Amanda Fortini writes in New York Magazine about the impact that Botox and other beauty treatments have had on acting. What is a star to do when deciding between a face that can show emotion and one that looks younger but can’t move?
These days, to watch television or to go to the movies is to be jarred, put off, and sometimes saddened by our nonstop exposure to cosmetic interventions. We’re all familiar with the usual specimens, the Heidi Montags and Mickey Rourkes, whose many extreme surgeries and baroque physical changes are routinely dissected by blogs and tabloids. But I’m talking about a different species of performer. Less freakish yet far more abundant are the actors who, by virtue of a range of injectable substances (Botox and its cousin, Dysport; Restylane, Juvéderm, and other fillers of this ilk), are mysteriously unaffected by gravity, childbearing, or free radicals. They seem to have avoided growing old entirely or, like Benjamin Button, to be growing younger with each year. Either that or they look as if they’ve ripened abnormally, their features drifting off in odd, conflicting directions.
What I like about this article is the way it goes beyond the usual tabloid “who’s had work done?” or even “who’s had freakishly bizarre work done?” articles to talk about the way these treatments have affected the style of acting. If you watch early talkies, movies from the 1930’s-late 1940’s, you will still see remnants of early 20th century stage acting with its arch, mid-Atlantic cadences and theatrical gestures. Movie acting was still in its infancy and it really was not until the 1950’s that what we think of today as acting, the natural, intimate, style of performers who understand that the camera will pick up their smallest changes of expression.
The Method brought Freudianism to the screen. Its numerous devotees (Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda) ushered in an era of fluid, naturalistic acting that has continued to flourish to this day….The aim of the Method has, over time, come to define the fundamental mission of dramatic acting itself: to use the face and the body to express subtle, complex, conflicting psychological and emotional states.
But by freezing the face and removing the ability to convey emotion and character with the eyebrows, the forehead, and the mouth, Botox and other treatments have led to a return to acting through more emphasis on gesture and voice, and Fortini says the result is a different kind of character.
Some actors appear to be underplaying their characters, consciously making them cool, without affect. If you can’t move your face, why not create an undemonstrative character? Others have taken the opposite approach: On two cable dramas starring actresses of a certain age, the heroines are brassy and expansive, with a tendency to shout and act out, yet somehow their placid foreheads are never called into play. Usually, when a person reenacts a stabbing or smashes a car with a baseball bat, some part of the face is going to crease or bunch up. Not so with these women. As though to compensate for their facial inertia, both perform with stagy vigor, attempting broad looks of surprise or disappointment, gesticulating and bellowing. If you can’t frown with your mouth, they seem intent on proving, you can try to frown with your voice.
The conflict is getting even more pointed as HD televisions threatens to do to less-than-perfect faces what the introduction of sound did to actors whose voices did not match their profiles. On the other hand, “Avatar” would not have been nearly as affecting without the performance of Zoe Saldana, whose stunningly expressive face was translated by computers that could never hope to replicate true the communication of true emotions, making, for that film, acting the real special effect.