Has there ever been a person who’s never wished they could travel through time? Whether it’s to go back to the grassy knoll, jump ahead to peek at the stock market, zoom to five seconds ago before you dropped your phone off the balcony, or journey to sixty-five million years in the past so that you can pet a tyrannosaurus Rex (not recommended), surely everyone has longed to step outside of our linear timeline for one reason or another.
Well, guess what fellow actors—we do it all the time. The real trick for us, in fact, is to avoid disappearing in time. We have to do the work necessary to make sure we’ve experienced every moment in the order it’s happened. Which can be ****ing hard!
And the challenge isn’t easy to pin down, because there are a lot of ways time can wrestle out of our grips.
For instance, unless we’re working on a story that takes place in real time, when we begin working on a text, we encounter our characters unmoored from the constraints of moment-to-moment chronology. If we’re in scenes 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9, then that usually means we’re popping into the narrative at different times of day, maybe even different days of the week, or even years of the century. We spend a lot of time (haha) focusing on our visible scenes, and rightly so! But we can’t neglect the in-between hours, days, or years either.
What has happened between scenes 2 and 5, not just with the story but with our characters? Did they go to work? Go home? Go on vacation? Alone? With family? With friends? Were they generally happy? Stressed out? Relieved? Depressed? What did they do, and how, and where, and with whom, and for god’s sake why??
If we simply allow our characters to time-travel between scenes 2 and 5, to just pop out of and back into existence, we’re doing ourselves, and the show, a disservice. We’re missing chunks of pertinent information.
Now I’m not saying we need to account for every single second of a person’s life off-stage, that would be an insane amount of work. We just need to understand that time has passed. And not quick, easy cinema-time either. We can’t just say we went home and slept and then got ready for work. We need to realize what that actually means in real life. The drive, the parking, the carrying bags inside, the taking off shoes (what, you wear your shoes inside? On the carpet? Neanderthal.), the routines, the minutes, the actual minutes that pass.
(There’s the making of a thesis here, that I have neither the time nor the expertise to run with…, about how a life-time of consuming media has royally messed up our conception of time, particularly with the happily-ever-after ending, wherein we just assume that everything is golden til the end of time, without taking into account that “til the end of time” is made of minutes and hours and days and weeks and months, and so on; montages have probably screwed me up so much!)
But that’s not the only form of time travel we have to concern ourselves with as actors. Aside from missing moments between scenes, there’s also the challenge of filming scenes out of order, of performing the same play night after night (each time we’re at the beginning has to be the first time our character has been there!), or even of taking a long break in between filming the first and second halves of the same scene.
The pictures above are an example of this last. Five months after filming a scene for episode 502 (“50% Off”) of Better Call Saul, I was called in to do some reshoots. They just wanted to add a little bit of dialogue to help clarify a moment in the sequence. But that meant I had to take myself back and make sure that Oakley didn’t do any time-traveling. It had to be a smooth transition from one shot to the next. It is a super common, but really interesting, challenge. Almost half of a year passed between these two photos.
Time travel is exciting to ponder—what might we do if we could step into the past or shoot off into the future? But as actors, our job is to make sure that no one ever knows we’ve done it. Because not only is time travel genuinely possible for us, it’s a damn nuisance.