Yesterday’s “Greatest Female Villains” post led me to this Fatal Attraction clip, and a realization of how unrealistic and miscalculated Michael Douglas‘s acting is in this scene.

Like any husband who’s indulged in an impulsive weekend affair Douglas would naturally be focused on keeping his wife, played by Anne Archer, in the dark. However angry he might be about finding Glenn Close chatting with her, not getting busted would be absolutely paramount. The normal way to handle this situation would be to play along, be polite, adopt a pleasant demeanor and not give Archer the slightest reason to suspect that something’s up.

But Douglas, performing under the direction of Adrien Lyne, plays it the stupid way. He’s rude and sullen, giving Close a death-ray look and saying as little as possible. In the real world Archer would spot in a second that Douglas and Close not only know each other but that some kind of bad business might have gone down.

Lyne didn’t care about that. He wanted Douglas to echo the same negative emotions that the audience was going through when they saw Close sitting with Archer, and to hell with anything else.

This, in a nutshell, is what mediocre directing and acting are all about. Ignoring recognizable human behavior and focusing on goosing the audience.

From 6.18.10: “I’ve always winced at the moment in All The President’s Men when the actor portraying Kenneth Dahlberg says ‘I…uhm, I gave the check to Stans’ and Robert Redford-as-Bob Woodward pauses and goes, ‘Beg your pardon?’ As if to say, ‘Whoa…did you just spill the big beans?’ Reporters never express excitement when a source has revealed something big. That’s like jerking too hard on the fishing pole after getting a nibble. If anything, you should indicate that the just-revealed info is almost yawn-worthy, or certainly no big deal. Otherwise you could scare them off.

But ATPM director Alan Pakula wanted to make sure the audience understood that what Dahlberg said was huge, and so he told Redford to behave like a novice reporter and give Dahlberg every reason to think “uh-oh, did I just make things worse?”