Voodoo, Indeed

When playing a celebrity, actors can don one of three general approaches:

BUT BEFORE DESCRIBING THEM, some obligatory couching:

Note the word “general” above; there are obviously nuances within the following three umbrella categories, none of which are mutually exclusive to the others — think of this as an imperfect framework (…what’s a perfect framework?).

The first approach: impersonation, steeped in observable surface externality; hello, SNL!

The second: channeling — the chameleon all but becomes the famous figure, inside and out.

The third, AND MY FAVORITE: when the performance functions as more of a commentary than mimicry, where the obvious differences between the real person and the actor’s version operate as a running commentary through juxtaposition (again, the prior two approaches can also pull off commentary).

A recent example of this third variety:

Orson Welles is as remembered for his towering, imitable persona as he is for his art. Yet in the new movie Voodoo Macbeth, not only does Jewell Wilson Bridges look nothing like Orson, he deliberately skirts what have become Orson’s calling-card iconography: his expressive characteristics that defined and continue to define our perception of this giant of a specimen.

The effect: how does our relationship to and understanding of Orson change by radically altering the vehicle through which we see him?

Which is a pertinent question to the movie’s story: in 1936, Welles teamed up with the Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Theatre Unit to mount a voodoo-reset production of Macbeth, another form of artistic rebodying. Relocating the play into new architecture afforded fresh perspectives on the same old tale, all while leaving the original text intact.

Similarly, Voodoo Macbeth’s Orson Welles would read like the same old Orson Welles on the page, but filtering his character through Bridges’ shape-shifted reembodiment mingles with our conception of the man…just like their production mingled with audience’s conception of Macbeth.


P.S. This casting decision also overlaps with the content of Macbeth. Its witches conjure warped incarnations of expected reality; thus, in theory, they inspire (curse?) the Macbeths into becoming different people. To those who knew them before the witch’s influence, it might seem like they’re now different people, albeit in the same bodies.

And for Orson Welles in Voodoo Macbeth, he’s the same person, albeit in Jewell Wilson Bridges’ different body.

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