor who could be controlled by the director of a piece in order to achieve its vision. Richard Armitage has spoken several times of the importance of movement and his body to his craft, and he’s even spoken of smoldering with his back. Anyone who has seen the first episode of Robin Hood Series 3 knows how effectively he can use it:

But it is Stanislavski who explains how he is able to use his body to such great effect:

“if actors really mean to hold the attention of a large audience they must make every effort to maintain an uninterrupted exchange of feelings, thoughts, and actions among themselves. And the inner material for this exchange should be sufficiently interesting to hold spectators. The exceptional importance of this process makes me urge you to devote special attention to it and to study with care its various outstanding phases.”

Through Tortsov the Director he goes onto explain about self-communion, which is a way of facilitating intercourse within yourself and specifically between your brain and feelings, and communion between individuals, which requires you to first seek out the other person’s soul and inner world. At the train station when John Thornton looked at Margaret Hale, I felt he was looking at her soul, her inner world, and mine too. He was getting in my head.

I’m tired, and I’ve still got more to say, but I bid you adieu for now. More of this later. And hey, I got some pictures in this one. :D

Today’s Conversation found here.

edit: the thoughts in this post continue here.

Understanding Richard Armitage

The question of Richard Armitage has intrigued me for awhile. He played a great part in a mini-series and in several other tv series. But how many people would that describe? Several. Maybe not legions but several. He’s good looking. How many fit that description? A bunch more. He’s very masculine. Even more fall into that category. Oh wait he also seems like a nice guy. We like how he presents himself, and his co-workers like him. Yep, a few more are like that. And did I mention he’s smart? I’m going with my gut on that one. The guy is smart, and I completely trust my instincts about this — instincts that have rarely let me down when taking an accounting of someone’s grey matter. So is it that he’s “the complete package?” Maybe. But that’s still not quite it. I have actually known good looking men who were smart and talented in something aesthetic (read that: they were sensitive enough to be talented in something aesthetic) and also very masculine and nice guys. Yes, I’m telling the truth! I worked with a man for years who had played football at Michigan State, was brilliant, super good looking, helluva nice guy, could sing really well, and he had a great sense of humor. Sometime I’ll have to tell you his story — it’s a doozy — but not today.

So what makes Richard Armitage special? Let me rephrase that? What makes Richard Armitage special to me? I have mentioned before that I think he’s special? Oh I haven’t? What the hell do you think this blog is about?! Or does me saying that he’s special to me make you feel weird? I know it’s made me feel weird. It made me feel so weird that I had to find out why I thought it. Since SO is the love of my life (despite our ups and downs and all arounds — plenty of those) and having four great kids… yes, dammit, I’m biased; they’re great, and I don’t want to hear anything else :D…I did not understand what was going on in my obsession to watch Richard Armitage.

Of course some people have distractions like this, and I’m not going to say I’m above having a distraction like this. Not at all. But watching his stuff is not merely a distraction from all of the really tough things going on in my life. Yes, there are some really tough things going on in my life. No, you don’t want to hear about them, and granted, some of watching him has been a distraction from those things. I admit it! But that’s not why I’m writing this post. That’s not why I started this blog. I do have an obsession, or am otaku as my friend James describes it. But my obsession is not Richard Armitage. It’s something else, and I think Richard is obsessed with it too.

I’ve said several times I wanted to avoid getting in Richard Armitage’s head, but my friends, I can’t help it. I had to get in his head in order to understand. Since I wasn’t going to do anything invasive with respect to his privacy, because frankly, I would be very upset if someone did that to me, I decided to investigate some indirect evidence of what may be in his head. This required a look at the influences on his professional life. Of course Miss Pat and Pattison’s College were of interest. But it was too difficult to glean much without crossing boundaries. So I’ve consigned that experience to one that will have to wait for RA or some biographer to tell us a good deal more. I concentrated on LAMDA and some of the ways of thinking he was exposed to there.

As part of study at LAMDA, the students are required to have some proficiency in the history of the theater, its evolution into the modern theater and in part what we now think of as method acting, which I’ve learned can be a bit of a nebulous term. Since the term has become a little fluid, I went back to the sources that RA was expected to go back to. Namely Edward Gordon Craig, Constantin Stanislavski and Bertold Brecht. You may be thinking, “I don’t want to hear about those guys. I just want to know how Richard Armitage does what he does.” Go back and read this post from the beginning again because there is no way to really understand unless you know a little something about these people. And let me say that reading the works of these three guys and a handful of others was life changing for me. I don’t make a habit of throwing that comment around without good cause, so I hope you will respect what I’m saying here without knowing anything yet. LOL!

And I’ve written so much on this and don’t really want to edit, that I’m going to do the unforgivable and leave you hanging until tomorrow.


The thoughts continue here.

Diary of an RA Fan — Part 19 “the important thing is that you play truly.”

See Diary Part 18 here, or to access all entries, hit “The Diary” tab above.

Entry — Fall, 2008

Autumn is finally here in earnest, and its beauty usually makes me pensive. But this year I feel rushed. There is so much I’ve wanted to do, and I’ve done almost nothing. Dad’s gone and Mom’s not in great health, but that doesn’t seem to stop her from talking about England. That’s all she ever talks about, and I know full well the chance we’ll go there is almost nil. She is simply not up to it, and I can’t be gone for another month. The world would stop around here if I were gone for a month as I was last summer. Then again, maybe that would be a good thing. LOL!

