How to Discover the Subtext of a Script

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Subtext is arguably the most important focus for actors to grasp in their acting. The iceberg serves as a simplistic illustration, showing the subtext as the majority of ice which lays underneath the surface or words of the script.

The most common mistake for actors to make is to cling onto the top portion and go off the words alone. As soon as we read a script we figure out how the words should sound, instead of finding out the “why” behind the words. The “why” behind our actions.

This is how you find the why, and why it is so important.

There’s a million ways to say “hello”

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An example of subtext and not reading it comes from the classic line in a ton of scripts: “Hello”. Now here’s the scene: Jim meets Pamela at a train station and says the greeting.

Without digging and looking into the subtext of the scene, I would say hello like a greeting. That would naturally be the first thought most people have when they see the word. However, oops! plot twist. The “Hello” line was really a code to signal the sniper to hold their fire and spare the life of Pamela.

Thing is I would never know this just reading the line, I would need to do some digging to find the juicy piece of subtext meat. Here’s how.

Do some digging and ask the tough questions

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The best thing you can do in order to find subtext is by asking a bunch of questions. Ask questions about your character, about the circumstance, the relationships between the characters, and your motivations and goals.

To find out what’s really going on underneath the scene you need to comprehend how things actually work in life.

Using substitution will aid you in understanding the subtext of a scene. How would you personally react in this scene, or in these particular circumstances? Have you ever experienced something like this?

For example, I was workshopping a scene from the movie Wall Street, as part of a university project, and the subtext of the scene included the themes of betrayal and hurt between the characters. The girl and guy were previously in a relationship but now they differ when it comes to their work.

I thought about how I reacted when I felt betrayed by someone, similar to the guy in the scene, and it really helped me.

The hidden gem is your foundation

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From my personal experiences, I learned when you study the subtext and marry it with the physical action in the scene, you will remember your lines like there’s no tomorrow.

Here’s another thing to remember: when you’re in the scene you must trust the subtext you studied will remain with you during the scene. Let your focus be on the other people in the scene and what you’re doing and let go of the subtext. It’ll stay with you as you practice living in the moment.

The subtext, once learned, will be your foundation. Once you know the why, everything else will start to piece together.

Subtext is vital to learn. Don’t rush the process of studying your script, but ask the hard questions. It’ll take time to figure out what’s going on in a particular scene, it’ll take a little digging.

But the digging is worth it when you find out the precious subtext in the end. To me, finding the subtext in a scene is like finding buried treasure. It’s a precious gem just waiting to be discovered.

Subtext should act as your support. Don’t look to your words for your support. When you focus on the lines, they will try their hardest to escape you. But when you focus on the why of the scene, and everything that’s going on underneath the surface, you’ll find your anchor, and it will make a world of difference.

Actors, I cannot stress it enough: discover the subtext!

 

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Make talking to yourself genuine and authentic

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Fellow Actors, nobody wants to sit through a stilted performance of a lifeless monologue.

On the other hand, there is nothing more fascinating than watching an actor embody a character through monologue successfully. It’s incredible when he/she presents the character’s thoughts through his/her physical presence, imagination and inner activity – not just the words of the monologue.

This being said, here are helpful guidelines I summed up from legendary Uta Hagen’s take on performing monologues. By monologues, I mean any scene in which your character is alone in a given time and place and finds him/herself talking out loud for a specific reason at a moment of crisis.

First and foremost, it’s important we know:

WHY WE TALK TO OURSELVES

Talking to ourselves is always an attempt on our part to gain control over our circumstances.

These circumstances can look very different. They can be boredom or a tragic situation.

For example, when I’m in a hurry, my verbalisation of, “Ok, I’ve got my keys, my wallet… where’s my phone?” is merely my attempt at organisation. In the case of a dramatic monologue, Uta Hagen explains “it’s that you are in crisis and need the words to help you find answers.”

So, when you tackle your next monologue, make sure you determine and are aware of your circumstances – or your ‘crisis’.

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The next important aspect is observing yourself and others and knowing:

WHAT TALKING TO OURSELVES LOOKS LIKE

A big temptation for actors is putting too much emphasis on the actual words. Uta Hagen describes it as “mostly a subconscious procedure that makes you verbalize” because it is an involuntary process, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

Because we are often so caught up in our thoughts, words are merely the byproduct of trying to figure out a situation, or an emotion we are submerged in. It is, in other words, an overflow of our thought process about the circumstances we’re currently in or an experience we’ve just had.

