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Performers Of The Month - May Winner: Outstanding Actress - Amy Acker


Amy Acker has enthralled and amazed television audiences ever since she hit the mainstream with her entrance into the Whedon-verse as Winifred “Fred” Burkle in Angel way back in 2001. Her career started years before, but that was her first mainstream role. She took the opportunity and, through her unique and engaging take on her character, immediately began to grow her fanbase. When she was on the screen, she grabbed the audience and intrigued them, making viewers want to see more of her. It didn’t take long for her to amass a fanbase large enough to give her a cult fan following, and it was with good reason. She was something special, and fans knew that from the get-go; many of those fans still loyally follow her. After Angel ended, she went on to build up an impressive resume of beloved characters ranging from good to evil and everything in-between. Then, she landed on Person of Interest, and her already impressively large fanbase skyrocketed in numbers as the character of Root earned Acker droves of new fans. Root immediately connected with the audience and made fans stop and ponder about her loyalties. The way Acker played her made it impossible to definitely determine her standing, which aided in building a mystery around the character. Root lived in a gray area and sometimes, especially in this situation, those types of characters can be the most fun to watch. Acker’s portrayal of Root endeared her to fans making it no surprise that she won the title of Outstanding Actress of May 2016 for her final outing as Root in the 100th episode, entitled The Day The World Went Away.

Acker is very detailed in her performances; from subtle shifts of her eyes to grand movements, she tells as much story with her body as she does with the dialogue. This was especially evident in the one quiet moment of the episode, shared between Acker and regular scene partner Sarah Shahi. In the post-apartment shootout scene, Acker took Root from full on badass killer mode to tender with just a subtle drop of tension in her shoulders. For a brief moment, she allowed Root to relax and share this moment of calm with Shaw. This moment was about Root revealing that for the first time in her life, she felt like she belonged and was exactly where she was meant to be, doing exactly what she was meant to be doing. Acker always softens her performance just a tad when she is in scenes with Shahi. Both characters are damaged souls who found peace with one another, and while Shaw struggles with emotion, it’s beautiful to see how Shaw changes Root. Through Shaw and Team Machine, Root became part of something bigger than herself and found the love of her life. The dialogue in this scene was delivered in a soft and tender way as Acker eased her hand into Shahi’s and fully sold the connection between the characters. She didn’t just take Shahi’s hand; she interlaced their fingers in a gesture of intimate familiarity between their characters. Far too often the dialogue is what is focused on, and what is used to define a performance, but the truth is so many elements go into an outstanding performance that to look over those small moments is irresponsible. Performers are given words and they are given direction, but what is delivered on the screen is their own interpretation of the material presented to them. The truly outstanding know that they have to deliver more than just words and tender wordless moments like this are every bit as important as line delivery.

Root has required Acker to portray everything from quiet moments to explosive action sequences, both of which she got to experience in this powerhouse episode as Team Machine desperately tried to protect Finch from Samaritan. This episode also allowed her to do one of the most technical and intense car chase scenes I’ve ever seen a television show pull off. What was truly impressive was how flawlessly Acker pulled off this scene showing Root’s prowess for accuracy and destruction. At one point Root was using her knees to steer while pulling her hair back and evading a barrage of bullets while trying to not hit any civilian cars. Any of those tasks alone would be a chore for a normal person but Root does it like it's second nature, and Acker makes it look like Root has done this a hundred times before. Most of the stuff thrown at Acker looks like it was incredibly hard to film, yet Acker was so at ease in her role that these sequences always came off as natural and organic for Root.

The part of the scene where Root steered the car with just the heel of her shoe was jaw dropping. I have nothing but respect for Person of Interest for allowing their female characters to be every bit as badass, if not more so at times, than their male counterparts. When Root wiggled her way out the sunroof and positioned her heel in that steering wheel, Acker looked so calm and collected that you could feel Root’s confidence through the screen. She was focused on the goal of the scene and she made viewers believe that Root was going to pull off the impossible - and she did. Not every actor could pull off a technical scene like this and not miss a single beat in dialogue. The shootout began mid-speech and the second their pursuers were neutralized, Root slid back into the driver’s seat and Acker picked up Root’s speech as if nothing had happened. This show has pulled off many impressive action sequences, but this was one of the most memorable because of the way Acker expertly navigated every single complicated aspect of it.

