I've just come back from the movies, and I swear I don't know how they do it, but I am sure they are trained to do it.
Image from Al tejo, October 2006
It's the hands and the lips. Actors, and especially actresses -- in this alone, in the hands and the lips, there is a difference, so the new affectation of calling women "actors" is peculiarly dishonest -- actresses must be trained to handle their hands and lips in a certain, arresting way, in a way that looks sweetly self-conscious but also seductive, busy, lovely. They don't gnaw or bite or purse their lips as real people do. Actresses' faces are never disfigured by their little gracious tics, but they also never stay still. Their lips are always animated, under their control but always moving, trembling, nearly smiling, half opened, half closing, half finishing a swallow, readying for or recovering from a hesitation in speech, or a chew. Always an attractive, discreet, perfect one.
People don't do this in real life. It's trained. Take up a digital camera some afternoon, and at a party or family gathering, quietly snap candid shots. You'll be surprised by the number of pictures you have to erase, because the photos are so unflattering, and why? Because in normal life, people hold their faces so awkwardly. Even when they keep their faces as active as actresses do, it's never in a nice way to look at. Ordinary people are either eating, or unconsciously scowling, or unconsciously maneuvering their tongues or jutting out their chins in some ugly way. For whole minutes at a stretch.
And the hands. Actresses are trained to use their hands, too. They must be. Even if she has rather beefy, gnarled hands -- Meryl Streep in It's Complicated -- she poses them beautifully. Her hands always look warm and blunt, alive and capable, open and softly poised for action but never aggressive or clawlike. Never stiff. When she pats her hair or gathers up her robe around her collarbone, her hands are like living, pulsing sculptures, looking as if she could speak to them and tell them what to do and they would think, and then obey her. Ordinary people's hands are cold joints, and sagging chilly skin. Of course, in the movies a manicure helps, as do, in today's movie, the choice of thick, tall gold and silver rings for her fine thick strong fingers. Perhaps the rings alone just shout "personality," which little in an ordinary woman's wardrobe ever does. Most women, trying to wear the rings Meryl Streep's character wore in the movie, would suffer the problem a famed fashion designer once rather cattily described when observing a woman too chic-ly dressed: the rings would wear her.
Try, for even an hour, to hold your lips and hands as actresses do. Be aware of them, without seeming to, and without seeming, what? Theatrical, kittenish. Fidgety. Actressy.
And then wonder. Who trains them to know this? And by the way, how long does it take to perfect?