Great Actors Repeat Themselves -- A Lot! ~ Random Waves of Insight
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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Great Actors Repeat Themselves -- A Lot!

I've been thinking about this lately, and before I delve into the specific instances, I'd like to address the issue in general. I think what may happen is that one actor says a pre-written line, and then the other guy improvises a response. Then the first actor repeats his line or question, and the other guy comes up with a new, different response. And this goes on and on, over and over, until the director says cut, and chooses ONE segment including ONE back-and-forth. On occasion, however, the director will just throw the entire sequence of Line : Response 1, Same Line : Response 2, .... Exact Same Line: Response 57 into the film.

Ok, so if that theory is correct, then there can be no fault found with actors who like to repeat themselves. But if that isn't the reason, then I don't know what the problem is.

Why Repeating Yourself Is Bad



Derren Brown, the English performer, was shown on a subway using a similar technique of "I'll ask you the same question over and over." It turns out, that method is very powerful at clouding people's minds. See, when someone is overwhelmed by a repetitive question, they can focus only on the question, and much less on the answer.

Derren Brown asked people, "Where's your next stop?" He got the answer, made some more chit chat, and then asked again, waving his hand while repeating the question a few more times. Ninety percent of the people being asked could no longer recall what they had just said a few minutes prior! That's why it really bugs me when I see people on TV or in the movies or anywhere asking the same stupid question over and over. Or repeating any statement for that matter.

A different problem comes up when the person who is repetitive is answering. When someone asks you a question, and you give them an answer, fine. When they ask again, obviously your first answer wasn't good enough. So to repeat yourself is fairly lame. And yet that's what some people do.

Now The Examples



In "Outbreak," Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr. played a couple of guys who found out the government would rather kill a bunch of infected people than allow the cure to get out, since the infection was caused by a biological weapon. To cure it, they'd lose their weapon. Hoffman made that point abundantly clear.

Hoffman: They want to bury the town.

Cuba: Oh, this is crazy.

Hoffman: They want their weapon.

Cuba: They’re gonna kill all those people?

Hoffman: Right, they want their weapon.

Cuba: They're gonna sit there and watch all those innocent people die?

Hoffman: Yes, they want their weapon.

Why does Dustin Hoffman like to repeat himself so much? Maybe he's reliving "Rain Man." I don't know. But Robin Williams was brave enough to stand up to him.




In "Hook," Hoffman, as Captain Hook, questioned Robin Williams about his being Peter Pan. At that point, Williams was still Peter Banning, and hadn't yet fully realized his Pan identity. In disbelief, Hoffman repeatedly questioned him.

Hoffman: Who are you?

Williams: I'm Peter Banning, attorney at law. Those are my children, and I want them back, please.

Hoffman: Those are your--

Williams: Children.

Hoffman: These are your children? (A small warm-up repeat)

Williams: Yes they are.

Hoffman: And you're...?

Williams: Peter--

Hoffman: You're Peter?

Williams: Yes.

Hoffman: You're Peter?

Williams: Yes!

Hoffman: No!

Williams: Yes...

Hoffman: You're Peter?

Williams: Yes. Is there an echo in here? Yes, I'm--

Hoffman: My great and worthy opponent?

Williams: Yes.

Hoffman: No!! Smee, who is this imposter?!

Williams finally pointed out Hoffman's cruel game, and forced him to move on to some other line. "Oh, gee, uh oh, I better think up an alternative for 'you're peter?' Hmm..."

Dustin Hoffman isn't the only good actor who likes to repeat himself. Robert Dinero has also joined in the fun.




In "Goodfellas," after a successful illegal business endeavor, one of the guys involved shows up with a new car. Robert Dinero's character is furious, because obviously flashing cash will draw unneeded attention. He gives the guy a hard time, and repeats himself. The scene is almost painful.

Dinero: Didn't you hear what I said? Don't buy anything. Don't get anything. What's the matter with you?

Car Guy: What are you getting excited for?

Dinero: Because you're going to get us all pinched. What's the matter with you?

Car Guy: I apologize. I'm sorry.

Dinero: What's the matter with you?!

Car Guy: I'm sorry.

What makes it even worse is that after the Car Guy apologizes the first time, Dinero pauses, silent, and seems to be "moving forward," mentally. But then, oh, no, he's right back to where he was two lines ago with another, "Whassamaddayoo??!" Brilliant. Not!




Well, there you have it. A couple moments of great actors repeating themselves. Maybe it's written somewhere in a book that a trick to get ahead is to master the portrayal of a broken record, or a pet parrot. If so, good going, guys.

As a bonus, I'd just like to mention that Denzel Washington's catchphrase seems to be "I ain't goin' nowhere!" It's in "Virtuosity," and a few other films, including one that was recently in theaters.

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