FRINGE CINEMA MATT FRIETT 18 FRINGE CINEMA It started three weeks after Derrick Whitby was awarded Best Actor when, for the first time in Academy history, an Award was rescinded. As a result of a routine check-up and a physician manifestly more interested in tabloid fame than any doctor–patient confidentiality, certain chemical spikes were noticed in the veteran actor’s blood-work. His dressing-rooms, raided by police, revealed pills, vaccines and lotions: some prescription, others over-thecounter, and another of a more back-alley, cash-only variety. An actor with a drug problem: not the most surprising turn of events, and hardly worth the monumental decision to revoke an Award. But a drug-taker with an acting problem? That was something new. Tight-lipped on the subject for the first dozen interviews, Whitby – or his publicity team – eventually decided to offer an explanation and, with it, the revelation that the actor’s tour-de-force had not been entirely his own. Two or three hours before filming a particularly emotional scene, the actor would peruse his myriad substances and choose the appropriate ‘aid’. Sleeping pills encouraged a natural drowsiness in Whitby’s movements and speech when ‘tired’. Prozac with a mild amphetamine brought just the right amount of joy to the actor’s face for celebrations. And for those scenes where the character’s life was at its lowest and his thoughts were darkest, a cocktail of barbiturates caused, albeit temporarily, a very real depression – perfect for the camera. There was public outcry, and the Academy did that which had never before even been considered: Whitby had his award stripped, his person shamed, and he retired with what money remained after all the expenses, keeping from the public eye as best he could. But for what happened next the Academy was even less prepared. Over the subsequent months, dozens of actors, producers and directors – some of them Academy Award-winners themselves – came out in Whitby’s defence, all of them admitting either to using or supplying performanceenhancing substances. ‘A natural evolution of the Method!’ came the cry. ‘Stanislavski, Strasberg, Whitby.’ ‘What of an actor, whose parents died of some tragic circumstance, using this experience to further his performance? Does the Academy suggest we should instead murder our own family to achieve the performances which would come “naturally” to others?’ ‘Ours is to portray – and all is permissible in the attempt!’ The star, who had become all but un-hireable, found a new lease. Indeed, many say Whitby gave his greatest performances from then on. And the Academy, unable to ignore the growing number of actors openly using the ‘Derrick Method’, was forced to add a new category to the historic awards: Best Assisted Performance. And Whitby himself was the first recipient for a flawless Hamlet. Awarded posthumously, of course.