Jean-Claude Carrière

The Roles We Play Publication date : October 11, 2007

“We all act. That's a known fact. We give ourselves a role, and then we cling to it. We choose a part and play it as well as we can, sometimes for as long as we live. Shakespeare takes this idea even further. He has Macbeth say, ‘Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more…' Let's accept this, at least for the length of one book.

“If we are actors, if our deep reality is performing, then a simple question arises: can the techniques that help actors improve their performances be used to help us lead our lives? Can activities and attitudes such as ‘dramaturgy' and ‘distancing' serve to help us?” writes Jean-Claude Carrière.

The author, who has worked in the theatre and the cinema for more than forty-five years, tries to answer these questions by taking us on a journey from Aristotle to Stanley Kubrick — with stops to study India's Natyasashtra, Scheherazade, the great Japanese No master Zeami, Boileau, Diderot, Stanislavski, Peter Brook and Luis Buñuel, among others.

Along the way, Carrière enlightens us on a number of our activities: religion, politics, mythology, love, war, and, of course, the theatre.

This book takes us on a joyful journey all over the world; it is filled with a wealth of events, surprises, meetings, portraits and experiences. We learn about Greece, the Bible and the mythological origins of Indian theatre. For the first time, we are given a short history of the universe's theatrical performances.

Preference is given to observation, point of view, and often humour. Carrière talks about the authors and directors he has worked with throughout his career. He says he felt the need to write this book because he had never read one like it. The advice he gives here will help us make better choices and to perform our roles better.

Acting, theatre and films are not simply representations of life; they also help us live. This is the lesson that the author, a multifaceted man of the theatre, gives us.

Jean-Claude Carrière is a writer, playwright and screenwriter. He is the author of, most notably, Fragilité (2006), Einstein, s'il vous plaît (2005) and La Controverse de Valladolid (1993).