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Cynthia Saint-Fleur Explains Method Acting

Cynthia Saint-Fleur Stanislavski-taught Actress (c)Yann Saint-Pé

In FilmTalk with Cynthia Saint-Fleur, Film/TV/Theatre/Voice Actress, who studied at the

French Classical Conservatory, Theatre Academy in France, we captured Art of Dramatic Character Experiencing. This is best known in Stage and Cinema culture as Method Acting.

Inaugurated by Konstantine Stanislavski, Russian actor, director and producer, therefore its designation as Stanislavski System for stage and screen production. Stanislavski was the founder of Moscow Art Theatre, opened in 1898. He was born on January 17, 1863 in Moscow and died August 7, 1938 in Moscow, the Russian capita.

Long after Konstantine’s passing, Stanislavski System, Method Acting; preferably Art of Experiencing is still being practised across the world. Cynthia Saint-Fleur, one of Stanislavski-taught students, at the French Conservatory, Paris, explains the system; perhaps in a few words, as they say in filmmaking, Show Don’t tell using Method Acting.

Cynthia is known for roles in t French movie and television titles: Meutres à Amiens- Murders in Amiens (2021) and Jeanne Duval- The Rejected Beauty (2022) with English subtitles. Soulmates (2017) with English subtitles; (ENGLISH SUBTITLES; Les témoins- Witnesses (2014); Baron Noir-Dark Baron (2016) and A en crever, To Die For (Hunger -2021) with English subtitles.

Watch Cynthia in A en crever, To Die For (Hunger -2021).

Cynthia explains the Stanislavski acting System or Method Acting specific; which applies with the use of personal experiences, feelings, sensations, touch and memory to build emotions. “The idea is to find from personal experiences, the emotions of your character. The brain has this faculty there, by the thought, then concentration. I remember that during exercises at the conservatory, we trained on the physical sensations to the sound of the voice of our teacher.

He would ask us, for example, to embody homeless people and would describe a setting in winter, in the street, in the cold. I can assure you that after 30 minutes we were all freezing; the temperature of the room had not changed. It is therefore using personal memories as well as physical sensations in situations, which can help in the construction of the character.”

To grow emotions as it is obvious in Cynthia’s character in To Die For (Hunger) between rejecting her love interest, and quickly to needing the very man takes a great deal of emotional switching. Invariably she pictures herself in a similar of situation of longing, but not being too sure, before accepting the lover. "...the text resonated with me, because I have already been in a similar situation. So, I start from the experience, and then let the emotions rise and I feed on the strength of the words that will intensify these emotions. For this movie, I remember that I let myself be carried."

It is also the movie director’s call up to the editor’s skills to edit the movie to evoke emotions, while telling the story. Cynthia recalls one shot that pulled up emotions to the extreme. "I remember one shot in particular where I was really in it, in tears, in complete osmosis with my character and even when the director pronounced the famous "cut" had tears in her eyes.

I actually love to be trapped like that; the trick is not to let yourself be damaged. To close the window very quickly."

Given the fact that emotions are the trademarks of blockbuster movies, I asked "Why and what do you mean by closing the window very quickly." Cynthia insists the player or the actor needs to get out to avoid emotional damage. " I actually love to be trapped like that; the trick is not to let yourself be damaged."

You might guess, does anyone, who sits in movie theatres suffer some kind of emotional damage or actually feel a sense of relief from watching actors like Cynthia Saint-Fleur? Well movie audiences return to watch same movies, when they learn from character experiences. That is why Cynthia herself confesses admiration for American actress and producer, Viola Davis. Viola Davis’s acting career: ‘I was too big. I was too black. My voice was too deep’ – The Irish Times

"I'm a big fan of such artists; who totally inhabit their characters; several times after this film, I was told about Viola Davis. It is very flattering. But it's true that when I'm given a role, when I'm lucky enough to be able to really defend a score, a purpose, I try to put myself completely at the service of the character. That's what happened on this film, I guess…Everything else is unconscious. And the way it is received belongs totally to the spectator."

I seem to think of Stanislavski System or Method Acting, not wholly as an art of experiencing character roles and emotions in movies. Cynthia sounded like that when I proposed the word provoke. Therefore, whether provoke might well apply or have ever been used in Method Acting, any player or actor in any role, still needs some conflict to provoke such reactions as seen in The Hunger.

"I don't remember Stanislavsky's terms. I only embraced or understood the practice! I imagine that it corresponds precisely to the fact of living life experiences (experiential) of the theme. Thus, to cause emotions, gestures, attitudes which are true. In fact, the idea is not to play true but to be; to experience it! But thanks for the question. I think I'm going to go read his book again!"

I went extra space to know, whether Method Acting would mean to first sympathise initially before empathising eventually with the character that needs to be experienced by the real-life character or player?

Cynthia wouldn't try that sympathy thing, but to do her job as needed by the director,

"I have a subjective viewpoint that can bias the game (I won't easily have sympathy for a murderer, for example), but for me the first thing is to welcome a character. If I accept her with her qualities and faults, then I will be able to play her right. And I should say, to be her! And it is precisely because I take the character as she is that I naturally find myself in empathy with her."

