From Filmforce.ign.comAlexis Denisof - At Film Force
Friday 14 February 2003, by Webmaster
Most people will recognize Alexis Denisof from his role as former-Watcher turned demon hunter Wesley Wyndam-Price from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (which is currently in its fourth season).
Beyond that, Denisof has had an extensive career in films, TV, and on stage - most notably in First Knight, Rogue Trader and Noah’s Ark.
Fox Home Video has also just released the complete first season of Angel on DVD.
This interview was conducted in January of 2002...
IGN FILMFORCE: If we could start back as far as we can - you’re from Salisbury, Maryland?
ALEXIS DENISOF: Yes.
IGNFF: Which isn’t too far from my old stomping grounds...
DENISOF: Where are you from?
IGNFF: Quantico, Northern Virginia.
DENISOF: Oh my goodness - the little town I was born in is Quantico, Maryland. Salisbury’s the big city with the hospital, but the actual farm is in a little area called Quantico.
IGNFF: Even though you were born in Maryland, you were actually raised in Seattle, right?
DENISOF: Yeah, that’s right. I moved to Seattle when I was two or three years old. Had my early education there, and would spend summers on the farm in Maryland. Then I went to boarding school in New Hampshire, to St. Paul’s School. From there, I moved to London.
IGNFF: I guess it’s hard to do comparisons, but what was boarding school life like?
DENISOF: Well, it was a big change. I was 13 years old, and going away to school would be a change for any 13 year old - but to go from Seattle, Washington, to Concord, New Hampshire, was a big change geographically and culturally. And then also the kind of intense type academic environment that Ivy League boarding schools create was a big change. It’s all at a formative time in your life, so on the one hand I treasure the time that I had there, and am very grateful for all of the values and educational opportunities it provided. It was also in some ways a shock to the system.
IGNFF: Was the boarding school your choice?
DENISOF: Yeah, it was. I mean, it was sort of a joint choice. It was very hard to leave home at that age, when you’re used to the security of your family and your home. But on the other hand, that school afforded opportunities that weren’t available at the local schools in Seattle, that sort of level of academic possibility, and athletic possibilities, and resources of a large boarding school.
IGNFF: So at that point did you have a creative outlet like acting, or that didn’t form until later on?
DENISOF: I had done some very early in professional theaters in Seattle, around the age of 11, 12 and 13. I had worked at a contemporary theater in Seattle, in a few plays there like A Christmas Carol, and another production of a strange play about West Virginia religious holy rollers - in fact, that was the name of the play, I think. Or no... it was called Holy Ghost. And a couple of other things like the children’s theater in Seattle at the time was called Poncho, and I had done productions there, Pinocchio and something else there. Maybe one or two other theaters in Seattle. So I had shown an interest in it, but I certainly didn’t know at 13 when I was going away to boarding school that that’s what I wanted to do as a career. But it was something that I was very comfortable with, and I felt at home with it creatively and personally. It just made sense to me.
IGNFF: But it’s not something where you instantly thought, "This is what I’m going to do."
DENISOF: No, no it wasn’t. I mean, I was a kid. I still kind of thought maybe I’d be a professional soccer player or a fireman, or an astronaut, you know? So being an actor was pretty low on the list at that point. By the time I had finished my studies at St. Paul’s School, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I had taken all the standard stuff there, academically, and I had shown a real interest in the arts, but most specifically in theater. So by 16, I knew. It was kind of a process of deduction by default, really. I was going through the process that all high school kids go through, which is to try to select a college and begin the application process. In part of that process you’re asked to write long essays in which you have to figure out what they want to know about you. In doing that, I can’t remember the ones I was interested in - I remember a kind of eclectic list, like maybe Yale and Berkeley if I was lucky, and then on down into various other schools if I wasn’t so lucky. But in that process of writing those essays, it clarified for me that in fact I did not want to continue on the Ivy League academic track.... That what really excited me and gave me a sense of feeling at home was working in theater and acting on film and TV. At that point of realization, I sheepishly called my mom and dad and said, "How would you feel if I didn’t go to college? I think I might want to be an actor." And, fortunately for me, they were both very supportive. Because you know, those are difficult choices to make at that age, and your parents have a big influence on you at that time. Their view was absolutely "you follow what makes sense to you and what excites you, and let it take you where it will."