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This is why it’s always important to take into consideration that:

OUR WORDS NEED PHYSICAL PRESENCE

In her book Respect for Acting, Hagen emphasizes the importance of partnering physical action with words: “I strongly recommend that the scene be found physically before you approach the verbal action […] you do not come into the room in order to talk to yourself [emphasis added].”

Generally, people aren’t actually physically still when they talk to themselves.

You will make life much easier for yourself if your words are accompanied by physical activity. You don’t have to finish the activity, but it will help in your character’s attempt to gain control over his/her circumstances.

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Even though physical presence is essential, be aware of:

THE DANGER WITH PHYSICAL ACTIONS

Partnering actions with your words does not mean you have to physically act out the words. Or as Hagen puts it, “Don’t illustrate the life you are verbally fantasizing.” This is an easy trap us actors can fall into. You don’t need to show your audience what your words mean, which brings me to the next point of danger.

In a monologue, your character is alone. He/she knows exactly what is going on and doesn’t need to explain to anyone the whole story. But, obviously your audience still needs to understand the context. This is why Hagen advises to “let the humanness of your behaviour reveal the necessary events” in order for them to understand the story.

I’m aware of the trickiness of partnering words with actions, so allow me to share:

HELPFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK IN PREPARATION

Similar to Hagen’s previous advice to start with the physicality of the monologue first, ask yourself:

“What would I do here if I didn’t talk?”

Start with the physical presence first, and at some point, as Hagen reassures us, it’s going to be easy to start talking.

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Consider what the real reason is of why you’re doing these things under the given circumstances in order to allow any verbal fantasy to take shape.

IN CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, don’t forget these guidelines aren’t meant to stress you out. They are there to help you make your performance as believable as possible in order to tell a story worth telling.

Have fun in your journey of exploring and imitating human behaviour, in order to let the stories you tell. Be an inspiration to your audience.

How to Promote Your Acting Career for Success

BY CHARIS JOY JACKSON

Actors need to get creative and build a community around their career. In other words, they need to promote themselves to become more successful.

This is not success in the manner of earning the bigger bucks, or becoming famous. Those can be byproducts of your success, BUT they should never be the reason to promote your acting career.

The success you’ll find in promoting your career come more in the community you build. The more you relate to your fan base and fellow dreamers, the more likely they’ll want to watch you in a film.

Here’s a couple tips to get you started on the path to success.

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CREATE A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM

Create your own Facebook page, start an instagram account, jump on Twitter, and build your own website. This can be a huge help to boost your career.

I’ve heard rumors of some agencies who won’t even look at you as a potential client unless you have a certain amount of followers on Instagram and Facebook. While I can’t confirm or deny this, I can understand the principle behind why an agency would do this.

If they can find someone who’s already showing themselves to be a bit of an “X-factor” then they are more likely to want to work with you. In some ways it means less work for them too, but it can also show them you mean business and acting isn’t just a hobby, but your life.

I would recommend you start with building your own Facebook page, but don’t do this unless you know you’re ready for the hard work of pursuing your dream. Acting is fun, but it is a lot of hard work and takes incredible tenacity to stick to it in the long haul.

If this sounds like you, then you should create a Facebook page. Invite everyone on your friends list if you can. The more personal the invite, the better. Send it to them in a message versus just clicking the invite button.

Then start your own Twitter and Instagram accounts. Follow other budding actors you know and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Follow casting companies like Backstage to get updates on potential auditions and jobs.

Having your own website can be helpful too. With platforms like Weebly, who do most of the hard work for you, it’s really easy to build your own site. If it’s done well, then it will aid your professional appearance, making it more likely for agencies and films to hire you.

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BE CONSISTENT WITH THE CONTENT YOU SHARE

An important key with your social media platform is to be consistent with what you produce. Set aside some time to figure out what you can realistically produce in a week, then create a schedule for yourself.

Research when each site’s high traffic times are and schedule posts for those times. Take advantage of the almighty hashtags on Twitter and Instagram especially. Ask questions, take pictures of the projects you’re a part of and be real with people.

The more real you are with your growing fan base, the more fans you’ll acquire.

For example, look at Robert Downey Jr. If anyone had the excuse to not promote themselves, it would be him, but if you’re like me and follow him on facebook, you know he’s always active with his fans and more than that, he’s real with them.

Zachary Levi is another actor I’ve noticed who is incredibly active with his fans. Almost daily, he’s responding to fans on Twitter, being real, sometimes even cheeky, but he’s still taking the time to see them as individuals versus a whole.

This is something I wish more actors would do as they build platforms to promote their careers.

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“Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.”

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I know it can be a bit scary to think about promoting yourself. Maybe you’re afraid it’ll look a bit pompous or narcissistic. Think of it more as you inviting them on the adventure, make them feel like they’re part of your inside team. Build a community of dreamers and creatives.

