There are two main approaches to the shootings of the film. The first one is to focus on the story and the characters, which will appear more schematic, for example, Stephen King’s adaptations. The second one is to emphasize on the well-developed characters, so the story mostly serves the purpose of disclosing the nature of the characters through different situations, in which they appear. Far fewer films have followed the latter approach. The two films chosen for the current essay are on the shortlist of concentration on characters – Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and Spike Jonze’s Her. The essay will examine the major actors in each of the films – Ralph Fiennes and Joaquin Phoenix respectively. The paper will reveal the similarity and differences of the acting demands for the mentioned actors as well as how the performers dealt with the demands, how it affected their characters. Finally, it will provide a brief discussion of films.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a comedy in its absolute form, but rather a deliberate mix of genres or a hybrid genre. The audience has a right not to smile or to keep a poker face during the entire screening. The majorly recognized director, Wes Anderson made a happy fairy story about the hotel that changes hands. As the story unfolds, the audience gets acquainted with dozens of the most outstanding characters that, despite their small role, are deeper and more interesting than the major characters in the well-known ‘blockbusters’. The discussed film comes as a combination of adorable tragicomedy with piercing atmosphere, absurd comedy with black humor and drama. In addition, its aesthetics is leaning towards art-house. A fair part of the fun of watching the movie is delivered by the emotional interaction patterns. The approach may make the perception challenging for some of the audience. Similarly, the movies about programmers filled with specifics of the profession do not necessarily attract everybody’s attention. The complexity of the film’s style and genre creates a specific demand on the actors, especially the ones with the major role. Ralph Fiennes in the character of Mr. Gustav proved his skills in coping with the performance demand; his character is alive and creates life. Fiennes has a history of success in many of his previous roles – from a serial killer and SS-brute to weird ‘mafioso’ with a keen sense of justice. However, he has never tried the comic character roles before. While having to work with the mixture of genres, according to Ralph himself, he has not played such multifaceted characters like Mr. Gustav. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, he finally had the opportunity, and he placed everything in his character that he was unable to show before. Ralph Fiennes admitted that it was a challenge as he had to reveal one part of himself he hated, which is the desire for immaculate control that is so typical of Mr. Gustav. Moreover, there were factors from the actor’s background that contributed to his performance. He once happened to have a real job as the apprentice in the high-class hospitality trade that helped him to understand what kind of real-life was behind Gustav. In his former role at István Szabó’s Sunshine, he had to work with a similar historical background and environment. Finally, he read Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, a book, on which the film was based.
Fiennes’s performance in the discussed film is incomparable. His character seems to be more than a reflection of Wes Anderson’s design. The actor arranges a complete break of the template. His Gustav is devilishly charismatic, witty, courageous and, at the same time, tragic. Moreover, he showed a firm skill reciting his pretentious monologues in all seriousness to cynically ridicule all that pathos a second later. It is a significant challenge the actors face in the genre of comedy. Thus, in order to be funny, an actor has to act like a real person to whom something funny happens instead of being a funny comedian, as emphasized by Caine. Additionally, Fiennes had to learn a sophisticated technique of physical movements that were essential for the comic tone of the film.
Ralph fulfilled the task very well. Mr. Gustav makes an impression of a very intelligent man living in the ‘funny’ times, which he perceives both realistically and romantically. The times between the two World Wars, in which the action takes place, appear funny and light. They are shown either through the lens of a boy, Gustav's protégé, or the childish memories of the old man who tells this story. In fact, Mr. Gustav seems the only one truly alive in between the wars, even though it is said that his world vanished long before he was born. Mr. Gustav experiences constant conflict between the two key principles – honesty and cynicism. He has paternal feelings for Zero which he avoids due to the need to train the boy professionally; he sleeps with the old women and admires purity; he claims to never part with the painting just to say they need to sell it instantly. However, he remains faithful to his best part, and eventually, he always makes the brave and right choice. It is his conviction. The instability of personality makes him human and provides for his means to accomplish the goal of completing the “Boy with apple” painting, as the rich inheritance intrudes in the routine of his life like some kind of fate. Mr. Gustav remains weightless and unmoved at any times, but he is the center of gravity of the film. After his departure from the scene, the hotel stays at the mercy of the great anonymity. The place lost the master, and the hotel becomes just another enriched unprofitable ruin. The message of the movie is also implicated in the way the death of Mr. Gustav is shown, or rather in how it is not shown. In fact, it was only mentioned that he was shot in contrast to the many scenes where other characters killed. Other characters faced the banality of death, which is indicated either in the presentation of a poisoned dead body, a severed head or the cut off fingers. Mr. Gustav maintains his character to the end, leaving the audience after the film with the cathartic mood encountering meditation over the vulnerability and value of human life. Thus, when a person like Gustav dies, the whole world vanishes with him, because he meant the world to some people. The broader message that the character delivers could be suggested as follows: the meaningful look of a man is the way that mankind assesses itself. The film is romantic. It is about love; true love that one cannot forget. The movie is about friendship, which one cannot betray. It is about honor; and the fact that honor, love, friendship have gotten replaced by business, sex, partnership. Some audience may think Transformers is an ideal of drama and the jaguar is a drink. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is the 100 years old brandy, courtesy of Ralph Fiennes.
