Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Occasionally I am asked to name my favourite actor, and the question seems to throw me into a mild panic, perhaps because I have never sat back to consider methodically the question: what are the elements that combine to make an actor a favourite? It's difficult to consider the question apart from the characters the actor has played, of course. (Who can tell the dancer from the dance?) But, supposing one can, where a single character has been played by multiple actors...? In the case of the many actors who have played James Bond, for example, I can say confidently that Sean Connery remains my favourite. But why? It obviously doesn't merely have to do with how "realistic" the actor is (that, for better or worse, would probably go to Daniel Craig), and even less, I think, with how physically appealing the actor is (Pierce Brosnan would win out there, I guess, though this may be thought tepid praise in any case, coming as it does from a heterosexual man). Rather, I think it has something to do with rather more abstract qualities which we find compelling. To draw an analogy, I'd say that just as we may find Louis Armstrong's phrasing of a particular song deeply memorable and indeed, compellingly imitable, so do we admire the music an actor brings to certain characters. Considered in these terms---and without even entering into the parallel column of assessment, which would have to do with the physical equivalent of music: the dance of facial features and bodily posture---I am beginning to suspect that my favourite actor of all time may be the late Mel Blanc --- the man who provided the voices of Foghorn Leghorn, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester the Cat, Wile E. Coyote (Genius), the Tasmanian Devil and every other bit character in the Looney Tunes cartoons. The truth is that I remember more of the subtleties of his inflections, delight in the details of more of his deliveries, relish in more of his comic timing, and find more joy in his flamboyance than in the work of pretty much any other actor I can name. Now that's compelling work. So, here's to Mel.