Don't Ask Dakota




Once a month my church has a movie night. Since it’s a big church with lots of Hollywood insiders, they frequently invite people connected with the movie to appear as part of a post-screening panel discussion.

I recently attended their screening of The Secret Life of Bees. Good movie; not what I thought it was going to be.

Their panel this time consisted of some USC scholar no one cared about, the writer-director of the film, and Dakota Fanning (the star).

This is not a name-dropping post.
I am not going to gush about Dakota.
I did not meet Dakota.
I did not get Dakota’s autograph.

During this panel, I noticed something stupid about the way people interview actors regarding their roles. All questions seem to be some variation of:

“Your character was such a deep, complex person with so many issues and such a fascinating history. How do you inhabit a character like that, make it your own, and reveal it on-screen?”*

So poor Dakota had to spend the entire evening MAKING STUFF UP—because how do you tell a non-actor about your craft? Acting is a completely mysterious profession if you aren’t an actor. I mean, if you asked a writer something like:

“How did you craft such a complex, haunted character with such a fascinating history?”

she would probably say something like:

“There’s this girl I knew, who went through something just like this, and there’s this other guy I know who has this character trait, and I sort of smashed them together into one uber-interesting amalgamation for your entertainment.”

An actor can’t say that. She can’t explain how it is that she can convincingly portray someone she isn’t. So she has to say things like:

“You know, I really thought she was sooo fascinating, and I really respected her character despite the choices she made, and I came to this place of understanding, so I really felt like I connected with her, flaws and all.”

Which is a sentence crafted to sound incredibly artistic and sensitive while being, in fact, COMPLETELY DEVOID OF MEANING.

Just shows you how smart actors really are, that they can come up with this kind of bullshit on the fly.


*The correct answer to this question is: “Hell if I know. I’M AN ACTOR. If I could explain it to you, that would mean acting was EASY, wouldn’t it?”

Ryan Elainska