Actors and perfectionism

Emmy Rossum

“It’s not about control but perfectionism – my biggest vice and one of my biggest assets.” Emmy Rossum

[Photo apparently on the set of “Shameless” from her Facebook page.]

Many talented and accomplished actors and other creative people are energized – or burdened – by this drive of perfectionism.

Emma WatsonActing in the final two “Potter” movies, and thinking about choosing college, Emma Watson talked about criticism of her work as Hermione, and modulating her perfectionism.

“I will look back on this part of my life and I know it will be special, but it used to be that if I ever had a bad review or someone said, ‘Oh, she is too this,’ or ‘She’s too that,’ I got upset about it.

“Now what I have worked out is that it would actually be physically impossible to be perfect for everyone. Everyone has a distinct idea in their head of what each character is like.

“So I’ve kind of had to lower my standards. I can’t be perfect for everyone. J.K. [‘Potter’ author J.K. Rowling] thinks I’m perfect, and that’s good enough for me.”

[From Hero Complex blog post ‘Harry Potter’ countdown: Emma Watson still ‘quite intimidated’ by pal J.K. Rowling, by Geoff Boucher, LA Times, Jul 2 2009.]

Perfectionists and ‘greatists’

Nicole Kidman in Portrait of a LadyDirector Jane Campion said about working with Nicole Kidman:

“She can be quite murderously challenging in her perfectionism. Take Twenty: ‘Are you sure that’s good enough?’ We’re going, [wearily] ‘Yeah.’ “

Another example: Jennifer Connelly has admitted, “I am an obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist. I don’t say it with pride.”

And Bridget Fonda has said, “I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m pretty neurotic about it.”

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It’s also a matter of how you think of it.

Director James Cameron refutes being labeled as a perfectionist: “No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”

The burden of being perfect

But a drive to be perfect can be an obsessive emotional force that helps fuel insecurity and dissatisfaction with your work, and undermines healthy self esteem.

It can be part of why you “can’t stand” to watch your dailies or films – like Joaquin Phoenix and others. But that can keep you from learning more about and refining your performance.

Q’Orianka Kilcher [Pocahontas in “The New World”] says she has been a perfectionist “since she was little” but learned from Colin Farrell to let go of it:

“He taught me acting wasn’t about being perfect. An actor should never take themselves too seriously. It took a burden off my shoulders.”

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A related perspective is shared by Michelle Pfeiffer:

“I’m a perfectionist, so I can drive myself mad – and other people, too. At the same time, I think that’s one of the reasons I’m successful. Because I really care about what I do. I really want it to be right, and I want it to be good, and I don’t quit until I have to.”

Excellence is the prize

Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, Director of the Gifted Development Center, says “Excellence is the hard-won prize of those whose zeal and dedication are fueled by the drive to attain perfection, as they envision it.”

But it’s a matter of balance, of using this need to “make it great” to refine yourself and your work, without being overwhelmed by it, or experience it as too much of an obsession.

> Related article:

Ashley Judd: “If I engage in perfectionism, I am abusing myself.”

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Article publié pour la première fois le 28/10/2015