Michael Pantozzi played Jared in Gulfshore Playhouse’s recent production of BODY AWARENESS. Mr. Pantozzi has worked with many including Edward Albee and CollegeHumor. Look for him in Alison Bagnall’s upcoming independent comedy feature FUNNY BUNNY.
Jared is the first character I ever have played that does not more or less speak in my voice or move the way I move.
So, I think it’s at least somewhat important to note that I’ve always been the sort of actor who rolls his eyes at an Oscar being awarded to the A-list celebrity for throwing on some prosthetics and getting hysterical, believes firmly in Stanislavsky’s famously tenet that there could never be a written character that is as interesting as absolutely any actual human being, and champions the idea that what’s really at the heart of the craft of acting is bringing as much of that “you and only you are this person you are” authenticity to the given circumstances of a piece of writing, rather than dressing up and making believe you’re something else entirely, as convincingly as you can.
To me, the great actor has always been the actor who can most truthfully bring his or herself to a role, not the actor who can most astonishingly “disappear into a character” or “play against type.”
Which is why I’m very pleased to report what that I have learned over the course of my wonderful experience working on Body Awareness, which is that these two things are far from mutually exclusive.
It has been an unspeakably thrilling and rewarding creative enterprise to actually architect a full, living, breathing character that, at least from an audience’s initial visual and aural experience of the character, is someone that is considerably different from myself.
But hindsight is 20/20, and the truth has always been that. Of course we all have so much inside of us. There are so many different things about us that we can bring to a character. If you’re cast as a certain character, there’s probably some good reason for it and there’s going to be at least one thing inside you that very strongly lines up. This is true even with a character that otherwise seems completely different from you. That is where I started with Jared because this is how I start with any character, the similarities and differences.
We all know what it is like to be frustrated with a world that at times (or in Jared’s case all the time) does not see us the way we want to be seen, the way we feel we are in our hearts. The truth is that there is so much weakness and anger that comes with that. When you know the things that are strong or smart about you are important and you can’t understand how they can be so overlooked or misunderstood. People who seem to coast through life as paragons full of absolute confidence that everyone sees them the way they see themselves, have always seemed to me more a bit delusional to me than strong.
Before I even embarked on any understanding of how Asperger’s manifests physically, it was clear to me from the text that Asperger’s is, for Jared, a way to express freely and out loud these feelings of weakness and anger as a result of the unfortunate fact that it renders him so unable to deal with them otherwise. And so now I, Michael Pantozzi, was going to be able to express these feelings out freely and out loud instead of just in my head which I had always done in the past. I had a lot of practice with these thoughts, as we all have. The voice and the movement just came somehow… I could tell you in hindsight where elements of these things perhaps came from, but when they first presented themselves as blocks to be integrated into the architecture of this structure, I didn’t know. I just layered them on. They only started to happen in the two weeks of rehearsal immediately preceding opening when the brilliant people around me started to sort of tap the watch in reminder of my responsibilities to these very distinct and unusual physical characteristics without which Jared is most definitely not Jared.
The entire three months I spent learning the play and thinking about finding and honing and letting grow and strengthen and develop the emotional and circumstantial intersections between myself and Jared (we’re actually both rather disturbed by interruptions of routine and there are definitely certain ways in which I measure the world around me where I find myself confused that others don’t place the same importance on them), were devoid of thinking of any of these external characteristics. I built, built, built within and then built outward to the surface, where the things that make you see and hear the character the way you do are there to communicate what’s within.
Finally, it is very important to me to add this coda here. My fiancee is an actress and she has thus far had astounding luck with the people she has worked with across basically all projects she’s worked on. I’m always telling her how lucky she is, considering that most anyone who does this for even a little bit of a time knows that can very often be far from the case.
I cannot tell you how fortunate I have been to find these people here, our director, the rest of the cast, and everybody. It is absolutely one of those rare things and it’s no wonder I’ve been able to learn everything I’ve shared here. No wonder the creative journey has been what it has considering their inspiration and experience and guidance. I don’t know if it’ll ever be possible to feel quite this safe with people who for the most part were, in the beginning, total strangers.