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David Lynch explains how to get the best from actors

David Lynch is always praised for his uniquely surreal artistic vision in definitive masterpieces such as Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, movies that have shaped the public perception of popular surrealism. Currently, he is working on extending that vision to the 21st century by working on a secret project with Netflix, whose production began earlier this year and is only known as Wisteria and Unrecorded Night.

Apart from his filmmaking sensibilities, Lynch is also adept at eliciting fantastic performances from his actors whose works fit into his absurd cinematic universes. Ranging from Dennis Hopper’s frenzied psychosis in Blue Velvet to Naomi Watts’ mesmerising rendition in Mulholland Drive, Lynch has brought out the best in his talented collaborators.

In a video essay, Lynch explained why it is important to resist the temptations of shouting at your actors. He claimed that even if they get it wrong, you have to make sure that they understand what you want and the only way to do that is by being gentle. Instead of fearing failure, a director has to keep trying until they get it right.

Lynch elaborated: “We’re all human beings, so it would be wrong to say, ‘You fuckhead! That’s the stupidest thing you interpreted there. This is not the right way.’ So you would be, you know, kind and not embarrass them. And you wouldn’t want to do that, anyway. You want to go in and explain something. And in so doing, you use words, and you use your eyes. And you send something from you to them.”

Adding. “And you use your hands. And they get it. A lot of times, it doesn’t work, maybe out of nervousness or some kind of fear or some kind of just not letting go and letting that character take over for different things or not understanding. So you make them feel comfortable so they can say goodbye to their personality and take on a new one. You make them feel that it’s no problem failing and trying this thing.”

“It’s not embarrassing,” the director continued. “It’s a sign of courage, really, and great work to try things to make it real. And no problem if it comes out embarrassing. You know, fix it next time. Whatever. And then, you explain certain things and eventually, they feel more and more comfortable and they have more and more understanding. Enough understanding to do it and there you go, you got it! It’s recorded.”

Watch David Lynch’s enigmatic video essay on how to expertly deal with actors while making films below.