Famed theatre actors sometimes have had a rough transition to television. Sometimes they don't make it at all playing to a camera.
It isn't so much the lack of an audience, although that is often blamed. It isn't even that the initimate audience of hundreds has been replaced with a remote audience of millions. Over years, theatre actors hone a skillset of gestures and expressions and loud stage whispers broadly exagerated in order to communicate to those seated in the back row. Cameras are different. Television viewers see clearly every nuance that the camera picks up. Acting skills are learned all over again.
The late Glenn Ford became a master of nuance. Watch any of his movies. He had a talent for minimal acting. He could communicate the essence of any character he played with almost no change in facial expression. There were no broad gestures. His characters were believable because of their lack of broad reaction. He seemed made for the camera.
During the recent public drowning of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Katy Couric seemed to be the very model of neutrality. During even the most awkward moments of halting silence or strange, hesitant, broken answers to routine questions, the journalist maintained a poker face. The slightest tightening of Couric's lips, the extra second of gazing at her odd guest, allowed each member of the audience to substitute their own shocked reactions. Consider the exchange on the financial bailout:
PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy (fumbles, looks at notes, refocuses on Couric) Oh! It's got to be about job creation too! So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.
They does, do it? Allowing Palin the time to read the answers before responding produced deadpan reaction shots of Couric. No expression. Signalling nothing, communicating everything.
Intended or not, she was able to channel the unblinking straight jawed persona of one of the greatest camera performers of his time.
For a time, Katy Couric became Glenn Ford.
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