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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"I had to dismember that guy with a trowel."
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August 09 2011

When we pretend we're dead. What's it like for an actor when he or she has to "play dead"? Interviews with eight different actors, including Azura Skye, who talks about "dying" on BtVS, and in other movies.

It's always kind of an exciting day when you get to go to work and play dead, because everything is centered around you, yet you're a very passive part of the scene. I kind of go into another place, like a type of meditation. You don't want your chest going up and down, so you try to get your heart rate slow and get really comfortable. The most challenging part is there's usually a big light source just off the side of the camera, so it's hard to keep your eyes from fluttering. I kind of imagine myself to be like a doll with glass eyeballs. As for falling gracefully, I have a lot of ballet training and I'm a fairly physical person, so I think that probably helps. It's definitely a skill. I think I'm just good at turning into a ragdoll and collapsing.

Well, I'm not a professional actor, but I did get complimented by Danny Strong when I played dead at a convention.

It is very difficult to not react to what's going on around you. It's like everything is...louder, and you have to fight the urge to crack your eyelids to see where people are. You have to concentrate, like she said, on keeping your chest steady, and if you're lying on your back you're going to need to swallow eventually, which is VERY hard to do subtly!

I had someone lean over me and say "Girl, you rock!" and I had a hard time not smiling. When my roommate whipped the covers off me (I was playing a victim of the Gentlemen from "Hush") I tried not to flinch. Lucky for me there was no...ahh...internal gurgling going on, or that would've really ruined it.
Regarding chest and stomach rising and falling, why not build a sort of exoskeleton that would make your torso subtly an inch or two larger, within which you could breath all you want? Mind you this would only work when the "body" is dressed.
I loved Matt Davis as Alaric on The Vampire Diaries, getting stabbed, trying to breathe and finally dying, eyes open. It was so good and I just watched thinking how hard that would be.
For some reason, ShadowQuest's story reminded me of the (Monty Python) radio drama, "The Death Of Mary Queen Of Scots."

Gentleman: I think she's dead.
ShadowQuest: No I'm not!

The Brian Blessed bit was the most fascinating. It's been probably a decade or more since I saw I, Claudius, and I'd forgotten how they did it. Excellent work on Blessed's part, though at least he could breathe with his diaphragm off-camera.
I'm going to have to revisit that scene in I, Claudius. It's been too long.
While reading the article, I remembered something from the behind-the-scenes special of Return of the King - Grima Wormtongue comes up behind Sauramon on the tower while Theoden and Gandalf are talking to him, and stabs him in the back with a knife.

Christopher Lee asked Peter Jackson if he knew what it sounded like when someone was stabbed in the back, and Jackson admitted he didn't. Lee, who'd been in the war, demonstrated the sound and how a person would react, and Jackson went with it. (Although he was a bit disturbed as to why Lee knew that so well.)
I remember hearing that too, ShadowQuest. Apparently Lee was in the Special Operations Executive. They carried out all kinds of clandestine stuff during WWII.
Lee knows far, far too many things (watching his extras on the DVDs is intimidating)... and he sneezes awesomeness.

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