Acting Analysis: Contained Emotions

Here’s a great moment from The Holiday:

Kate Winslet’s character, Iris, goes through three emotional states. Her acting is contained, nuanced, and communicates all three emotional states in pantomime. It’s full of texture, and is a great example of subtle acting within a single pose.

At the head of the scene, Iris is excited. Her boss has given her a new task in front of all her colleagues. Iris is in unrequited love with Jasper (and he knows it). When she finds out that her task is to write about his engagement to another woman in the office, she immediately turns to heart broken sadness. When Jasper sees how upset she is, Iris fakes tears of happiness to save face. When Jasper continues celebrating his engagement, Iris’ is disgusted, and leaves.

This scene has a nice mix of stillness and awkward movement. When Iris is processing her emotions internally, she remains still. A single expression change, heavy breathing, and a couple of blinks keep her alive. Less is more. It’s essentially one pose. When she has to address others, shes shifts her weight and moves around.

As her colleagues laugh at Jasper’s quip, she looks around uncomfortably, faking a smile. She recomposes herself and goes internal again. It’s at this point that Jasper sees how upset she is. She gives an approving, but messy nod (note the weird arc). This is followed by an oddly timed weight shift that feels off, and reveals the insincerity of her approving gesture to Jasper. If she had no feelings for Jasper, she might not have had a weight shift, and her nod would likely be direct and purposeful. The odd timing and movement communicate through the body that she’s falling to pieces, and not completely in control.

Jasper is able to brush it off and continue congratulating himself. Iris is repulsed by this slap in the face. She turns her nose up and away in the same manor one would if confronted with a bad smell or a disgusting visual. In combination with a series of blinks (suggesting the welling up of tears), and an attempted smile that quickly fades, she effectively communicates disgust and we immediately understand why she has to leave.

Her emotions are clearly communicated throughout, and there’s a nice contrast between her internal and external states. This gives the performance texture.