So I took a little bit of time off after St. Paul’s School, and worked a few different grunt jobs. I was dishwasher, then promoted to chef in a local kitchen in a restaurant in Seattle, and I was working on a building site as well, putting in insulation and painting houses, and then doing some classes at a community college nearby. I used that time to make some money and to look at various places where I could go and train as an actor. My respect for educational institutions was kind of ground into me by virtue of going to an Ivy League boarding school, and a high-speed school in Seattle before that. I knew that my approach to the profession... I knew I wanted to take as serious and...
IGNFF: Would you say methodical?
DENISOF: Methodical an approach as possible, to get as much training and education as I could in the subject and field that I had chosen, professionally.
IGNFF: So you weren’t expecting to just hop in a car and go to Hollywood and be a movie star?
DENISOF: You know, I kind of had that - like, that was my backup plan. I was like, "gee, that would be really great," but I sort of sensed that that wasn’t right for me - and also that that could be a burnout road to take, too. My mom was instrumental at that point, in kind of sitting down and saying, "Okay, look, if this is what you want to do, then you have to try and do it at the highest possible level, so you can get the most out of it for yourself." And not to just sort of throw a coin in the fountain and hope for the best. So I started looking at places to study, and the usual list came up as far as America was concerned, like Circle in the Square, and NYU, and some of the California schools, and Carnegie Mellon - all the great schools you have here. I don’t know how it popped up, maybe it was my mom again, or somebody had mentioned that it was possible to study in London. That really, really excited me right away. I thought, "Wow, if I could get that, that would just be the ultimate dream realized, to go and study over there." I’d always had great admiration and respect for the English system of education and their actors, and just their work that they produce over there. I organized auditions for London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and Royal Academy, and flew to New York and auditioned - really just for the hell of it. The same as with St. Paul’s - sort of a repeat of that, where I really thought I would probably end up going to local high school in Seattle, but thought, "Well, what the hell. I’ll throw in one boarding school and maybe it’ll work it," and it did. I’m fortunate that it did. Kind of the same thing happened with London. So, whether luck or fate working its way out, I don’t know, but I was just fortunate enough to be accepted, so I moved to London. I was 17 at that point.
IGNFF: How much of a culture shock was it? That would be what, the early ’80s?
DENISOF: Yeah, around mid-’80s, I guess. But it was a huge shock. It was kind of akin to the shock of going from the West Coast in America to deep into the Northeast culture. Well, this is the same again.
IGNFF: Did the prior experience help any, with being able to acclimate yourself to a new situation?
DENISOF: It did. It had done more than that - it had made me crave that experience, that sense of being an outsider looking in and trying to assimilate. That’s a skill I’ve acquired now, after many cycles of doing that... of going to a nice place and making it my home.
IGNFF: Well, that’s essentially what an actor does, isn’t it?
DENISOF: I suppose so. Yeah. So there’s a reflection going on there, between my personal life and professional life.
IGNFF: How would you describe acting school in England? You had done the intense academic track - what was the culture like as far as the acting school?
DENISOF: It was very surprising. I had created a very specific idea of what I expected, and I think I constructed it out of books that I’d read, and movies that I’d seen, and people that I’d spoken to, and I’d sort of - not unlike everyone - I’d concocted a vision of what it would be like. It was nothing like that. In some ways it was very disappointing that it wasn’t, and in other ways it far exceeded anything I could have imagined.
IGNFF: What was the most glaring aspect in which it disappointed you?
