Acting Lessons From The Hunger Games

In discussing the actors in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, New York Magazine's David Edelstein inadvertently drops acting wisdom. First, on Jennifer Lawrence:

Lawrence’s instincts are so smart that she never goes even a shade overboard. She’s a hell of an actress. Her adorable clumsiness in life suggests a reason she’s convincing onscreen: Spontaneity is all. 

The primacy of spontaneity. Then on to her co-stars:

Liam Hemsworth has a big monologue in which he recounts the bombing of his district, but all I could think was how slow he was saying his lines, as if waiting for a flood of emotion that doesn’t come. At least Josh Hutcherson’s captured Peeta is mostly seen in interviews... so the actor can’t bring his lack of urgency to scenes with Katniss.  

Not to commit actor-on-actor crime, but the distinction Edelstein draws between JLaw and her tall and small co-stars here is incredibly important - the slowness of Liam Hemsworth line readings and Josh Hutcherson's lack of urgency versus Jlaw's spontaneity. For me, pace is misunderstood. It is not about words per minute but about urgency. A scene may be "slow" in that the actors rarely speak, but the pace is urgent, because the actors convey a feeling of activity and momentum in their thoughts. That is pace. And this is what Edelstein picks up on in Jlaw's spontaneity that is lacking in the other two.  That's what spontaneity looks like: a flood of decisions. We see it again in another sad elegy to Philip Seymour Hoffman. Note how interesting he finds PSH, despite a small performance. It is the urgency in his thoughts.

Hoffman’s Plutarch keeps his cards close to the vest. He muses, he inveigles, he tries to balance opportunism and decency. Hoffman underplays peerlessly, layers of irony under layers of sincerity under layers of … something unfathomable. The sting of his loss will never fade.