In contrast to the above-discussed film that involved a large number of actors, Spike Jonze’s Her is almost a one-man show. The man is Joaquin Phoenix. His happy or sad bewhiskered face the audience sees for most of the screen time. The character shows no-frills and theatrical gestures. Phoenix’s character Theodore Twombly is a living person with simple emotions. Her is a science fiction drama-comedy film about the love affair of many lonely metropolis’ inhabitant. It is about how a person expels and projects his feelings in virtual space rather than build his life in the real world. The movie is similar to the situation in the current world when people meet in social networks without the possibility of further continuation of their relationship. The film is very stylish. The color scheme, the manner of shooting, virtuosic mimicry of actors, attention to detail created a sense of the future. There are very elegant and, at the same time, winding erotic scenes. Joaquin Phoenix is a brilliant actor because, despite his brutality, he was able to play a tedious nerd character with his pants’ waistline almost reaching his armpits.
The science-fiction nature of the film, however, presented a specific challenge to Phoenix. Theodore Twombly develops a relationship and falls in love with the computer program. Therefore, the actor had to excel in presenting the emotions, which could not be connected to his personal background or any existing experience. He could not ‘steal’ from the actors involved in the other similar films, as the plot of Her is one of a kind. According to Phoenix, he was impressed with the complexity of Theodore’s attitude towards Samantha as he falls in love with her and doubts it. Moreover, while doubting, he becomes jealous of her, which is not what one sees in human relationship movies. The actor was able to present the character through the understanding of the complexity of the issue; it actually “deals with things that are specific to relationships that I think everybody can identify with, things that we’ve all experienced”. What subsequently looks on the screen as simple and very human Theodore’s emotions was a result of a complex job magnificently performed by the actor. Phoenix mentioned that the way his parents raised him was also helpful to his acting skills because he accepted emotions and was taught to talk about his feelings, and express them.
The other challenge was related to the drama part of the film’s genre. The actor experienced major problems as he was trying to comprehend what kind of man Theodore was. In fact, Phoenix never had a kind of relationship that affected him extensively, as the character, who is personally involved with Catherine over a year after splitting. Thus, the actor approached it from the point of who Theodore was before the divorce (Phoenix n.p.). Finally, similarly to many drama shootings, actors’ instincts change quickly and their acting becomes rote. The great challenge is to overcome the settling in a film that involves major emotional activity. Finally, it should be pointed out that Phoenix’s character thoughts and feelings are instantly communicated to the audience, which makes him an excellent actor.
The message of Her delivered by Theodore is desperately courageous. Today, most of the science fiction films promote a hostile attitude towards scientific and technical progress. However, Her offers a completely different approach. Without a doubt, people grow apart, live communication is becoming less important. By the end of the film, Phoenix’s character leaves an impression of a soft and warm atmosphere, a feeling that everything will be fine and the audience should look into the future with optimism. He shows that any lonely man can find solace in the wonderful and shiny world of virtuality, which should not be feared. The life goes as it should go; and technology is worthy of love, too.
Although there’s an overlap in the genre of the discussed films, the acting demands on the chosen actors differ significantly. The story plays a noticeable role in both films but the way it affects the actors' contrasts as well as the way the actors handle it. On the one hand, Gustav’s privacy is suddenly invaded by the rich inheritance willed to him, kind of to his credit. On the other hand, Theodore’s disorganized emotional state is what makes him vulnerable and exposed to the new advertised technology. Theodore is a loner disconnected from the world. Gustav is very involved with the world and he controls his environment. Moreover, the environment itself is majorly different – the cyberpunk against the old traditional multifaceted Europe. Gustav’s strong conviction is placing him in the center of the unfolding story. He is a ray of light in the darkness, and he remains faithful to himself against all the challenges. Contrary, Theodore exposed to the story for the reason of his own inconsistency is in the film’s spotlight from the beginning. His inner conflict is not shaped by the barbaric world; it is about the nature of the relationship. The actor takes advantage of the conflict revealing to the audience what a simple and yet complex creature is a man.
Summing up, the paper outlined the distinctive features of the two chosen films – The Grand Budapest Hotel and Her – and analyzed the acting demands on the two of the films’ major actors, Ralph Fiennes, and Joaquin Phoenix respectively, as well as the main challenges of their characters. It was found that the similarity of the acting demands on the actors was generally related to the overlap in the genre of films as they both are of the hybrid type. However, as the contents of the films were closely examined, the analyzed characters proved to be challenged in a significantly different way.