The actor’s perspective: Great dialogue in a screenplay is like audible gold…
October 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m very lucky to have a new guest blogger on My Blank Page, actor/stand-up/writer/director Rawle D. Lewis who shares with us the actor’s perspective on the importance of great dialogue in a screenplay…
The Actor’s Perspective:
Great dialogue in a screenplay is like audible gold…
Hi, I’m Rawle and I’m an actor. I can just hear all your unified voices repeating, “Hi, Rawle.” I’ve been a working actor from since the age of ten. That was the age where I first got paid cash money to say something on television: “Hello everyone out there in TV land. We’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas!” This was for a local television station in Eastern New Jersey. My delivery was flawless and the dialog was a perfect fit for my 10-year-old vocabulary skills.
Throughout the years, I continued to work on my craft, landing roles in various commercials and I’ve played everything from a stick of bubble gum to a decaying tooth. When you’re a kid, you get a lot of roles dressed as an inanimate object.
One day, the family up and moved out to California in search of better weather conditions. This was great for my career. My address was now Hollywood adjacent—which meant that I lived nowhere near Hollywood—but I was a hell of a lot closer than New Jersey. Acting was no longer a hobby, but a way to earn some money plus meet some HOT CHICKS… uh um, I mean… members of the female gender that are visually pleasing. Being a teenager, those seemed to be the only thoughts occupying my mind. I quickly began getting roles here and there, mostly bit parts and then all of a sudden, I landed a lead role starring opposite the late great and always hilarious John Candy in a movie called Cool Runnings. This was a film about the first Jamaican Bobsled team. Since then I’ve guest-starred on several TV shows, been in a few more movies and I currently tour the world doing stand-up comedy. Blah blah blah, enough about me and what I’ve accomplished. I’m going to now give you time to sit and think about what I’ve accomplished…
But seriously folks, all right… here’s my point: To make a short story long, right after I wrapped filming on Cool Runnings, my big shot agent at the time over at Writers & Artists would send me tons of scripts. I would scan through page after page searching for my next role. After all, I was going to be the next “Levar Burton” or “Yaphet Kotto”. Writers & Artists represented quite a few up and coming writers, so I had access to a myriad number of scripts. I can accurately guesstimate that I read over 400 scripts within a two year time period. To this day it’s extremely difficult to get me to read a script. Ask any of my writer friends.
I noticed something during that time of my script reading frenzy—after your 100th script or so, it becomes more and more difficult to read the words on the page. I found myself skipping through boring dialogue. Now that being said, I found that scripts with amazing dialogue always got my attention no matter how many scripts I had read prior. Great dialogue is such a rare thing and it dances off the page like a Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie. It is undeniably real and present and it sucks you in like a vacuum of truth.
Now keep in mind this is the opinion of an actor. Actors want to connect with the reality of a character. Of course that does not need to be done with dialogue, but when dialogue is spoken actors need it to sound like the truth. Dialogue can often seem like plain and mundane explanations just moving a story from point A to B, but when a writer finds a way to express a character’s voice in a way seldom seen or heard, we actors flip out. We think to ourselves, “Man this feels right! I can’t wait to say this. This sounds like my Uncle Joe.” Far too often as an actor, you find yourself speaking dialogue that doesn’t really feel or sound like a person, so you find yourself working even harder to find the character. Now this is not always the writer’s fault—the actor might not be right for the role or the writer is often given bizarre notes to help satisfy a director’s vision.
The late great and always hilarious John Candy was the first person to teach me a very valuable lesson about working with really good dialogue. John was a student of “The Second City” school of improv in Toronto, Canada. He was extremely proficient at the art of improvisation. During filming, I noticed that John would improvise funny lines, but he never changed the lines in the script. He would either add a line before or after the scripted dialogue. When I asked why he did that, he replied, “I never change the good stuff.” I figured it out later that he essentially meant, “If it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it.”
As an African American actor, I have often come across dialogue that was supposed to be from the ghetto and it sounded more like an ancient foreign language—Aramaic perhaps. This type of dialogue can make you seem like a terrible actor—more than you actually are. I usually don’t need any help… sucking. A majority of actors want to work with a writer that knows great dialogue. Celebrities like Will Smith and Bruce Willis pay writers to hang out on the set so that they can write cool stuff for their characters to say. That’s because an actor feels as though ultimately his or her butt is on the line and that each finished project is an interview for their next job.
A writer can sometimes hire a “Ghost Writer,” but there are no “Ghost Actors” for hire. Well, unless you’re hired to play the part of a ghost. Great dialogue is like audible gold. It’s like a great song that you want to make love to. Okay maybe that’s just me, but you know what I mean. It helps the actor bring a character to life. It takes the acting out of a performance. All you have to do is just show up and say the words. Hey, I know that creating great real dialogue is easier said than done, but just know that mastering that is like mastering an ancient art form. At the end of the journey everyone will be glad you took the trip and the writing world will become a better place because of it.
Actor/stand-up/writer and director, Rawle D. Lewis has been in show business since the age of ten and is best known for his stand-up comedy and numerous roles in commercials, television, and films including starring in the Disney comedy COOL RUNNINGS with John Candy and K-PAX with Kevin Spacey. Rawle’s directorial debut, POET HEADS, received the Audience Award at the Harlem International Film Festival. Contact or follow Rawle to find out about his upcoming shows in your area or just to say hello: Twitter: www.twitter.com/rawletv Facebook: www.facebook.com/rawletv E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org YouTube: www.youtube.com/rawletv
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