While this action sequence was visually the coolest one of the episode, and perhaps the series, the symphony shootout against Samaritan’s agents was perhaps the most important in order to tie up Root’s story. Acker shared the burden of this scene with Shahi, but the majority of the dialogue, once again, rested squarely on Acker’s shoulders. This required her to pull off another complicated, heavily choreographed shootout while delivering another very important speech. The speech itself, at its core, was about life and acceptance of all it can throw at you, delivered in typical Root-style. Even in these dangerous situations, Root was still doing everything in her power to help Shaw deal with all she has been through. Shaw has and, even in the face of death, always will be Root’s number one priority. She wanted to reassure Shaw and still, in her own way, tell Shaw how much she loves her. Given the circumstance, her symphony speech could have been portrayed as frantic and urgent but Acker delivered it in a calm and reassuring tone despite the bullets flying all around them. This whole symphony scene was, in essence, Root unknowingly saying goodbye to Shaw and Acker delivered it in typical nonchalant Root-fashion.

Much like their characters, Acker and Shahi always worked together like a perfect symphony and the fact that their last time sharing the screen together was during this moment just seemed appropriate. Acker developed an extraordinary rapport with Shahi that always shined through when they were on screen together. Because of Shaw’s personality disorder, Shahi was limited in the way she could allow Shaw to react to Root, meaning Acker had to carry the responsibility of showing the emotional bond between these characters. While the audience knows exactly how Root feels for Shaw, it was the way Acker had Root look at Shaw and the way she found excuses for Root to touch her that conveyed the level of emotion and explosive passion that existed and bonded these two together. It was a testament to the actresses that the relationship between their characters connected with the audience on such an emotional level. They took these two extremely intense characters that shouldn’t have worked as a couple and found a way to marry them together in a way that worked naturally. It was their chemistry that helped create this unconventional couple and it is their chemistry that made it a couple that will forever live on. Acker and Shahi shared the responsibility of this couple and it’s honestly impossible to talk about one of them without noting the part the other played. On screen, their characters were an unstoppable duo and off-screen they were just as unstoppable.

Before I deal with the heartbreaking fallout of this episode, I think it would be remiss of me to not find a moment to mention 6,741. The episode was one that fans had anxiously been waiting for since the moment Shaw and Root met. While the episode was only a mere simulation inflicted on Shaw, it allowed fans to understand the inner workings of Shaw’s feelings for Root. This episode gave Acker and Shahi an incredible platform to play the relationship between their characters and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Through the simulation, the audience got to see Shaw’s very believable interpretation of what a “four-alarm fire” between her and Root would be like. Acker was phenomenal in her portrayal of a slightly more subdued version of Root to accommodate the unique situation of playing a computer-interpreted version of Root. When the two were left alone, Acker allowed Root a brief moment of emotional vulnerability as she told Shaw that she never stopped trying to find her. She delivered the appropriate level of dominance in the makeout scene and expertly battled Shahi for control of the interaction. They both play Alpha personality characters so it was only appropriate for the characters, and their portrayers, to be physical with one another and battle for control and dominance. These actresses weren’t gentle on each other as they pushed and shoved each other around as the encounter demanded of them. I believe I even read that Acker got hurt filming this scene and both actresses walked away from it with more than a few bruises. The kissing was desperate, and the touches weren’t exactly tender, but the meaning of the scene was still significant. The only somewhat tender moment came during the half-beat at the start of the scene, where Root and Shaw cupped each other’s faces and their lips lingered over one another. The aggressive yet somehow still soft performance Acker delivered in this moment was breathtaking in its technical and visual perfection. While the actual makeout sequence was far from tender, what came after definitely was.

Root was in bed with the love of her life and after surviving their “four alarm fire”, all she cared about was being with (and touching) Shaw. Acker softly guided her hand along Shahi’s back as Root traced the scars on her beloved’s skin. Her dialogue was delivered softly but with a mix of awe and anger at all Shaw had survived to return to her. This was never meant to be a conventional love story but that didn’t stop Acker from always showing Root’s love for Shaw. This scene was important as it allowed the audience to see what it would look like if Shaw could return Root’s love on an emotional level. Acker led this part of the scene as Root tried to coax answers from Shaw on what she had been through, but the heart of this scene rests in the way Acker supported Shahi in a rare vulnerable moment for Shaw. Acker shared so many critical moments with Shahi over the seasons that their partnership has to be commented on and respected. While each actress is outstanding in their own right, they bring a “four alarm fire” every time they work together. One of the most beautiful things to watch on screen is when one performer can be seen protecting and aiding the performance of their scene partner through an emotionally taxing or intense scene.