Barkhad Abdi – How to get awards without training

BY ANNETTE LANGE

In order to win the Bafta Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and get a part in popular movies, one must simply do the following:

 

  • Come from a difficult background in Somalia and flee to Yemen to escape sudden civil unrest and war
  • Win a Green Card Lottery and move to Minnesota at the age of 14
  • Learn English from TV shows and rap music
  • Become a limo driver, DJ and sell phones to make ends meet
  • Respond to a casting call for Captain Phillips and give the best performance out of 700 fellow auditioners to get the role of a Somali pirate
  • Co-star alongside Tom Hanks and give an excellent performance
  • Improvise iconic lines to add to the believability of the scene

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This, in a nutshell, is the story of Barkhad Abdi who made his major debut in Captain Phillips, without any acting training or experience prior to his role as ‘Abduwali Muse’. And, besides winning the Bafta Award, he got nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award as well.

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I love stories like his. People like Abdi are very refreshing. They haven’t been sheltered from the world, they had other things to worry about than staying in the loop with the latest trends. And when success comes to them as a surprise, it is an even more joyous achievement.

 

When asked about his response to co-starring with Tom Hanks, he recalled thinking, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with the Forrest Gump guy.”

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I first noticed Abdi in Eye in the Sky and I was extremely fascinated by his performance. When I realized he hadn’t been trained professionally, I was even more impressed.

 

The little training he had in preparation for Captain Phillips happened in the month prior to filming. Abdi had to learn to swim, handle guns and operate a ship. He only met Tom Hanks on the first day of shooting, so I bet his nerves helped him to create such a convincing character.

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There was a lot of doubt whether he would actually be able to make a career out of it, or if it was just a one-time golden opportunity.

 

His salary for his first performance was only increased very little from the mandated Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimum of $60,000 for a feature film. Even after his success, he was struggling financially.

 

He couldn’t even go back to work in his brother’s phone shop because everyone wanted to see him instead of buying phones. He seemed as if he was back to square one after reaching fame.

Perhaps his experience of reaching fame but finding it harder than expected could be compared to his experience of coming to the States:

 

“When I was leaving Yemen to come to America, things were tough. My dad had just been laid off, and it was a challenge. When I lived in Yemen, I thought America was a perfect place. Everything was bigger and better. I dreamed big. The American dream, you know? You have to work hard for your dream to come true.”
And he is working hard. I’m sure many directors have an eye on him after his performance in Eye in the Sky. And fortunately, his future looks promising as well. He has more acting projects lined up such as Hawaii 50, The Place that hits the Sun and the Sequel to Blade Runner. May the list go on and on!

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I am excited to see more of his acting. May he never loose that tenacious and creative spirit and continue to inspire fellow actors as he continues in his journey!

The Movie That Was To Be Poison At The Box Office

Written by Annette Lange.

If you want to know how to make movies, be sure to look at Michael Haneke’s work for inspiration in terms of affecting and capturing your audience through your film.

“How do you handle the suffering of a family member? What do you do when you stand helplessly and observe the merciless decline of a loved one’s mental and physical state?”

These are the questions Michael Haneke asks his audience with his latest film Amour (2013).

Haneke is known to be quite the perfectionist when it comes to his work. Every choice he makes has a specific purpose and is well thought-out. Haneke never gives answers. But he is able to stir up questions by getting to the very heart of his viewers’ emotions.

Amour deals with the question of how to deal with the suffering of a loved one. This same topic could have been explored through a story about young parents having to cope with their child dying of cancer, but Haneke chose a story that will concern us all at some point or another.

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The film revolves around an old couple of retired music teachers Anne and Georges. Their circumstances drastically change when Anne suffers a stroke and is left partially paralysed. They are forced to deal with their new set of circumstances as Anne’s physical and mental health gradually regresses.

Haneke chooses to tell the story through particularly long takes and steady shots. I found the distance of the camera to the characters very interesting because it was often far, while it’d be tempting to choose a close-up on the actors at particularly emotional moments.

Even these technical choices force the audience to witness and sit through uncomfortable situations we would intrinsically want to run away from, which makes the effect on us all the more impactful.

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This queasiness is added to through the choice of the location for filming. The story evolves almost entirely within the confines of Anne and Georges’ apartment – an exact replica of Haneke’s parents’ apartment. It feels as if the apartment is a character in itself, witnessing the succession of their challenges. We feel almost just as constricted as Anne who is unable to leave the apartment.

The story is not beautified through music in the background. In fact, the only music in the film is the music played by the characters themselves. This choice sets the film apart from being mere entertainment, to letting the audience feel entirely part of the story.