DENISOF: I expected more - I was a very earnest and serious young actor, far too much so. And I somehow thought that I would be surrounded by all these young professors of acting, which is how I saw myself. I don’t like myself for it, but there it is - that’s how I approached it, and I think probably irritated an awful lot of people around me with my piousness about it all. But there’s no creature more determined and dedicated than a young actor starting out their studies, if it’s what they really want to do. Now, I discovered at this school that there were a lot of people that didn’t particularly want to do it. There’s this system in England whereby you can have your further education entirely paid for or supplemented with government funding, as long as you choose somewhere to go. It’s not that it’s easy to get in, it’s very difficult, it’s extremely competitive, I think they audition 2 - 3,000 kids for 25 places. Nevertheless, since you asked me what was disappointing, I was disappointed that the work wasn’t harder, and that all the students weren’t intense enough for my liking. Not all of them, but some of them. So that’s a comment on me as much as them, because what I can tell you - thank goodness - I don’t take it nearly as seriously now. I’m very grateful for those kids who taught me how to just relax.
IGNFF: Or else you’d have an ulcer right now...
IGNFF: How long was the loosening up process? Is it just by nature of the productions that you do, or the exercises that are done that loosens you up, or is it an internal process?
DENISOF: I think it was more of a cultural experience. I really threw myself into the work there, and if they could have added six hours of class a day, if there was some way to do that, I would have done it. I was crazy for it, I wanted more and more and more. So no, actually, the loosening process happened almost as I was leaving there, and starting my first professional work. It just was really a case of osmosis, and absorbing the attitudes and approaches of the people around me, and realizing that there is a place for hard work and that that should be applauded, but that simply working hard is not necessarily, in acting terms, the way to achieve a good performance. There are other very important elements like relaxation, and spontaneity, and intuition, and things that I needed to pay attention to, because all of my hard work and discipline wasn’t going to be enough to make the kind of actor I wanted to be.
IGNFF: Do you think you would have gotten as far as you have, if not for the acting training? How important would you rate the acting training?
DENISOF: That’s a very hard question, because I have to hypothesize about who I would be without it, and what my life would be like without it.
IGNFF: Well, how often do you draw on the training, even today?
DENISOF: I think, for me, it was essential, because it gave me something that I absolutely wanted - which was a framework and a structure. It gave me an approach. Why that is essential for me is because it’s there when I want it, and what I’ve also learned is to be able to throw it away.
IGNFF: So it’s a fallback position.
DENISOF: Yeah, so it’s sort of like in a well-executed play on the football field - one has a plan, but if somebody ducks left instead of right, you want to be ready to throw the ball left instead of right. Because if you just execute your plan, you could lose the ball.
IGNFF: So there has to be some kind of fluidity...
DENISOF: Yeah. So I think knowing that I have a plan is a great security and backup, and it means I have confidence. I think that’s the single best thing I got out of it, was that you can have confidence because you think you’re talented, and because you want to do it - that’s one thing. But to have confidence because you have a system on which you can fall back to dissect and figure out a way to approach a scene or a character, that’s really invaluable, because it is an intuitive and spontaneous art form. That’s very important, but sometimes you just need method. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you have to have a way in which to make it work.
IGNFF: Speaking of the form, do you think sometimes confidence based entirely on ego is often a false confidence for an actor?
DENISOF: Yeah, I do. I do, because - at least in my experience of them - then that’s the main mechanic, and the main organ of the scene becomes the actor’s ego, and actually that for me isn’t the enjoyable experience in a scene, or in a play, or watching a story unfold ... It makes it less than it’s capable of being. I can watch an ego-driven actor and be interested and even a little excited by what they’re doing, but there’s only so far that they can carry that - and that won’t be nearly as far as watching two actors really communicate and reveal a story, or a moment.
IGNFF: So it’s a versatility issue.
DENISOF: Yeah. It’s just that there’s something greater than the sum of the parts, when things are going well. That’s what I like, that’s what I hope to tune into when I’m working, is the sort of unknown. It’s the magic part that enters a scene when the actors and the writers and the director have all done their work, and then they’re able to let the magic unfold.
