The Rick Perry Gaffe: A Lesson For Actors
Posted on: November 11, 2011 in category: Steve's BlogIt was painful to watch. I'll bet even the most fervent, Republican-loathing actor had to cringe. For almost 60 seconds of the most recent Republican primary debate, presidential hopeful Rick Perry struggled to remember his lines. There were no cue cards. No, "Cut! Lets try it again." Rick Perry was out there, live, in front of millions of viewers stammering, flailing and ultimately crashing and burning. Oops. General consensus is that it has done irreparable damage to a campaign already in decline. While his other debate performances were mediocre or not good, this was dreadful.
And while Rick Perry will most likely be laughed out of town, I believe that his gaffe is an important lesson for actors. I believe that his monumental screw-up represented much more than simply going up on his lines. It represented an emotional disconnect between the words and the actor (or politician) speaking them. Rick Perry wasn't emotionally invested in what he was saying. He was just trying to get the line right.
We actors get it, right? He forgot his lines and so have we all from time to time. Even if you've studied your lines for days or months before the performance, sometimes they just aren't there when you need them. You're at an audition, on stage or on set, there are distractions, you're nervous, the director's being a jerk, your scene partner is horrible. It happens.
But ask any casting director. The don't care if you drop a line. The truth is that no one cares if you forget a line or two if, in fact, you're emotionally invested in what you're saying. In politics or in acting, it's far less about being word-perfect than it is about authenticity. If Rick Perry felt passionately about what he was saying, I maintain that gaffe would not have occurred on that level. If we actors have made it all about getting the words right (a product of mathematical thinking about a performance- "if only I get every word right- tell them what thy want to hear- they'll love me and give me the job") we're not invested in the substance of what we are saying.
As New York Times columnist Matt Bai put it in his article, "The Other Problem With The Rick Perry 'Oops' Moment", "...tongue-twisting and mind-lapsing aren't necessarily deal-breakers. If they were, former Presidents Dukakis and Gore would be out playing golf together and boring their caddy to tears." There are plenty of candidates (and presidents) as well as talented, famous actors who regularly drop lines and even say really stupid things. But it's not about that.
If you have done the work of connecting to the material- even the most wordy, babbling, medical or sci-fi tech speak- you may drop a line here or there but no one in the audition room will care because they will not question your authenticity. What matters is that you care about what you're saying when you're saying it.
While I'm of the opinion that if you have the audacity to step into the ring you better be able to both throw and take punches, on some level I feel for Rick Perry. He, like so many aspiring actors, didn't do the work of connecting to the material and now his dreams won't come true. Oops.
He should have coached.