Paul Scofield on how he created his Award-winning stage and screen role as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”.
From “Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World’s Great Actors Told in their Own Words”, pages 421-422.
“What matters to me is whether I like the play, for one thing, and for another, whether I can recognize and identify myself with the character I’m to play. My intuition for a part has failed me only once – for the part of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’, which opened in London in July of 1960.
“I felt a tremendous warmth toward the character. Then I came to play him and I didn’t know how. As the play is written, it gives nothing more than the bare lines of what the man is saying. Its all in the lines. There is no opportunity for embroidery.
“I had to start from scratch, making myself totally faithful to what was on the page: More was a lawyer, a man of tremendous faith, a complex and subtle character. Everything in him led inevitably toward a kind of forensic point of view. It was a rather cold-blooded way of ordering one’s mind.
“I found that the part had what seemed like dogmatic exposition. Simply saying the lines for what they were worth would make More sound like a very pompous and noisy man. If I said the lines with all the intensity they seemed to require, he would seem like an aggressive man. And he was not an aggressive man. So I had to find a way of making the man sound not pompous and not aggressive. And yet he had to sound strong. If you can see it, then you can do it.
“First, I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way that he would sound. Eventually, I discovered that if I used a specific range of my voice and characteristics of my voice that I had never used before, I might make him sound mild, even though what the lines themselves said was not mild… I used an accent for More that was absolutely a … thing of my own. My parents are Midlands people, with a very regional accent, and I drew somewhat on this accent and mixed it with some others.
“The way More sounded came out of my characterization of him as a lawyer. His dryness of mind, I found, led him to use a sort of dryness of speech. It evolved as I evolved the character. I would flatten or elongate a vowel in a certain way to get a certain effect I wanted. Not too much happened to the voice as a result of More’s being a man of faith and spirituality.
“One of the great traps in playing a man of spiritual depth is that one is given only a certain number of lines, and if they’re not made to sound absolutely true they are likely to sound very self-satisfied and sentimental. The false note is so often struck.
“Next I discovered More’s humor, and knew that that would be the thing to make him not smug. Then, More was a flesh-and-blood man, with strong family affections. His spiritual attitudes did not put him in the backwater of life… He used his senses. He enjoyed the things of life – food and wine and the rest. He didn’t relish physical discomfort. And he wouldn’t want to be hurt. At one point in the play, he says, ‘This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.’
“Because you are thinking and feeling all these things, the voice comes out in a certain way. Its constant communication between thinking and feeling. Otherwise the muscles don’t work, don’t take the right shape. One’s voice follows the rest. It somehow becomes a willing instrument… That is the kind of professional knowledge one has.”