written by Annette Lange
Movies have the ability to draw me into an imaginary world that makes me want to fight for the characters in it. And it’s especially impressive, when actors are able to create such a believable performance, I don’t even notice acting, but I’m more concerned about the story than anything else.
However, actors also have the ability to throw people off just as fast as they are able to spark their interest and have the audience on the edge of their seats.
Here are some tips for the actors out there that want to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances” – as good old Sanford Meisner would say.
- What is the context of the story?
The first thing you should be concerned about is the story you’re telling through your acting. Know that it’s not about you. The importance should be the story, not you as the actor.
Before practising any scene, make sure you know what the purpose and theme of the story is. What role does your character play in the bigger picture? What is their relation to the other characters?
Know the context before you learn the lines. This will also help you in memorizing your lines easier.
So, do me a favor and know the context of the story more than Squidward here.
- Your lines – Know ‘em and throw ‘em
What immediately pulls me out of the story is when actors place emphasis on every single word of their lines.
When you really observe how people talk, you will notice they increase and decrease their volume, speed and intensity of their words. Sometimes they mumble, sometimes they emphasize. None of us really put emphasis on EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. AND. SAY. IT. WITH. THE. SAME. INTENSITY.
Remember that your character doesn’t have a script in the story. He/she is always reacting to something.
Know your lines well and respect the screenwriters who put the work into it, but make sure you know first and foremost know why you’re saying them in the bigger picture of the story.
Remember the subtext. There is a huge difference between what is being said and what the actor is actually saying. Play around with speed, volume, emphasis etc. Choose which words to put emphasis on, otherwise the audience will be distracted by your performance or bored. You don’t want them to look like Spongebob.
- Backstory – Why is the character the way he/she is?
This is one of the most exciting parts of acting. In a script, you will only get so much information about the character. So it’s up to you to create a compelling backstory that serves the story. I find that I can understand certain people so much better once I meet their parents or siblings and can imagine why they behave or react the way they do in certain situations.
If you have trouble identifying with your character’s choices, invent situations and relationships in their past that would have led them to the place they are at in that point of time. This will shift your focus from your performance to the thoughts your character would have at every moment in the scenes.
Remember, the camera catches the tiniest expressions on the face of the actor. The audience can tell the difference when the actor is simply delivering the lines or when the actor is really involved in the story.
- What does your character want?
Our behavior and our relationship with people is determined by what we want or what we need. And this applies to your character as well.
Knowing the objectives of your character is an extremely helpful tool that creates tension in the scene and therefore makes it compelling to watch. A lot of humor and drama results from different characters having competing objectives.
When you tackle your script, try to break it down and figure out what your character wants in the scene and how his objectives change as the story progresses. When you perform your scene, go after your objectives at all times – like Jelly fish…
- Don’t predetermine your character’s emotions!
A big trap actors can fall into is forcing emotions and planning out what our character should feel.
I highly doubt you wake up in the mornings and decide you’re going to cry when you meet Jack, and are going to be annoyed at the sight of Suzan.
Never map out the emotions your character should or is going to feel. Emotions always come as a response or reaction of what’s happening.
It is far more gripping to watch an actor try to fight tears, rather than watching him/he explicitly trying to cry.
So, as fellow actors, I urge you not to simply act out a scene the way you want it to look, but to focus on the story you’re telling – as believable as possible. Allow yourself to be a human – in life and in front the camera – it’s a vulnerable process, and I applaud you for that.
Make it count. Let go of your ego. Tell stories worth telling.