“CREATING A CHARACTER: A The Moni Yakim Legacy”
Moni Yakim was born in Jerusalem and began his career as performer himself, taking part in classics like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” but it is not his background is only a small part of the film. His heroes are Étienne Decroux, who created mime, and Stella Adler, who believed that actors must master techniques beyond their own knowledge and experience in order to portray a variety of characters. Moni became a teacher who gives over much of his teaching time to having his gifted young actors imitate mime and spends most of the class time in getting them to twist their bodies every which way. These gymnastics are the focus of the movie. We see his students yelling gibberish, or crawling on the floor learning the necessity of freeing the body. Yakim puts 90% of his energy into the physical work. He takes students beginning in their second year while his wife Mina works with the freshmen.
We have interviews with alumni such as Jessica Chastain, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oscar Isaac, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney and Anthony Mackie. We see former student Alex Sharp who went on to win a best actor Tony for his lead role in “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time” when he was a young man working in Moni’s class.
Moni Yakim has taught movement at the Juilliard School since 1968and is a guiding force for many actors, some of whom make brief appearances to celebrate their former teacher. The reunion between Yakim and Kevin Kline is very moving as the two embrace and talk about acting challenging each other in a game of pantomime. We feel the real, mutual affection and admiration between the two. Watching Yakim and Kline discuss and actually perform, takes us below the surface of Yakim’s core philosophy of acting: Movement is the most important tool an actor possesses.
This is a straightforward biography of Yakim’s professional life—starting in Israel, learning the art (and shunning the shallow entertainment) of pantomime in Paris, and coming to the United States to run his own company (with his wife Mina) before being recruited to teach at Juilliard. As intriguing as his life has been, the biographical part of the film shows us his central thesis about acting.
Yakim is, above all, a teacher whose legacy is the the success of his students and with this film we can see the actual theory and process of his teaching.