I was driving over to see Mimi the other day. I love to drive to Mimi’s. It takes me on one of my favorite routes. The trees are close to the road and seem to glow as if they’re lighting the way to somewhere sublime. I swear they’re backlit by something other than the sun. Even though I love visiting Mimi, I wanted to just sit in the woods. It was a gorgeous day, truly a halcyon day — sunny but cool and barely a cloud in the sky. Just enough clouds to make the sky seem painted. Yeah, sometimes it’s so blue it doesn’t look real. I’m blessed to live here.

But I’m not satisfied. I wonder what that really feels like. Maybe I experienced it when SO and I were coming to know each other or when we had the little SOs. I certainly love them all more than I can express, but feeling satisfied is so fleeting, I’m not sure I’ve experienced it. Maybe it’s not supposed to last long. I don’t know. So much I don’t know, and there’ s not much time to figure it out.

I haven’t watched any Richard Armitage for a couple of weeks, and I’m feeling some withdrawal. That simply can’t happen. It’s an inexpensive thrill for me even if I do have several hundred dollars invested, and I’m going to continue. And whom does it hurt? I watch when I have time! ROFLOL!! Yeah, I’ve made time for it, but I’ve got to have some outlet or I’ll go nuts, and I don’t want to go nuts again. I’d rather re-immerse myself in Robin Hood even though the frustration lingers about its ending and my silly urge to blame someone hasn’t gone away. Dominic Minghella, the chief writer, is apparently the guilty party. Must find out more about him because I need to understand how someone could develop those characters and then use them like that? Or maybe it was just over my head.

I’ve got to put all of that aside. At least long enough to rewatch the show; otherwise, it will be a constant specter, and I’ll never figure out what fascinates me so much about a character who’s a thug, and of course I realize he wants redemption. Redemption stories are almost always powerful, but I’ve never had quite this reaction to such a minor character.

I could dismiss it as mere objectification of Richard Armitage. Damn. No! But oh his movements are beautiful. Even his seemingly languid movements are rife with something begging to be explored. His movements in total are imbued with something I just can’t name. I would love to describe what it is, but words fail. They always fail. I guess I’m lazy. If it’s not easy to say, I drop it and move on. I’ve always had a problem expressing myself about anything that moves me deeply except to sometimes fob it off with a crack. But something truly fitting for what I feel never comes. My words never sound as I want them to sound. They’re prosaic, and I cringe at them.

A few days later:

I started reading Stanislavski. That’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a teen and became fascinated with Brando and James Dean. Richard Armitage reminds me of those two more than any other actors. In my mind he’s those two fused. When I was a kid, Mom referenced the Actors Studio where Brando and Dean studied. She also spoke some of Stella Adler. From there it wasn’t too many steps to pique my interest in Stanislavski. I should have read him years ago. Only a few pages into his book and I was intrigued. He is speaking of things I’ve thought but didn’t feel free to pursue. To pursue them would be playing mind games, but heck, I’ve done that anyway. I wonder how much better I could have expressed myself if I had let my mind unfocus and tap into my subconscious. What I’m loving is that I have finally figured out what Richard Armitage is doing that has sucked me in so thoroughly!

This explains a lot and contains a description of what happens to me when I watch Richard:

The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form… Our experience has led to a firm belief that only our kind of art, soaked as it is in the living experiences of human beings, can artistically reproduce the impalpable shadings and depths of life. Only such art can completely absorb the spectator and make both understand and also inwardly experience the happenings on the stage, enriching his inner life, and leaving impressions which will not fade with time. — Spoken by Director Tortsov from An Actor Prepares

The inner man he’s created, the inner life is playing out, and the truth of it is so beautiful I can’t get enough. There’s a sanity to it that I’ve seldom seen in an actor. Maybe I’ve never seen it.

“Impalpable shadings and depths of life.” What a way to describe it. Perfect really. John Thornton drinking tea at the Hale’s, nodding his head but unable to look at or speak to his mother after his rejection from Margaret, agonizing at the train station before Margaret comes back to him with her portmanteau. John Standring having his mouth full of sausage, being frustrated at his body’s impatience in an intimate moment with Carol, grinning at Carol as he tries on a suit. And Guy. Guy awkwardly holding the Sheriff’s bird, lighting up when he realizes the nun is a fake, looking intently at Marian when he sees she’s not wearing her betrothal ring, beaming when he comes to tell her the king is returning, rushing up like a little boy to her before the wedding. The ring of truth in these moments completely submerges Richard Armitage and the person he’s fashioned is there thinking and feeling and drawing me into his story.

“Will not fade with time.” Certainly I will remember John Thornton’s sweet eyes looking at Margaret as she explains her business proposition or Guy saying to his servant Thornton that the thing is to be understood.

[note: imagine my grin a year later when I read RA’s crack in this article. There will be more about all of this. It’s too much for one post. Oh, and I went on to read more Stanislavski and some Grotowski and Vakhtangov. Phew.]

Quote in the title from Mikhail Shchepkin.

See Diary Part 20 here.