Period Acting: New Yorker Festival 6 October 2012

Cherry Jones is an Actor. She’s engaging and lively when interviewed. She can talk about her craft in a way that you always learn something new and you are always fascinated. She is the reason why I bought a ticket for the Period Acting panel at The New Yorker Festival. John Slattery brought the Mad Men fans and Dan Stevens the Downton Abbey fans and that filled a big part of the room. Many of the others were Jennifer Ehle and Pride and Prejudice fans.

I got there late so I had to sit off to the side. I could only see moderator Rebecca Mead’s back but I got a good view of Jones and Slattery.


As soon as I sat down, Mead was asking about how the clothing affected the performance and Slattery brought up the anecdote that I was sure someone would bring up at one point, which is that Olivier always started with the shoes in order to find the character. Slattery also mentioned how the suits in Mad Men make you stand up straighter – you don’t have to be a woman in a corset to get that rigid constrained feeling.

Everyone agreed that it all begins with the writing. The writers, directors, and producers (depending on whether it’s film, theater, or TV) do all research. The actors will write backstories for their characters. Probably the story that fascinated me most was Jones’ recounting of the backstory she’d written for the Sister Aloysius in Doubt – as the play went on the backstory got more and more elaborate. It’s a way for the actor to keep the role as new for him/herself as it needs to be for the audience. A TV actor doesn’t have the luxury of a backstory since the writers can change the character’s history at any time.

One of the funniest things was Ehle and Stevens saying that Andrew Davies writes a lot of detailed stage directions – such as Mr. Darcy gives him a WTF look. It was very funny as they described the script scattered throughout with these types of directions.

Although I didn’t learn a lot of new things, I did enjoy hearing brilliant actors talk about process. Even the audience asked intelligent questions. This was probably one of the better panels of the weekend.

By Carene Lydia Lopez