IGNFF: Similar to what, I guess, sports people call The Zone?
DENISOF: Yeah, absolutely. To me, that’s not something that your ego can do. All your ego can do is get you up to the point where you’re in the room. Because it got you through school, and it got you to go to the audition, and it got you to get an agent, and it got you to shave in the morning, and it got you to work - but the really special part, the part that I’m addicted to and that I really enjoy isn’t where the ego gets to have a party in front of a lot of people who are watching. It’s actually the opposite.
IGNFF: So I guess the ego would be a driving force, but not a creative force.
DENISOF: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Very well put, thank you...
IGNFF: How daunting was the transition of having to move out of acting school? Or was it something you just couldn’t wait for?
DENISOF: I was very excited, because you work very closely with the people in your class for three years, and you’ve been through everything together from being silly clowns and working on animals, and improvising, and Shakespeare and Chekhov, and restoration and musicals, and singing and tap-dancing and sword-fighting, and all the things that all the classes that go into it - you’ve all sort of been through this, together. You can’t wait to get out and try it, and see what you have, and find out whether it works. I was very excited, and I had ridiculously high hopes for myself. I was just sure that Alexis Denisof was exactly what the world needed, and the sooner I got out of college, the better for everyone. But, of course, it’s a little bit like stepping out of a cocoon. We get given a play every three months to work on, and we’d get given exercises everyday to work on, and you’re being fed - constantly fed, fed, fed, like a child, and then suddenly dinner isn’t on the table anymore. That first day after school, you have all the same appetites, but...
IGNFF: You have to go hunt for it now.
DENISOF: It’s not being delivered. In some ways it’s great, because you’re going if you can get auditions, or however it works out for you. But your meetings and auditions - it’s really about you. You’re now a young, male actor who looks a certain way - as opposed to college, where one term you might be the old Russian, 80-year-old scientist, and then the next week you’re cross-dressing as the drunken aunt in a production. Do you know what I’m saying? The drama school training is very bizarre for that cross-casting. The first time you’re sort of invited to just be you, and that’s a little alarming in itself.
IGNFF: Is it disillusioning in any way where you go into casting sessions and they’re looking more at physical type than talent?
DENISOF: Right, absolutely. Initially, you’re not really invited to act, you’re just sort of asked to be yourself. I think that’s the sort of experience for a lot of young actors who’ve finished their training, and they think they’re going to go out and do all this acting - well, my experience was not that. I was not really invited to act. I was just kind of, "Could you just be you, and don’t do anything too obnoxious so that we can shoot all this stuff around you?"
IGNFF: Don’t draw attention to yourself.
DENISOF: Right, right. So you’re reading to play Hamlet, and you’re holding a spear. But, again, I consider all these very important steps in the formation of an actor. It’s all part of the process. For some actors, they do walk out of college and walk straight into the role of Hamlet. For one of the 1000s of new actors every year, that will happen. And that’s terrific. That’s an amazing experience. That wasn’t my experience ... most actors just go out and get a commercial, or get a part in a music video, or get a play that’s touring, you know?
IGNFF: So it’s a slow burn.
DENISOF: Yeah. It’s a starting over again. And then you start to learn all the things that you didn’t really learn at college, which is, "Well, how do I go into a room with strangers and talk to them? How do I audition? How do I make a life? How do I pay the gas bill? How do I support myself, in what has so far been a very indulgent enterprise?" That’s kind of the reality, that’s when real life starts. So I think of everything up until that final day of college as a sort of childhood dream, and then from then on it’s the reality of "how do I transform my artistic desire into a check?"
IGNFF: Is there any point where that became so frustrating that you thought of just saying, "I’ll head back to Seattle and wash dishes again..."?
