An actor can bring to life a character in so many ways, either though personality similarities or just through good acting. But can an actor or actress, really "play" the role of Insane? In both the Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire and its 1951-movie adaptation, directed by Elia Kazan, and Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, also with its movie adaptation the 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, we see two actresses playing the role of their characters all too well.
In A Streetcar Named Desire we witness the acting expertise of Vivien Leigh, who plays the role of Blanche DuBois. Blanche was a schoolteacher, who after getting involved with a student and losing both her job and home, arrives in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella (Kim Hunter). Blanche's character is one that is aloof and confused. She also has a drinking problem and obsessions about her beauty. Her lifestyle is on the glamorous side as she has her share of faux fur, expensive dresses and jewelry. Blanche appears to be a person that lived beyond her means. She is very flirtatious towards Stanley (Marlon Brando) at the beginning, but as the play unfolds, she begins to look at him more as the raging animal who takes advantage of her when she is at her lowest. Blanche is the tragic figure in this play as she loses her sanity at the end while being seduced against her will. Vivien Leigh is excellent as Blanche DuBois and is almost too convincing at losing her sanity. Could it be that the character of Blanche DuBois was a way for Vivien Leigh to vent her own suffering? After all, Vivien in her personal life had suffered two miscarriages, tuberculosis, and was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, making her a perfect candidate for the role of Miss DuBois.
In The Innocents, Deborah Kerr plays the character of Miss Giddens. Miss Giddens is the governess of two children at an estate, where the story of her insanity unfolds. She believes that the children that she is taking care of are somehow connected to the spirits of two deceased former employees of the estate. She begins to see as well as hear things and sets out to exorcize the children from these "ghosts." In my opinion, her suspicions are coming out of repressed thoughts that she may have in her mind; and, in working them out, she brings them to life. Kerr is also a very convincing manic, as that is in my opinion, what Miss Giddens is; as she through facial expressions and actions displays an unusual fear that sticks to the mind. However unlike Vivien Leigh, Kerr does not have a history of pain. Instead she asserts: "All the most successful people these days seem to be neurotic. Perhaps we should stop being sorry for them and start being sorry for me-for being so confounded normal."
Maybe there is nothing wrong with bringing one's character to life; after all, that is what "good acting" is about. It is about feeling and becoming one's character.
Leigh, Vivien. Biography for Vivien Leigh. http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0000046/bio.