NEW YORK—If you study Method acting at one of the great New York studios that grew out of the Stanislavsky system, the first thing they teach you is that acting is not about speaking, it’s about reacting.
“Always watch the actor who is not speaking,” the great Freddie Kareman used to tell his classes at Carnegie Hall. “If he’s engaged and focused and concentrated, that’s when you’ll see his craft.”
Or as Martin Scorsese once told me, “Pay no attention to the words. We’ll change the words. We’re looking for what’s underneath the words.”
The great thing about watching a Presidential debate with a split screen is that you get to watch the face that’s not speaking and you get to see what’s underneath the words.
And what did these two faces say?
Trump’s face, pinched, orange, topped by what can only be called a wispy ghost of a crewcut, was saying, “I can’t stand the sound of your voice. You’re annoying me. You’re a nothing.”
And Hillary’s face, coiffed, pancaked, accessorized, was saying, “I’m going to smile sarcastically, even if I hate him, so the crowd will think I don’t care.”
In other words, if you’re trying to decide which candidate is crazy, it’s not me!
I’m not sure who won. I used a ten-point-must scoring system, with the bout divided into 15 rounds, like professional boxing, and I had it 147-142 for Trump. I thought Trump won all the early rounds, but the referee turned on him about halfway through—Lester Holt of NBC News—trying to nail him on the birther issue and his taxes. (There were no corresponding “gotcha” questions for Hillary.) Trump let the questions get under his skin and started flailing wildly. Watching Hillary, you could tell she wanted to jump in a couple of times, then decided to rope-a-dope him. Trump recovered near the end, as both fighters were growing fatigued, and scored a couple of points when Hillary turned nasty and personal, practically accusing him of being an owner of female slaves before the whole thing petered out in a forced “I will support the winner” hug.