DENISOF: Well, yeah, it certainly is difficult at times, because.... not that I would ever have gone into acting for money - you’d have to be insane. That’s no way to make money. There are times when you can’t make the check, and when no matter how talented and excited you are about your career, you haven’t worked in six months. That’s the sort of reality of it. Just an awful lot of people out there who want to do the same thing, and it’s not a meritocracy. So the kid who did get off the bus in L.A., having thought to himself yesterday, "maybe I’ll go to Hollywood and be a star" - well, he’s actually as likely to get the job as you are, who’s spent years dedicating yourself to this. That’s an important lesson for me, to not qualify my experience against somebody else’s. My experience is the experience that I wanted to have, and have created for myself, but it doesn’t make me any more deserving than anybody else - or less. A lot of those early years, it’s a psychological struggle with that issue - have you seen that program, The It Factor?
DENISOF: Well, there you go. That program explains more about this phase that we’re talking about, that early phase, than I could ever explain to you.
IGNFF: What was your first professional work outside of school?
DENISOF: I think my first job was a George Harrison video, for a song called "I’ve Got My Mind Set on You." I was thrilled. I think I got paid $500. A little story about a young guy in an old-fashioned pinball arcade playing a game to win a fuzzy toy so he can give it to the girl that he has his eye on. We shot it in sort of one long day in a warehouse in London, and I just couldn’t have been more excited. Suddenly it was for real. I wasn’t in a classroom experimenting anymore - this was it. It wasn’t a Steven Spielberg movie, but to me it was. They’re shouting action and cut, and I had a certain few seconds between the two in which I had to do the right thing. That’s what it’s all about. I was very excited.
IGNFF: Any George sighting that day?
DENISOF: Well, that was sort of my main thrill about getting the job, not only that it was my first paying job, but yeah, I was hoping to meet him. It turned out the band had shot their stuff weeks in advance somewhere else. Yeah, I never met him. So the closest I ever got to him was in the finished cut video.
IGNFF: Now, having that first job, does that provide a sense of empowerment for persisting on?
DENISOF: Well it is affirmation, and boy is that something that young actors need a lot of, because it’s certainly a diet rich in rejection ... That job represented a morsel of affirmation, and that’s something that tastes awfully good.
IGNFF: For some actors, that first job is almost like the carrot on the stick if another job isn’t quick in coming - was that the case for you?
DENISOF: There are absolutely ebbs and flows in any artist’s career, but certainly for actors there are good times and bad. So when you are in a bad time, you do tend to think back to a time when things were better and you had a job, and you think, "Well, I’ll just keep hanging on because somebody gave me a job once upon a time. If it happened once, it could happen again." It’s not much to go on, but at times it’s all you have. As I was saying earlier, there’s no system, there’s no corporate ladder on which you can simply get on at the bottom rung and climb your way through the system. I really valued - as silly as some of the commercials and things that I did earlier on, they were essential to making it possible for me to make a living at what I had chosen to do, and also giving me enough money that I could afford to do things that I loved to do, like theater.
As for early jobs, that video was first, and then a few European commercials - all of which are pretty embarrassing to look at now.
IGNFF: What is the embarrassing part about it?
DENISOF: Well, I’m not good at looking at anything I’ve done, so it wouldn’t matter if it was last year’s Angel or a commercial from 10 years ago. Either is hard for me to watch. I’ve never gotten the hang of that, and I should, because you need to develop an eye for watching yourself, and learn from that.
IGNFF: If you view yourself that harshly in things you’re doing even now, how do you quantify you performance - is it external? Someone says, "That’s good"?