Most of the time, acting is a partnership and to see two performers work in such perfect harmony is extraordinary. Acker and Shahi have been through some crazy situations together as Root and Shaw, so this was a nice payoff for all the hard work they’ve put into building the relationship between their characters. The emotional bond these actresses brought to their characters made Shaw’s sacrifice all the more heartbreaking, especially when accented by Acker’s gut-wrenching portrayal of Root cradling Shaw in her arms. Root is normally an emotionally in-control character, so to see so much pain instantaneously flood across Acker’s face really sold home the intense bond between these two characters. Granted, this was Samaritan’s simulated interpretation of how Root would react, based off of Shaw’s memories, but it was still a gut-wrenching performance by Acker.

That reaction was in complete contrast to how the actual reunion went down. Samaritan underestimated Root’s love for Shaw and ultimately Root would rather have died than been without Shaw again. It is this action that talked Shaw down and spared her life. That intense reunion was made all the more meaningful when Root lost her life in the very next episode. The reunion got its payoff during the symphony shootout: Root must have had a feeling one of them wasn’t going to make it out alive, and I think she had a feeling it was going to be her because she put a lot of heart into her speech to Shaw. She didn’t want to lose Shaw again and when they were separated in the fight, it was the first time in the episode Root looked genuinely afraid, but not for herself. She was terrified of losing Shaw and the way Acker played that moment made the whole situation, and its ultimate outcome, all the more poignant. Shaw lived and Root died but through Shaw and the Machine, Root will live on forever as Acker now lends her voice to the Machine. Ultimately, the Machine wanted to find a way to save Root, but it just wasn’t possible and the way Acker has gone on to give life to the Machine is nothing short of extraordinary. While that aspect of Acker’s performance didn’t air in May, I have to commend her for the way she allowed the Machine to come to life. Hearing the characters respond to the Machine all these years is one thing, but to finally have a voice to give life to her has made the Machine seem even more tangible and important. When all a performer has to work with is their voice, suddenly every inflection takes on more importance. Acker brilliantly transitioned from Root to the Machine while making both seem vastly different.

Amy Acker, like her co-stars, won’t be absent from our screens for long. Everyone knows her name and every casting director, producer, and the studio is likely pursuing her for some sort of project. Any performer that can cover the spectrum of acting the way she does will never go without work. We will be watching Amy for decades to come.

Starting this month I will be giving my fellow SpoilerTV staff members a chance to weigh-in on the winners.

What Others Think:

Laurel Weibezahn:
Amy Acker is known to Person of Interest fans as the super hacker of our hearts, Root, but she has been absolutely phenomenal in this last season playing two parts. Adding The Machine to her acting repertoire has shown just how integral she is to the cast and how well she understands both characters. The Machine tells Harold that she can match Root’s personality at an almost perfect level, but Acker is a good enough actress to be able to show that tiny difference. As happy as Harold is to hear her voice, this isn’t Root but the Machine deciding to respond and adapt to the world through her analog interface. The most remarkable part is: it’s all through voice. Perhaps that why the most chilling part of the simulations the Machine shows Harold is Root’s place in a Machine-less world. She works for Samaritan – but that’s no surprise. Root as a hacker had been seeking an AI, it makes perfect sense she would latch on to the other major player. Instead, it’s her personality that’s so disconcerting for fans. Seeing Root devoid of her warmth and compassion (something no one expected to say after that first season ending) was heartbreaking. It shows how well Acker works at keeping both her characters, Root and The Machine, profoundly human.

Because of the sheer number of episodes that CBS ran in May, it was impossible to cover every outstanding moment Amy Acker delivered. I was able to cover a bit more variety for her than I was Michael Emerson, but I still only touched on an extremely small fraction of the extraordinary work she did in May, so please feel free to discuss everything not covered in this article down in the comments section.

Amy Acker was your fan pick as the most Outstanding Actress Of May 2016. Hit the comments below to tell others why you think she earned this title and what you most enjoyed about her May performances.

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize Amy’s work and to honor her performance in May on Person of Interest. Shipper related bashing will not be tolerated in the comments even from Amy's fans. Honor the performer and her performance. Have fun and be kind to one another.

Note: This is a generic warning to avoid any issues in the comments section and to help keep this a fun and safe place to gush about the winners.


About the Author - Aimee Hicks
Aimee works for a newspaper in North Carolina and has a BA in Broadcasting and Cinema. She has been a TV lover since before she really understood what TV was. She has a long list of shows that she loves to watch and can be found on twitter (@ahicks83) live tweeting about each new episode whenever she can. If the show is sci-fi, fantasy, comic book based, drama, or action the odds are good she watches it or has at least watched a few episodes of it. She also has a love for comedies 2 Broke Girls and Mom. She was the original creator and co-founder of LOST Video Island (lostvideo.net) which is still operating under the management of the very capable and skilled group she turned it over to.
You can email her at aimee@spoilertv.com.
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