1. Get the lines down
They’re not important. You really need to commit them to memory so that they just fall out. You should be so used to your lines that there’s no memory of them. You’ve seen actors saying phrases like “I mean…” and “ummm…” or just plain freezing. The audience isn’t stupid. We know that this is a form of buying time. The actor is trying to remember a line. By doing this – you’re taking us out of the story. Get the lines down!
2. Forget the subtext
“Whhhhaaat?” I hear you say. Forget it. Your director will look after this in the form of actions. She is in control of story. Your job is to find character. And you do that by being in the moment – not by trying to second guess how this relates back to your character. Subtext is not your concern. Don’t tell anyone I said that. Reality is. I know this is controversial, but bear with me . . .
3. Examine a physical element of the other actor during a scene.
Eyes, clothes, hair. How do they carry themselves?
4. Choose one thing the other actor is doing and physically copy it.
Copy a different thing each time. See how the director likes it.
5. Listen carefully to the other actor.
Not only their lines. Always listen to the other actor. On and off camera.
6. Pick something about the other actor’s costume.
A necklace, a ring, a charm, tie or cufflink and admire or loathe it. Don’t indicate. Think the thoughts.
7. Repeat the other actor’s line in your head
On a significant line, really think about what the other actor said. Say it again in your head. Was it meant to hurt / praise / teach you? (your character) How do you feel now? Feeling comes before action. Repeat the line, then Feel the effect.
8. Ignore the camera.
Obviously. Don’t be too concerned with the frame. It’s always a close-up, Darling. Let the camera find you (it’s the Cinematographer and Director’s job to sort this stuff out). If the Director wants you to point your head a certain way, or hit a mark – find a character reason to get there. Discuss this with the director. Or invent your own reason. If it’s an ad you’re doing – direct yourself. The camera wants to see you thinking. We can feel your thoughts – there’s no need to project them.
9. Let yourself feel the environment
When you walk on, feel the air, the heat. Listen to environmental noises around you. The wind, birds, the hum of traffic. Smell the grass. Get into a place where even a loud noise might make you jump. Really tuck yourself in to the given circumstances that surround you. You might allow yourself to feel giddy during a scene.
10. This scene is his / hers
Even if the scene is actually your scene storywise, convince yourself that it really belongs to the other actor and really help them get it right.
All of the above will make you look good on screen. These “tricks” will take the emphasis of you and your “performance”. Acting in a scene should finsih with the feeling that you’ve been awoken from a dream. If you can remember all of these things, your ego will be so distracted that it won’t start chewing up the furniture during a take (ie. you won’t be accused of over-acting because, really, you weren’t acting in the first place).
When the camera is up your nose, all you have to do is think and it will be faithfully recorded to a hard drive. Not very romantic, I know – but we’re living in a technical age.
Note: Acting does not use tricks or games, it uses skills, craft and talent both natural and develvoped through working on your craft. I teach Friday evenings from 6 to 9 at Casting Call Entertainment. I did not write the list above, nor do I agree or disagree with items on the list. I am passing these on should they help you in your own craft, skills and in using your own talents. - Art Lynch