Sunday, 17 March 2019

On being “authentic”!

I have always admired actors and actresses like Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster who can convincingly become whatever nationality they choose to portray. You forget who they are in real life and accept this new personality they have taken on. Not everyone can do, not even some of the most successful actors. John Wayne was always John Wayne, even if he was really called Marion. And for me Michael Caine is always Michael Caine, just wearing different clothes!

But now I am reading that some people think actors should not pretend to be what they are not. “An actor’s automatic licence to fake an accent is now increasingly in doubt. Casting agents are under growing pressure to find talent that matches the background of a character if they want to avoid accusations of cultural appropriation, or even, in some cases, the charge of outright mockery.”

It’s part of the “keep it real” idea, the one that says that only gay actors should play gays characters, only disabled actors can play disabled characters and so on. All well and good but is that really what acting is all about? Not everyone in the profession is happy with of convinced by this trend. “Nobody who has talent should be kept out of the acting profession. And nobody, even white, middle-class males, should be prevented from playing any part,” said Simon Callow this weekend. The acclaimed actor added that this does not mean he begrudges seeing women play parts traditionally played by men, or that he regrets the rise of colour-blind casting, or of disabled actors taking on leading roles. “As a gay man, I’ve been impressed by seeing non-gay actors, such as Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, playing men loving other men, helping to cancel out Hollywood’s grim record of vicious homophobic caricature.”

Sheila Hancock had her say as well. She said that while she embraces the opening up of casting opportunities to excluded groups, she is wary of an encroaching moral climate in which an actor can only play a version of themselves. “I’d be bored stiff. When I started, I was deemed only able to play maids,” said Hancock, the daughter of an Isle of Wight publican. “I am now allowed more range. I’ve played northern recently, too, as well as someone with dementia – and I certainly don’t have that.”

I know I have gone on about this before, but it needs restating. Acting is acting after all.

It goes along with a correspondence I have been having with my friend Colin about the British obsession with class. It seems that for some people, especially people who want to be considered “of the left”, there is something embarrassing about being perceived as middle class. When did it become obligatory to have actually worked in a factory, textile mill, coal mine or wherever in order to want a fairer society? Since when does liking olives, good coffee, decent wine and enjoying a range of “culture” make you a toff?

It’s all about being “authentic”, whatever that really means!

Apparently one way for men, even wealthy men, to prove their working class credentials is to wear a flat cap. Who knew? But I read it in a Guardian article so it must be true.

My dad always wore one: a battered on when he was on his bike going to or from his allotment, and a smarter one for going out. But they fell out of fashion and then people like David Beckham started wearing one and over the last ten years they have grown in popularity again. The TV series Peaky Blinders, where the eponymous gang wore them with razor blades in the peaks so that they could double up as weapons, has added to that popularity.

According to what I read the flat cap supposedly first became popular after a short-lived law passed in England in 1571 that obliged everyone to wear a woollen hat to boost the wool trade. Okay! I wonder what women were supposed to wear. Or did they not count for anything at that time?

The writer also reckons that the flat cap is classless and international. He prefers the Italian Al Pacino in the Godfather type of cap to the Brummie Peaky Blinders cap.

So much for authenticity!

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