DENISOF: That helps, although I have stopped requiring as much of that as I once did, mainly because I got to the point where somebody saying, "That’s good," or "That’s bad," doesn’t affect how I felt about it while I was doing it, and it doesn’t affect how I felt about it while I was watching it. To sort of jump forward to how I feel about it now as opposed to how I felt to watching myself back then is that it’s not as important. Watching myself and what I experience in watching myself is not as important as what I experience while I’m doing it. So that’s what I really think is important, because life is an active process, and it’s not a reflective process. There is a place for reflection, but it’s more valuable to me to be engaged in the moment during the process of working than it is to deconstruct it later. What I’m trying to perfect now is getting the experience of while I’m working to be as satisfying and fulfilling and as creative and as in the moment as I can so that it won’t be as important to me what the end result is. Because later on, I can’t change it. Later on, it’s out in the world and it will either be enjoyed or loathed by the people who watch it, and that’s when they go through their experience of it. But for me, that’s already taken place. So I need to put all my attention on the time that I have while I’m in the process of creating it.
IGNFF: And trying to be as positive as possible during the moments themselves...
DENISOF: Yeah. So then, you’ve just watched that - now what are you going to do? Are you going to file that experience into the, "Oh my god, what a hideously embarrassing experience that was," or are you going to file that into, "That was the happiest moment of my life that happened to be captured on film"? And personally, I prefer the latter, because the critic, if allowed to, will never shut up. I have a very loquacious critic, and so I have found that it’s more productive for me to focus on the work at hand, rather than focus on analyzing the work that I’ve done. I also feel that it gives you more tools while you’re working, to make the adjustments that you want to make, and to get your senses refined to the point where you can make the adjustments you want to make at the time - rather than watching it later and thinking, "Oh, I missed that, I should have done this, I should have done that." Because then you’re kind of living your life and your art in reverse. You’re kind of doing it, and then experiencing it the way you want it to be later. I’d rather experience it the way I want it to be now.
IGNFF: Do you think that self-critic is a function of the ego, to some extent?
DENISOF: Yeah, I think so. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that if allowed to, I would love to write and rehearse my life before I live it. And so the challenge for me is to not do that. The challenge for me, both in life and in my work, is to live it, and create it to the fullest - whether that’s on a rehearsal room or a stage or a film set, or whether it’s in my own life. I think that you’re probably right, the critic is very closely allied to the ego ... The ego is our greatest enemy, really. It’s the ego that sends us to war, and the ego that gives us road rage, and the ego that makes us a victim, or any of the challenges that we face in our daily lives.
IGNFF: Does things out of spite...
DENISOF: Is that what it is?
IGNFF: I would think to some extent. What would you say would be your first breakthrough part? Even if it was on a personal level...
DENISOF: That’s hard to quantify externally, because it sounds like you mean in terms of a career - the profession looking at me, rather than me looking at the profession. It’s hard to say. I know that my first couple of experiences working more intensely on a character or with a group of actors were both very - my first theater job was the Royal Shakespeare Company, in a production of Hamlet, in which I was Fortinbras’ understudy, Laertes. I still look at that as one of the most important experiences, because I so admired the actor, Mark Rylance, who played Hamlet. He runs the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London now, and is a really formidable actor. I treasure that experience, just because of what I learned, and in watching him particularly, but also just a great company of experienced actors. I was a very young actor fresh out of school, and so to be working on Shakespeare’s arguably greatest play and perhaps literature’s greatest play, and to have it be worked on by people of such experience and talent - I regard that as one of my most important experiences, professionally.
Also an early movie that I did, which is not a good movie at all, but I played the young lead opposite Christopher Lee, and it was a very silly, kind of straight-to-video movie. But because I was on set everyday, and because I was invited to be the centerpiece of it and to work so intensely in front of the camera for that three months, I also value that enormously, because I opened up a whole new area for me in realizing what was possible with film as opposed to theater.
IGNFF: This would be Murder Story?
DENISOF: Yeah. So it’s not that I take pride in the product - this connects to what we were saying previously. There’s very little value in me goingbackand watching it, because I just see a host of mistakes and choices that I wouldn’t make now, and flaws in the script, and lighting, and camera - all sorts of things that I would like to improve. So it’s pointless to view it that way. I choose to view it as an incredible opportunity to be in the center of a film and get to practice that work.
