Thursday, October 6, 2016

Paul Scofield: Finding the More Tone

Paul Scofield, who played Saint Thomas More on the screen, on Broadway in New York, and on London's West End, describes how he found the right tone for conveying the character and personality of Thomas More, rather in spite of Robert Bolt's play:

“I found that the part had what seemed like dogmatic exposition. Simply saying the lines for what they were worth would make More sound like a very pompous and noisy man. If I said the lines with all the intensity they seemed to require, he would seem like an aggressive man. And he was not an aggressive man. So I had to find a way of making the man sound not pompous and not aggressive. And yet he had to sound strong. If you can see it, then you can do it.

“First, I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way that he would sound. Eventually, I discovered that if I used a specific range of my voice and characteristics of my voice that I had never used before, I might make him sound mild, even though what the lines themselves said was not mild… I used an accent for More that was absolutely a … thing of my own. My parents are Midlands people, with a very regional accent, and I drew somewhat on this accent and mixed it with some others. . . .

“One of the great traps in playing a man of spiritual depth is that one is given only a certain number of lines, and if they’re not made to sound absolutely true they are likely to sound very self-satisfied and sentimental. The false note is so often struck.

“Next I discovered More’s humor, and knew that that would be the thing to make him not smug. Then, More was a flesh-and-blood man, with strong family affections. His spiritual attitudes did not put him in the backwater of life… He used his senses. He enjoyed the things of life – food and wine and the rest. He didn’t relish physical discomfort. And he wouldn’t want to be hurt. At one point in the play, he says, ‘This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.’"

Note that the Wikipedia article on Paul Scofield cites his biography on his religious upbringing:

Scofield told his biographer, Garry O'Connor, that his upbringing was divided. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Roman Catholic. Baptized into his mother's faith, Scofield said, "some days we were little Protestants and, on others, we were all devout little Catholics."[6] He added, "A lack of direction in spiritual matters is still with me."[7]
Nevertheless, Scofield had some insight into "playing a man of spiritual depth".

Source: Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World’s Great Actors Told in their Own Words, editied by Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy (several publishers, several editions), pages 421-422, courtesy of the St. Austin Review blog.

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