The audience experiences the events as they are – without embellishments.

Juliette Binoche, who has worked with Haneke, describes that “he has a drive to see and talk about the world ‘without fat’ so to speak, by removing the mask. […] A lot can be covered up in movies, and to get close to the skin, you need courage.” And Haneke definitely has that drive and courage, as well as his actors.

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His casting choice of Emmanuelle Riva (as Anne), Jean-Louis Trintignant (as Georges) and Isabelle Huppert (as Eva) couldn’t have been better. They allow themselves to sit in the emotion, the uncomfortable silences and the difficulties that come with dealing with Anne’s handicap physically and emotionally.

An example of these fascinating moments is when Georges’ realizes he just slapped Anne on the cheek in her feebleness. It hurts the viewer just as much as him. Or Anne having to be naked and washed by someone else is just as uncomfortable for us as it is for her. Most can identify with their daughter Eva who is left talking about investing in property because she doesn’t know how to handle her mother’s state.

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The situations themselves are ordinary. So ordinary, it’s scary. Haneke describes:

“My films are more difficult for the viewer to watch than they are for me and the actors to make.”

Haneke’s skill lies in the way he is able to make his audience feel.

When he introduced the idea of making Amour, his producer commented that it would be “poison at the box office” because of the taboos it would address. Countless awards later, it proved to have had the opposite effect.

Director Haneke reacts after receiving the Palme d'Or award for the film Amour during the awards ceremony of the 65th Cannes Film Festival

At first, I was trying to figure out what Haneke was trying to say or achieve, until I realized that it is Haneke’s intention to leave the interpretation up to us. “The film asks questions, something I always try to do, and if you expect an answer from me, or to provide you with an interpretation, I have to refuse it. […] I shouldn’t tell you how you are to view the film.”

Amour definitely had an effect on me. After watching it, I immediately gave my grandparents a call to tell them I loved them. And my view of the film changed from aversion to absolute appreciation after mulling over it within the next week.

Whether I understand or agree with the ending or not, is not the point. Haneke proved to be a master in his craft once again – using the powerful medium of cinematography  to its fullest potential.

How to Willy Wonka Your Way to an Acting Technique

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Follow me and you will see a world of pure imagination full of creative ways to develop your acting technique into the stuff of wonders.

For me, my journey of developing my own unique acting technique was similar to the ones of the children in Gene Wilder’s, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

While I was learning about all the different techniques, Meisner, Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, to name a few, I was a bit overwhelmed by which ones to use and which ones to avoid. I didn’t have a clear picture of what to do.

Then I thought about the analogy of a kid in a candy shop. Similar to the children in the movie, I was able to choose different acting techniques like candy. And in doing so, created my own ‘collection of sweets’ comprising a pile of style.

Try all the candy you want!

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Contrary to what our parents would tell us about eating candy, in this metaphor of creating your own technique, the best thing you can do is try all the candy. From the zany sours of Meisner, to the chocolate of Stanislavski, there’s so much to choose from.

For me, it’s an easy temptation to try to find one proven method and just stick to it. I want to be able to have a technique which will get me through various acting struggles I know I will encounter.

But the thing is, one technique alone probably won’t be enough. It might take certain tips from other people and experiences to help develop your style.

It takes time

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Imagine being given the challenge to try every type of candy in the world. How long do you think it would take you? Chances are, a fairly long time.

Same goes for developing your acting technique.

When approaching your own unique style, the best thing to have is patience. It takes people years, sometimes even decades, to get comfortable with a certain style of acting.

Give yourself time to try all sorts of different ones to see which of them you like.

Create your own candy

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Just like Wonka had his own recipes and factory, make your own factory of techniques. When you’re under pressure to learn something, you’re able to come up with your own strategies.

For example, during the first few short films I was in I had to scramble to study the scripts. Under pressure I was able to find out how I study: through many scribbled notes.

I wasn’t taught this, but I used it all the same and it worked. Thing is, you don’t have to use the techniques people suggest. You have the creative freedom to come up with your own unique system.

What I have found, through wrestling with what it means to act, is there’s no one correct way, it all depends on what works best for you. You have the ability to try every approach and technique, you’re not limited to one specific one.

You may find the best thing you can do in your acting is adopt a few things from each technique and disregard other things. In this way, there’s no pressure to find a technique as quickly as possible, because again, it will take time.

There are no limits here; take as much as you want. And fortunately, unlike candy, you won’t get a toothache by taking too much. So let Wonka’s story be inspiration to your own acting journey, and step into a world of pure imagination.