Monday, July 6, 2020

Mother Mary – any serious actor’s source of inspiration.

In an on-line conversation between actress Anne Hathaway and actor Hugh Jackman, it became apparent to me that what separates a good actor/actress from a great actor/actress is how transparent and ego-less he or she is able to be when in character.  This is really a skill that needs to be learnt simply because the ‘default’ in any person is to put his or her ego right in the forefront of things, and to assert his or her will over any other person’s.  

But when that happens, especially in an actor’s craft, it becomes very problematic because then the audience sees he actor and not the character whom the actor portrays.  To ‘get into character’ requires the skilled artiste to diminish his own persona and lose himself to the role, disappearing as it were, so as to let the portrayed character emerge from within.  So, for instance, when playing the role of Jean Valjean in the film adaption of Victor Hugo’s Les Misereables, Hugh Jackman needed to ‘disappear’ in order for Jean Valjean’s personality to come to the fore, letting us who sit in the audience see not Hugh, but Jean.  The more famous the actor is, the more challenging this becomes because dying to the self becomes more difficult after success which often causes one to be inflated and ‘larger than life’. 

This skill that actors need to acquire is what separates the ‘men from the boys’, and doubly blessed is the actor/actress who works with a director who has the ability to draw this out from the talents that he works with.  When these two skills dovetail, a symbiosis happens, and oftentimes this is what separates a great production from a mediocre one.  

It is very apparent that the dynamics at work here requires very much what I have been taught all along, and have been passing on as one of life’s very important lessons if one were serious in attaining any degree of maturity in the spiritual life.  It is the importance of living out consciously that ‘my life is not about me’.  

When an actor is truly lost to his character portrayed, he needs to die to himself.  The more he is self-conscious, the less he will be able to be ‘someone else’.  Bad acting is when this is contrived, over-acted and affected.  One need not be schooled in acting to detect when an actor is very self-conscious in his work.  

One of the reasons we (not just actors) are so wrapped up in the self and ego-centered most of the time in any 24 hour period, is because of the effects of sin.  It was this need to promote and assert their wills over God’s that caused our first parents to be successfully tempted by the serpent in Eden. From that first fall, all of their children from then on inherited this strong predilection to the self and to our egos.  

There was only one human being who was able to work so perfectly and so selflessly, in perfect symbiosis with the Holy Spirit, and she is Mary of Nazareth.  The one reason she was able to put up no resistance at all in wanting God’s will to be done over her own will was that she was graced so perfectly.   Her life mirrored what Adam and Eve’s lives were like prior to the fall.  In each moment of her life while on earth, Mary was always able to be so transparent to the self, desiring to give herself over to the will and ways of God so as to give God the glory, even to the expense of herself.  

But this didn’t diminish herself in any way, but rather, enabled her to be her best self that she could possibly be. While our lives on this earth are a training ground and workshop to reach the attainment of that heavenly form that God has made us capable of, Mary was already living life at that level while on earth, rendering any need to further refine her love for God after her life ended here not only unnecessary but also redundant.  This is one one of the theological reasons why the Church has made the Assumption of Mary into heaven a proclaimed Dogma of the Catholic faith.  

In all of our altercations with our brothers and sisters in life, it is always our selves that ‘get in the way’. Our egos get bruised and damaged so easily, and we always have the need to be right in all that we do, even when we are obviously wrong.  

You, dear reader, may be thinking that such a reflection doesn’t concern you at all because you are not an actor in any sense of the word.  You may be in some other profession, maybe a plumber, or a social worker, or a homemaker, or a stay-at-home dad, or a nurse or a domestic worker.  On the other hand, you could be a business owner, or a lawyer, or a food delivery worker trying to make ends meet.  It doesn’t really matter.  Every single one of us are called to allow God’s will to be done in and through our lives, and when we allow that symbiosis to happen, we allow God’s glory to be made manifest in the world.  Like Mary, we need to allow God to use us in the best way possible, and put up the least resistance on our side, yielding to the Holy Spirit every step of the way, and denying ourselves where the case may require us to do so.  

In that way, we are really actors on God’s stage.  Every single one of us.  There are some who know it, there are some who resist it, and there are many who have no clue as to what their role is, and that there is an ultimate purpose of each person’s life.  Mary gives us a very good example of how to carry ourselves on God’s stage of the world.