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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Acting Reference: The Illusionist

This sequence is long, but filled with awesome moments.

Context: Crown Prince Leopold, played by Rufus Sewell, found out that his future wife Sophie, played by Jessica Biel, is cheating on him with the magician Eisenheim. He comes home and confronts her.

First off, I like the rhythm and pacing of it. It isn't just talking, every now and then the tension erupts into action and then gets dialed back.

But it's not a scream fest or a fist fight between the two actors during the active parts, there is a cool back and forth between loud and quiet. Let's look at all the good stuff within this sequence.

First, Sophie is anxiously awaiting Leopold's return, so you're anticipating that once he's arriving, the drama will start. But no. He comes in and sits down. He doesn't really look at her, he doesn't give her the satisfaction of addressing the problem immediately (even though she pretends to not know what he's talking about at first, she suspects he knows). Here's the first awesome character part to me.

Instead of starting the confrontation he sits down and pulls the plate with the glasses and the bottle towards himself. He could have just grabbed a glass and the bottle, but no, that would have left one glass and the option for Sophie to join him. No, he grabs the whole thing, not caring about her at all, shutting her out, keeping the upper hand. Awesome! Love that part.

Leopold then starts the conversation/confrontation. No shouting, just calmly questioning Sophie. And here's another great detail, often unused in animation.

A swallow.

Leopold says "I know you've been with him." and to that Sophie responds with "It's true." BUT. If she would just say it like that, she could come across as cold, as just confirming his "accusation". Instead she swallows before that line, which makes a huge difference. With that swallow you get guilt, nervousness, definitely not indifference.

Breaking up the quiet conversation is a sudden standing up by Leopold, because Sophie is not backing down (she tells him that she doesn't like his tone of voice). Leopold is losing power, so he gets up, but that's it, no screaming, just a little FYI that he's pissed and to keep the tension of the sequence going and to let her know who's the boss. Sophie is dismissive and Leopold condescending.

Sophie stands up, so she's not just physically on the same level as Leopold but also psychologically. It's a nice little power play between the two (reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror", but that's for another time...).

This leaves him only one way to exercise power, he screams, finally letting out his anger (awesome line delivery on "... if you've slept with him!!", but that could just be me :) ). Anger is still contained though, no invading of personal space. He's mad, but he's still just standing there.

Sophie had enough and tells him what the deal is. She is not going to marry him. The ultimate defeat to Leopold (he needs that marriage for political reasons), so he resorts to violence. He slaps her. Once reasoning is out, violence comes in, a typical human trait.
She's also provoking that hit, but goes into major spoilers, just watch the whole movie. :)

Nice little detail added in post production. Notice how Sophie's cheek is slowly getting red? That would be easy to do in Maya with textures and definitely an awesome subtle detail.

So after that slap Leopold feels quite confident again. He tells her what she is supposed to do, walking away from her, turning his back on her, being dismissive. So you'd think that Sophie will finally bow down.

But no. And here comes another awesome little body gesture which says it all. Instead of being submissive, Sophie just tilts her head. There's a TINY smile, a little change of expression, but all that just shows that she feels pity for him. He just doesn't get it. And after that head tilt she says good-bye to him. AWESOME!! A little head tilt, that's it. Love it!

This next clip prompted me to post those acting reference shots in the first place, not just because it's great reference but also because I love that shot and wanted to share it with you guys. :)

Context: Edward Norton's character Eisenheim is having a private magic session for prince Leopold and his entourage.

So after a first round of tricks Eisenheim asks to see the Prince's sword. You can tell Leopold is annoyed just be the way he stops his walk and that he doesn't acknowledge Eisenheim by immediately turning around. He then walks up to Eisenheim and displays his sword. And here's the part that I LOVE.

