Whereas library shelves tend to sag beneath the weight of volumes penned by, and intended for, theatre actors and directors, the number of comparable handbooks, instruction manuals, and studies pitched at their cinematic colleagues is rather thinner on the ground. To be sure, there are crucial works by David Mamet, Patrick Tucker, and Janet Sonnenberg, along with books such as Michael Caine’s more anecdotal Acting in Film (1990). But Judith Weston’s central study Directing Actors, which Sally Potter’s book most closely resembles, is already more than fifteen years old, and much has happened both behind and in front of the lens (not to mention the editing room) since its appearance.
In her chatty and deliberately informal introduction, Potter offers a series of preliminary answers to her own question, ‘So why write a book about working with actors?’, which the book itself then addresses in more – at times repetitive – detail. In its structure, her study falls into a loose theory/practice division (though the author insists on the connection between the two.) The first three parts consider, in sequence: Preparation; The Shoot; and Post-Production; while the fourth part consists of fourteen extensive interviews with a number of actors, including Julie Christie, Steve Buscemi, Judi Dench, Jude Law, and Timothy Spall. (One notable omission here is Tilda Swinton, star of Potter’s Orlando, 1992.)