Why am I a fan of Daffy?
Daffy had a nervy quality. He was a bit of a geek. He was not chic or elegant even if he wore clothing well and had a striking face. He did not exactly ‘fit in’ and often played the outsider, the antihero, the cad, or the nerd. He made the ‘outsider’ sexy but he never was ‘one of us’ to use one line from one of his films.
Today this ‘outsider’ quality gives his roles a tragic quality. The whole ‘Dark Star Persona’ is built on his outsider quality, his misfit unable to fit in, his desperate kid with his big nose pressed against the window starring into the warm and well lite room where normal people party happily.
Daffy’s nervy quality also appears in his jittery and volatile emotions. Normally Daffy took great care to underact but he rationed his performance to include one brief moment of volatile emotions or violence. When Daffy went violent he could be surprisingly vicious or dangerous or unpredictable. Some of his screen laughs were famously nasty or baiting. Daffy would react in a vulgar way on screen too sometimes, picking his nose, spitting, slapping someone backhanded, even in some films behaving very abusively to women. When Daffy ‘went dark’ he was very dark.
Yet the ‘Dark Star’ mystic very much included this dark side of Daffy. In an era that expected actors to be ‘nice’ and polite and manly to find an actor willing to go the other way was shocking and today noteworthy. Daffy make antiheros sexy.
Daffy was the first non villain actor to wear scruffy beards, appear unshaven, wear wrinkled costumes, appear to be perspiring or sweating on screen, have tangled hair, sometimes trip on camera on a sidewalk, or miss grabbing something, or appear to stumble or fumble or stutter. This is called ‘The Illusion of First Time’ as defined by Laurence Pendragon and Daffy very much believed in it. In real life people are not ‘smooth’ all of the time so before the camera Daffy tried not to appear too smooth or polished. Nowever he had a natural feline panther grace. He was very much a ‘cat’ person on screen even if off screen he was a dog lover.
Off screen Daffy was known to be borderline manic depressive, today called bi-polar. His off screen antics and infantile public scenes became notorious and earned him his nickname of ‘Daffy’. Daffy always regretted his antics and apologized over and over. A lot of directors and actors and actresses would not work with Daffy because off screen he was so emotional, one day on the Shining Plains of High Heaven, the next day desperately dispairing. People assumed he was on drugs or drunk. In fact Daffy was quite aware of his shortcomings and tried very hard to ‘rein in’ his personality —to no avail.
However on screen Daffy was diciplined, hard working, one of the first on the set every day and one of the last to leave each day. He rehearsed every scene over and over, preparing the stunts or actons scenes very carefully. He fussed with makeup and costumes relentlessly (and apologised over and over afterwards).
He wanted and needed his directors to ‘talk to me because contrary to rumors I really can’t read minds’ so he would know what they wanted and how they planned to shoot for what effect so he would be on the same wavelength. Some directors found this bothersome and called Daffy ‘The Director’s Shadow’. But other directors did indeed claim Daffy could read their minds because of his ability to deliver the scene they wanted apparently on instinct.
Daffy never took Supper (Lunch) but rather jogged, did ballroom dance to build up his endurance, and then did yoga. Daffy was a big yoga inthusiast. On screen you did not see Daffy being infantile (unless the character was infantile) or wildly emotional (unless the character was wildly emotional) or violent (unless the character was suppose to be violent).
If Daffy played a weakling he did not try to sneak in redemption scenes and if he played an abusive cad he was abusive. In one famous film he terrorized the fragile Wisteria Rosemont to tears on screne in a notorious scene of violence: tearing her dress to pieces, slapping her face, yanking her hair, screaming right into her face, throwing her onto the floor until she bled. Of course this was acting and off screen Wisteria Rosemont, a very real fragile teenager, actually adored Daffy as her protector and ‘older brother’ she never had. But on screen Daffy played the role as written. To be mean to Wisteria Rosemont on screen was something only the villain actor dared to do. The audience was shocked on seeing this film because they did not know if they were suppose to boo or what. But that was the role so Daffy did it. But being Daffy he also rehearsed very carefully before hand with the fragile Rosemont so she only appeared to be bleeding and terrorized.
Off screen Daffy tried to be a very professional actor and rehearsed with all of the performers, ‘sharing the sun of the camera’ to try to make everyone’s performance wonderful. He did not plot to hog the scene or upstage or undermine other performers but rather tried to make the film the best possible. His goal was always to make the best film possible.