The degree of difficulty of this performance is actually hard to fully understand. He was playing, in effect, four characters and trying to keep track of them. We had stand-ins—other actors—reading the other roles against him, trying their best to echo his rhythms, but often he couldn’t see them because there was a green screen separating him from the background that his other “personas” would inhabit.
It was very important to Michael to name these “sides" of himself, and we spent a fair amount of time doing that in the morning. Michael 2 became “the philosopher”; Michael 3 was, obviously, “the gangsta,” the one who nursed the most angry resentment; and Michael 4 was “smartass Michael,” who kind of stood at the margins of the scene, sniping.
In between some takes, though not all, Michael played music through his headphones, and it occurred to me, probably later than it should have, that he was playing different tracks for different characters.
He is an amazing actor, truly riveting and so watchable—and that’s innate; you can’t learn it. No amount of acting lessons will give you it. And it’s kind of ineffable. Why do you not want to take your eyes off certain people? But he was tireless too and brought so much to this thing, in terms of ideas and passion and energy. There were times when I thought we had it and wanted to move on, just to protect him during a long day, but he wanted to go again.