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I have chosen the actor, Dustin Hoffman, playing the role of ‘Raymond’ in the film ‘Rain Man’ to answer the following questions upon. I feel that he is a suitable actor to discuss as the character he plays, ‘Raymond’, has very distinct characteristics, and physicality. The character Hoffman plays is heavily autistic, and is therefore pivotal that he made this clear to the audience that he was different to the other characters in the film.

As autism affects the way in which a person interacts with others, it was important that Hoffman focused on the way in which he delivered his lines, and reacted to other characters during encounters. He did this by sometimes speaking the lines to himself, in a light and mumbled voice, making little or sometimes no acknowledgement of others. One example of Hoffman doing this is when he meets his brother, Charlie, for the first time in many years, and becomes nervous when Charlie handles his belongings. He begins to mumble to himself the Abbot and Costello comedy sketch, ‘Who’s on first’. Raymond’s helper, Verne, explains ‘it’s his way of dealing with you touching things, you know, his books and stuff’. As Charlie begins to open one of Raymond’s books, his mumbling becomes noticeably faster and louder. This is Hoffman’s way of demonstrating the stress that Raymond is unable to display, through the actions suitable to the character.

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Another way in which Hoffman effectively creates a successful character for the audience is through his physicality and gesture. He shows that Raymond has little independence, and struggles to complete simple, everyday tasks on his own; similarly to a young child. In fact, Hoffman’s performance throughout the film could easily be compared to that of an infant. When walking, he takes small, shuffling steps, with a very narrow gait – contradicting that of a typical man; and consequently contributing to the innocence of the character he is trying to portray. Furthermore, his arms are kept relatively close to his body – his elbows are bent, facing his arms upwards towards his head. This makes him seem smaller and less significant, even though he is a fully grown man.

I find Hoffman’s performance in the film ‘Rain Man’ impressive, as he plays a character so different from himself, and yet still achieves an extremely believable performance. A particular scene that I believe showcases Hoffman’s acting talent is when Raymond and his brother are in Las Vegas. Raymond thinks he has a date with ‘The only dancing hooker in Vegas’, and thinks it is vital he learns to dance. Charlie, his brother, volunteers to teach him.

I find that Hoffman’s performance in this scene stands out from the rest of the film, as it is the first time you see Raymond bond with somebody. He successfully confirms to the audience that Charlie and he have a special relationship, which Raymond has been unable to have previously, because of his autism – this becomes particularly moving for the audience.

I feel that this was a difficult scene for Hoffman to act in, as it was important that he showed the growth of rapport between him and his brother, whilst still showing his inability to have a relationship with somebody. He does this through briefly becoming distracted at the beginning of the dance. Hoffman begins to drift off, and look at other parts of the room, as if he has become preoccupied, and eventually stops moving his feet, as his brother had told him to. Charlie tells him; ‘Raymond don’t stop moving, are you paying attention? Don’t stop moving’. After Charlie shows him this comforting reassurance, we see Raymond begin to dance. Charlie says; ‘Ray, when I tell you, I want you to look up, real slow’. Raymond follows the instruction, and subtly moves his head up to make eye contact with his brother, Charlie. As Hoffman has ensured that Raymond makes no eye contact with any other character throughout the film, this scene proves to be a real breakthrough for the character. However, this affection is short lived.

Charlie now feels he has built a strong bond with his brother, and proceeds to ask him; ‘you wanna give me a hug?’ When Raymond responds ‘Yeah’, Charlie grabs him with good intent; however, Raymond kicks and screams. This shocking response made by Hoffman immediately reminds the audience that Raymond isn’t able to live a normal life, and however hard he tries, he will never overcome his autism.

I feel that in this scene alone, Hoffman shows the viewers all the different sides to his character; something evidentially difficult to do. This is just one example of why I find Hoffman’s performance in this film interesting and impressive.

To me, a good performance means that you are successfully portraying a character, consistently and effectively; taking account of personality, actions, gestures, habits etc. It is important that you do research into a character in order to be able to accurately display their feelings and emotions to the audience, as this is a major contribution into creating a good performance. Knowing your character back to front can come in handy if you ever forget your lines; as long as you know how your character would react to something, you should be able to improvise an appropriate response.

Once you have decided how you are going to play a character, the next vital step is to rehearse for an appropriate amount of time. You must ensure you practice enough, but never too much. Over rehearsing can lead to stress on stage, and consequently mistakes. Don’t just learn your own lines, learn the lines of those around you – if anyone makes a mistake, you are then able to get them back on track.

Once on stage, it is important that you have confidence in your ability; if you don’t, your character can become less convincing for the audience, therefore making your performance less believable. Committing to your character is also a pivotal part in creating an accurate performance. If something doesn’t go to plan, for example, you trip over, react as your character rather than yourself, this way, the audience may think it is part of the performance.

Finally, take time for the other characters; you don’t have to be the main role to make an impact on the audience. Sharing the limelight shows your understanding for other characters, and gives others a chance to showcase their acting skills.

Once these things are all taken into account, I believe you are able to create a successful performance.

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Kylie Garcia

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