Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942. A gifted singer and pianist, Franklin toured with her father’s traveling revival show and later visited New York, where she signed with Columbia Records. Franklin went on to release several popular singles, many of which are now considered classics. In 1987, she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2008 she won her 18th Grammy Award, making her one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.
Remember that beautiful text Oscar Isaac wrote for “Neue Journal” back in 2015.
“Several years ago, I did a movie with William Hurt. I was just was so curious, and blown away by him and his mind. Right before action, he would say to himself, “I’m going to die.” It’s an amazing tool to remind yourself of your mortality. It destroys tension, and puts you in touch with your humanness and how small you are. No matter what context you’re in, you don’t have to be, and can’t be, more than you really are.
Ever since I was little, I’ve been in a constant state of existential anxiety, it’s been a little bit of a preoccupation, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I think that’s probably the state of humans—an utter and palpable feeling of isolation—and that’s why we need to make things. Something happens when this switch gets turned on, and I realize, “Oh my gosh, we’re completely alone.” And that is what I try to tap into. I think that’s probably at the heart of why I like doing this so much. It’s a direct outlet for that anxiety, and through being other people and finding an engine of expression, there’s a feeling of immortality. I get to live all of these lives.
In character, there’s the artisanal aspect that’s interesting, but then there’s the more shamanistic elements, the ritual that is performed, with an audience in the hopes of bridging a spiritual plane. And I try to locate the spiritual plane. I’m obsessed with the idea that when people are really connected to a performance, it’s when the audience and the performer are breathing at the same time. A very pack-animal thing happens. Everyone’s breathing together, they become ‘in’ the same moment together. In a live room, it’s incredible, but with film, you can breathe with someone who’s long dead, but you find yourself moving together at the same rhythm. That’s communicating with the dead.
I believe very strongly in acting as an expressive art, not a communicative one. It’s more akin to abstract painting. When it becomes literal it dies. Because the camera only sees, it doesn’t dictate anything. The audience wants to experience someone seeing and feeling, not judging, not being ahead of it, just expressing their humanity, regardless of what the role is. There is a bit of subversion that has to happen as well, that’s when you connect back to the idea, “I’m going to die.” It’s fucking serious. I’m going to die. I can’t pretend that what’s happening in the room has happened before—it can only be about the present moment, regardless of how it unfolds. But all those things have to be unconscious and it all has to come to a head. And through that crisis, you can give voice to a particular life.
I recently was watching police brutality videos online. It would enrage me so much. My heart pounded from the horror of watching people abuse their power. I put myself there and tried to imagine being the victim or the aggressor. To imagine myself as the cop enraged me all the more, because there was a sadness about it; because you saw that he was all pumped up and the adrenaline was shooting through him, and he was scared—you try to imagine why he became a cop or why certain people become who they become, and how things change both over time and in a second.
We have selective empathy. All people have that. You can empathize with one thing, and then decide that this person does not deserve that. Of course, you know forgiveness is a funny thing. Forgiveness would mean that you still have to recognize their humanity, regardless of their actions or what crimes they commit. Beyond their cruelty, they’re just as isolated as you are. I guess they also have to forgive themselves. They make a construct where they’re not guilty, which is probably their way of survival. It’s a justification. I saturate myself with these things, and they get filtered into my work somehow, particularly the idea of abuse. I think that comes out in Ex Machina. Unconsciously.
The illusiveness of it is everything. As animals, we’re hardwired to respond to change. Any shift in environment, anything that you’re seeing, it electrifies you. In characters I try to find the mystery or the duality. There are always two things happening. One is who they’re trying to present, and two is who they can’t help but be. And those two things are constantly battling each other. And when one comes out, the other one comes out more, and that gives us a sense of, “We don’t know exactly who this person is or what they want.” You’re seeing these changes happening—it’s like meeting a new person. And that makes you pay attention. It lets you get lost in someone.
Sometimes all the work you put in, all the inspiration, all the meditations— all this melts away for a moment, and it really is like an elevated state of being for a second. It actually feels like a deeper version of myself. In those little moments, it’s such a spiritual thing. It’s worth all the work and the humiliation. With this work, although there is little chance of any physical danger, the possibility for psychological danger is high. You’re putting yourself into the arena and trying to allow your unconscious to speak to the world, and it’s a very weird thing to do, so the possibility for humiliation and psychological damage is worth it for the exhilarating moments of grace that happen when you’re surfing your own unconscious reality.”