The actor and film director Taika Waititi made an interesting comment on his creative process:

“I’m the laziest, laziest actor you’ll ever come across.”

Taika Waititi

He said he’s too lazy to really try to do acting properly so he ends up just being himself. In his movie Jojo Rabbit, for example, he played a version of Hitler, as imagined by a ten-year-old child. But he couldn’t be bothered to read any background, so his comic/tragic version of the character is a lot like Waititi himself, rather than the notorious dictator. Did this work? Well the movie was nominated for several Oscars, and I think it won one, so he might have been doing something right.

More recently, he played a pirate in his comedy series, Our Flag Means Death, but having discovered that Blackbeard came from Bristol in the West Country of England, he thought it would be too hard to try that accent and so he just reverted to his own New Zealand voice.

“My range is me. I don’t try. And I’m successful, so…”

Taika Waititi

This nonchalance is endearing, but it rather masks the fact that Waititi is extremely prolific, often juggling several large projects at once, including some very big-budget movies. In 2017 he was too busy to pick up his New Zealander of the Year award. I suspect that what he means by ‘lazy’ is different from that word’s common usage! Perhaps his insistence on being himself actually helps him to produce highly creative work and plenty of it.

I’m mentioning all this because I think a lot of people have difficulty just being themselves. Perhaps they feel there is a role they are supposed to perform, or maybe they fear their real, authentic self, whatever that is, wouldn’t be good enough. Possibly, their environment doesn’t provide the kind of psychological safety they might need to reveal themselves as they are, so they are tempted to hide certain aspects of their character, to mask themselves, or hold themselves in. This can be exhausting, like holding your breath, and this exhaustion doesn’t support productive work.

Of course, I’m talking about myself here. I often feel that my best won’t be enough, that I’m only acceptable if I can jump some imaginary hurdle. But I recognise that this hesitancy is really mostly in my own mind. Taika Waititi’s career shows that at least for one person, relaxing into one’s own character is a way of releasing the energy to create high quality work, even if it isn’t what people are expecting.

I remember a few years back taking holiday snapshots with my phone. As I did so I was imagining that these photos of my ordinary holiday wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as the kind of thing you see on Instagram, where everything seems casual but you know it’s been carefully staged to look its best. But my camera app had just updated to a new layout and what I saw, instead of amateur snaps, was a perfect grid of scenes from a beachside paradise. My sense of inadequacy had been entirely made up. Reframed, my holiday and my record of it were far more than merely adequate. My casual shots were more than OK, they were quite good. And the holiday was wonderful. I’ve remembered that sudden revelation. And now I realise that all this time I’ve had things the wrong way around. I don’t need to be good enough to become creative; instead I want to be creative enough to become good.

A new mantra, then: my range is me.

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