The Embroidered Truth

An ongoing search for inspiration and the good life.

What inspires me: the Totally Committed Actor

on June 29, 2011

David Suchet as Poirot

Television and the movies are full of good actors (and some not so good).  But once in a while, an actor turns in a performance that is especially notable for the degree to which he commits to the character.  The TCA (Totally Committed Actor) knows every facet of her character’s personality, physical appearance, reactions to situations, and line delivery.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is about an actor that makes that kind of magic happen.  Certainly, a part of it is talent, and part of it is attention to the acting craft, but I do wonder how much the way the character is written feeds into it.  Good material is essential, unless you’re Lucille Ball and can carry a show on sheer force of personality.  Carroll O’Connor was a wonderful actor, but let’s face it, Archie Bunker’s material was a large part of the success of All in the Family.

Here are some of my favorite TCAs and their characters:

  • David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.  Suchet is a genius, and brings Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective to life in a way no one else has.  Every accent and mannerism is perfect, and even Poirot’s faults (when they dare to show) are endearing.
  • Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory).  There really aren’t words, are there?  Parsons works this role down to the teeth.  He knows Sheldon’s reactions instinctively, and it never disappoints.  One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Sheldon gets drunk before making a big speech. Bazinga!
  • James Roday as Shawn Spencer and Dule Hill as Burton Guster (Psych).  I will admit to having a huge crush on Roday, but these two are a weekly highlight when the show is in season.  They have a rapport that makes it easy to believe they’ve been friends all their lives.  Here’s a clip of some of their antics. Bonus points for any time Dule gets to tap dance.  The supporting cast is very good too, especially Timothy Omundson as Detective Lassiter.
  • Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean).  This is kind of a given, a textbook example of total commitment.  Plus, Depp looks like he’s having the time of his life (alas, no clips for this).  We should all be so lucky as to get a role like that in our lifetime.
  • Brent Spiner as Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation).  Ah, Data.  The yellow contacts, the quizzical expressions, the occasional scenes where the writers took pity on Spiner and let him loose in a Holodeck Shakespeare or comedy club scene (or my favorite scene, Data’s ode to his cat).  Spiner was incredible in a role that dictated how much weight he could put on, suntan he could gain, or gray he could find in his hair.
  • Kurtwood Smith as Red Forman, Mila Kunis as Jackie Burkhart and Ashton Kutcher as Michael Kelso (That 70’s Show).  This was one of those rare shows where very talented actors made up a fantastic ensemble, but were able to distinguish their performances without detracting from the overall effect.  These are the standouts to me, with honorable mentions to Danny Masterson (Hyde) and Debra Jo Rupp (Kitty).  Smith’s Red Forman is one of my favorite characters; to some, it might seem one-note to be crabby all the time, but I think Red just knew who he was.  Kutcher’s line delivery is amazing, and Kunis brought shallow to a new level.
  • Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester (Glee).  Also a given.  The material is great, but what would the part be without Lynch’s angular physical presence or glowering looks?
  • Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz (Clueless).  Bet you didn’t see this one coming.  I love Silverstone’s take on spoiled rich girl Cher, because although she is shallow and an expert whiner, she also has some heart, and the character does not grate or become a complete caricature the way it might have.

The commitment to the role and the acting craft in these performances truly inspires me, and I often look for things I can learn or take away to make my own performances better.  It’s a lot to aspire to and live up to, but if we don’t keep learning, how can we continue creating?

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2 responses to “What inspires me: the Totally Committed Actor

  1. I think Kiefer Sutherland had the same commitment to his character in 24. I loved that show (cheesy and improbable as it may have been) and am sorry it was cancelled.

  2. lmring says:

    I forgot one – Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket on Keeping Up Appearances. Hyacinth would be the first to tell you she was perfect in every detail!

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