IGNFF: Would you say developing as an actor is comparable to a puzzle? As an incremental process?
DENISOF: Yeah, absolutely. I recently shot an episode with Joss [Whedon]. He wrote and directed episode 13 of Angel, this season (the Season 3 episode "Waiting in the Wings"). That and an earlier episode that we did this year, titled "Billy," I think those are - in recent memory - my two most fulfilling experiences as an actor. I had finished a day that I absolutely loved every minute of, of working with Joss and the others on this show recently. At the end of the day, I was thinking how well it had gone, how in the moment I had felt all the way through and how free and accurate, and both kind of in control but also spontaneous. That for me is the zone that you look for, where you’re responding spontaneously to what’s around you, but at the same time you feel the larger pull of the truth of the scene - so that, in a sense, you can get out of the way of a much greater thing that is unfolding, and at the same time experience it. That’s a rare sensation.
IGNFF: How much is that a function of who you’re working with, and working under?
DENISOF: It’s an enormous function of that - that has a huge amount to do with it. What I was going to say was that at the end of the day, thinking how lucky I was to have a day like that, I thought to myself, "Well, part of why this day happened was all the days that it didn’t happen." All the days that you’re in front of the camera, and you’re feeling awkward and you don’t know why, and feeling untruthful and you don’t know why, or feeling stiff and you don’t know why, and that process of working through all of the days where it doesn’t work, is what brings you the day where it does work. So your question about it being an incremental process, of pieces of a puzzle that fit together, is absolutely correct, and the puzzle goes on and on and on. That’s why a lot of actors can never give up, because they’re always looking for that next piece of the puzzle that they can fit in, because they still have bad days on the set where they can’t find that zone.
IGNFF: Almost like a scavenger hunt?
DENISOF: Yeah. So I guess what I’m saying is I now am as grateful for the days where it doesn’t work as I am for the days where it does work, because I know that to have a day that it doesn’t work means that I’m working towards a day that it does.
IGNFF: How often are the days that you don’t think it works, but everyone around you doesn’t see that? Is that frustrating as an actor?
DENISOF: It’s not frustrating. It’s for two reasons that I think that happens. First of all, as an actor, you set up your own internal guidelines for what you expect - and in my case those are usually higher than anybody else around me, because I know what it is that I would like to achieve. That isn’t always necessary to have the highest level of work in order to fulfill the obligations of the scene. So for a director to be satisfied and be ready to move on, because they got what they need for the scene, doesn’t always mean that I’m satisfied. Now, I know that we can move on because there’s enough there with which they can work to put together the scene and show, but I know that I was capable of more and maybe didn’t get it for some reason. Sometimes I’ll insist on going on until I can, or going on until I realize that I can’t, and then I have to figure out why.
The other reason that that can happen - that you can feel that you haven’t hit it, but everybody else around you thinks that it’s okay - is an interesting, curious fact about film and television and theater, which is that in the process of telling a story, for the actor, you experience your truth and reality as that’s unfolding. For the audience, they’re experiencing another. So it’s important to allow that to take place. If I fill the camera and screen and scene with all of my story, then in a way I haven’t left any room for the audience to include their part of the story, their interpretation of the events, and the emotions that are taking place. So there’s a sort of ideal amount that you want to put in and then leave the rest to the audience.
IGNFF: So it’s a matter of striking a balance?
DENISOF: Yeah. I don’t know exactly what that is, but that’s part of the fun of it - is trying to find that. Does that make any sense?
IGNFF: It makes perfect sense.
DENISOF: I think those are the two reasons why you can sort of feel like, "Oh, that isn’t quite what I wanted," but then the people around you can think, "No, no, no, that’s working." It’s something to do with what they’ve filled in, because the audience, if they’re enjoying it, they’re anxious to participate, and the way in which they participate is to flesh out the details of the story that they’re watching with their own story.
IGNFF: That makes perfect sense.