Eisenheim asks "May I?", meaning "may I hold it" and watch how Leopold reacts. Again he doesn't look at Eisenheim and there is that giant pause, that reluctance to hand him the sword. Eisenheim is well below Leopold's social standing and the fact that this peasant has the guts to ask permission to actually TOUCH the sword is repulsive to Leopold. He has to lower himself to the standard and level and (to him) intelligence of Eisenheim. And his obvious annoyance of having to do so is beautifully acted by Rufus. He doesn't hand him the sword, there is no extra effort to be forthcoming, all he does is lower himself (visually and symbolically) so that the sword is within Eisenheim's reach. And as he does this he looks at the audience with a look of "Can you believe I have to do this?"

AWESOME!! Again, no giant gestures, nothing dramatic, just a little body movement down which says so much! Less is more. I love it!!

Context: Inspector Uhl, played by Paul Giamatti, wants Eisenheim to confess that all the magic is fake. Eisenheim does so but not in a way Uhl expected.

This one is again another example of a nice subtle move. Eisenheim simply asks if he can go now and Uhl, annoyed, says yes. But watch how he does it. That little smile, the head tilt and the eyebrow flash, saying "Sure, go, but I'm not done with you yet.", nice and subdued.

Watch Uhl's pose in the next shot. Even though he's "defeated", this pose is still elegant, still powerful in a "You can go but only because I let you." way, trying to keep the upper hand.


Video clip(s) are for educational purposes only

Copyright © 2006 Illusionist Distribution LLC
All Rights Reserved.
Country Of First Publication United States Of America
Illusionist Distribution LLC Is The Author Of This
Motion Picture For Purposes Of The Berne Convention
And All National Laws Giving Effect Thereto


Bobby Pontillas said...

I love this movie. Great observations and analysis Jean! Thanks for your insight. I'm really getting tons out of these posts.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

That's awesome, I'm glad they are of help. Did you see "The Prestige" as well? Even though their stories are totally different, I preferred Prestige over Illusionist.

Bobby Pontillas said...
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Bobby Pontillas said...

The Prestige was pretty good too. Although I actually prefer the relatively simpler (and to me, more focused) plot in the Illusionist. And Bowie as Tesla? Really?

Jean-Denis Haas said...

It is more focused, true. Funny though, I thought Bowie was awesome, very understated.

David Bernal said...

Awesome!! loving these analysis ;)THANKS so much for doing them!!
P.S.I also preferred the prestige over the illusionist, but I am totally biased cause of Nolan directing it, and the storytelling based on the the setup of a magic trick and "you really wanna know?" is awesome!!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Your welcome! Next up is "Die Hard".

David Bernal said...

Awesome! Cant wait!! ;)
*quick suggestion: could u make the quicktime movies don't load automatically, it makes the page a bit slow, so they load only when you click them? ...I used to know how it was done..arrg! dont remember right now but I think it is how you export them on the qt settings?

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Yeah, sure thing, I'll do that today, sorry about that. It's an easy thing to fix (technically). The weird thing with blogger is, when you have your code for the embedded quicktime and you click on "edit" for your post, it totally scrambles that code and screws everything up. The edit window has to be on html from the get go, not wysiwyg, then it works.

Anyhoo, I'll get on it today.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Hey David,

I checked the posts and they are not on autoplay, nor do they automatically start when I check the posts on my browser.

David Bernal said...

I meant load the movie by clicking, cause yes, right now they dont play, but they start loading all at the same time which is what makes it slow (the movie appears black with the qt logo and then they start loading) or maybe it is just me?
an example of what I meant with load only when you click them:
(the qt movies are at the end of the article)
thx once again! :)

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Ah, I see what you mean. Sorry, I have no idea, but I asked how to do it and will google around to figure out as well.

Btw. Carlo's site is AWESOME!!!!!! Definitely my next post! :)

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Alright, movie loading fixed, will move on to other clips and will have it this way for future clips, unless they are 150KB cycles :)

David Bernal said...
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David Bernal said...

Thanks very very much!! ;) and sorry to bother u with changing the format, really appreciate it! Wo-Hoo!! :)

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Dude, no worries at all. I'm glad you mentioned it.