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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Keeping your characters true feelings hidden....how to play "Cover"

Playing "Cover" 

By Scott Rogers


Here's a "trick" I use on set when coaching an actor who is playing cover. I call it a "trick" because it isn't really technique. But it's a way to get a great performance out of an actor in a specific situation, quickly.  And it works, so I want to teach it to you.

There are always scenes wherein your character must hide or "cover" their true feelings and show something else, to whoever they are talking to in the scene. For example, suppose your character is secretly in love with a guy who likes you as a sister. He starts telling you about this girl he really likes which makes you feel sad and hurt, desperately so. Now, you don’t want him to see that hurt so you must cover it with something, let’s say happiness. 

The common mistake is either to play too much of the surface emotion (happiness) or to play too much of the underlying emotion (sadness). Some actors will try to play both and we see neither because the two emotions have cancelled each other out. So, what to do? 

I’ve used this trick for actors playing cover many, many times, (especially when the actor’s work is a little obvious). I take them aside and do this exercise right before they shoot the close-ups. Literally a few moments before "action". They end up doing a much deeper and more multi-leveled performance, and everyone on set thinks I am a brilliant coach. Truth is, they only have to do this simple trick!

First the actor must trigger and really feel the underlying emotion – right before you shoot and then, really cover it, just as you would in real life. Here's what I tell the actor on set - and I try to do this right before they're ready to shoot the close-ups:


"Let's read this one time together.  I want you to focus only on the underlying emotion. Don’t cover it at all; just let it all out as you say the lines. Don’t worry, you aren’t going to perform it this way but it’s important that you truly feel that underlying emotion so really let it out as you speak."

So, in the example from above, the actress would play the hurt and possibly the anger of having to listen to him talk about this girl he likes while she's secretly in love with him.  She would focus completely on feeling that pain and anger as she says all of her lines for me, without trying to hide it at all.  

Then, right away, we shoot the scene, while she's still feeling the emotions from a moment ago. and I tell her:

"This time play only the cover.  Simply, truthfully try to hide the pain and anger from him. Don't let him see it!" 



What ends up happening is that the actress ends up feeling real pain and, actually covering it!  Just like she would in real life. It creates a layered, nuanced performance that is truthful and powerful at the same time. We see the pain behind her eyes but she looks like she's really hiding it from him. 

Damn that actress is good! ;)
-From Scott Rogers Studios
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