How then would I mobilise ‘’… the player-physical’s(actor’s) response to scripted character regarding need to bring to life the essential character?"

“Then it's imagination. I try to imagine how the character could move, how she could speak. I eventually change my voice, my speech rate. And I love to transform myself. You know, changing my appearance helps to create the character. The costumes, down to the underwear, participate in the creation of the character. So, I don't hesitate to change my hairstyle.

I swap curls for straight hair; I change the colour of my eyes. If necessary, I'll do a training to lose or gain weight depending on the role. actually, I go all out and the further the character is from me, Cynthia, the more interesting is the preparation. So, it depends on the inspiration and the request of the director. I come up with proposals and then we decide together!”

I was still keen on understanding how the player or actor literally sells the movie to her movie audience. Really that being filmmakers' reason for putting money on any story. My concern still focused on getting the audience to buy the movie story via sympathy or empathy.

The Viola Davis disciple, Cynthia Saint-Fleur stressed on her focus on what must be done and no more than that, " My answer may surprise you, but I don't care if the audience feels sympathy or empathy for my character. I don't play for the audience to like my character! So yes, I'm playing to give them something but I can't presume whether they'll like the character or not and I'd like to say that's not my concern. It's not the character that has to please the audience, it's the way I act, my way acting.

Moreover, the same character can resonate in a different way for this or that person. One person will love her, another will hate her. So, what is important for me is that the audience feels something, that they believe in it, that they are carried away, that they forget that it is an actress acting. If a spectator attributes to me the behaviours of the character I played, or doesn't make the difference. I say to myself either he's an idiot, or it's the best of compliments: I act well!”

Cynthia furthered the emotional exposition by contrasting and proving conscious thoughts or feelings compared to the unconscious ones. Those for me marks the boundary between loosing oneself in the movie character; though she proposed running away from the abyss to avoid emotional damage.

“In fact, the first questions I ask myself about a character are concrete and therefore conscious: imagine who she is, what she has gone through, what she likes and dislikes. I sometimes go beyond what is written in the text to actually create this character, to give her life. I therefore add ingredients to give the character substance. And I also look physically for how she could do his hair, move. That's what's part of the conscious.

I will also consciously look for what brings me closer to the character in my personal experience to find emotions that will allow me to go from the construction to the feeling and be the most real while acting.

Then, everything that is unconscious is in fact what comes from me, what I give off, what I don't control; the way all these ingredients, this whole recipe takes. And if you have prepared your character well, then it fits.

All this is a work that the actor can do. Afterwards, there are also sometimes very instinctive actors, or characters who speak to you immediately; and there it comes by itself. It resonates. It maybe rarer, I don't know, but when it happens, its magic.”

There is no doubt Cynthia has a mind of her own. And that is an invariable function of every artist; who should make social statements. Such are the critical elements of artistic development; to have a voice. She pursues that function in the next video. Bande Demo 2020 Cynthia Saint-Fleur; a collection for her acting demo or audition reel. She explains:

"This story was written by the director after we talked for more than 3 hours. He listened to me and from what he perceived from our exchange and from my sensibility came this text.

Thus, the text seemed familiar to me, and we worked a lot together to let the emotions come and try once again to be.

As I am a person who also likes to laugh, the challenges, the crazy challenges, it is true that we also had a lot of fun with this character of women running in the streets of Paris. To arrive at something much simpler, sober, with my everyday image."

Certain movies and hobbies define Cynthia Saint-Fleur persona “I love choral films, Huis-Clos films with one situation drama; sometimes even in the open air. As in very successful film , Buried by Cameroonian Francoise Ellong. They evoked intrigues which must be perfectly written to thrill the spectator; without much external action. Others include the Spanish film 7 Anos by Roger Gual, the French film The Translators by Regis Roinsard; more so the American film 12 Men in Anger by Sidney Lumet. "

Other genre films and biopics would well say more about her influences: Drama · Thriller, Amores Perros; Crime , Drama , Romance, Queen & Slim and she would be currently watching Action, Drama, Thriller feature Rebel.

" And as I was saying earlier, I really like actors who challenge themselves, who transform themselves, who inhabit their characters, who defend what they say, who commit themselves. And it is a little bit in the image of these films and these actors, that I take as models, that I direct my work..."

In that vein Cynthia has some advice for African film industry stake holders, in terms of breaking good into global cinema. “My only advice, whatever the field: writing, directing, acting: never give up your dream, work, train, remember that everything is possible with determination, work, discipline and an open heart.

Cinema must be a vector of openness, of understanding; there are co-productions. I really think that Africa has a lot to tell. That it is an immense wealth and that the time has come for African cinema to explode.”

And Cynthia Saint-Fleur awaits invitation to Africa to show-off her acting talents; “As soon as you invite me! Seriously, I would love to come to Nigeria! There is such a wealth of culture, music and film industry. I would love to visit your country! So, if you are ever looking for an actress with a beautiful French accent, I am yours!”

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