The BEST way to memorize your lines
How many times has a friend told you a story, you hear it one time, and then go off and repeat it to another friend who says, “No.” To which you reply, “Verbatim, that’s what he said.” And wasn’t it pretty much verbatim? You didn’t forget anything did you? You didn’t leave anything out. You even manage doing the accents of the colorful characters your friend described as well as re-creating the, “Gigolo with the limp.” In life, this happens every day. You hear stories, then go off and repeat them practically word for word. You do this all the time yet never question how you do it. It’s an ability everyone takes for granted.
Many times you have no idea how long the story will be. Sometimes they are short and sometimes they go on and on, yet there never seems to be the need to make any notes. How is it that we can so easily remember in such magnificent detail these long, involved stories that are told to us? And without making a conscious effort to, remember so much?
First of all, in life we don’t try to actively memorize a story as we are hearing it. While we certainly hear words when someone tells us a story, we don’t really see words. We see images. For instance, if I told you I was fishing off the end of a very old rickety dock that stretched out onto a beautiful glacier fed lake in Alaska, and just as I caught a huge fish, the dock gave way and I fell in; what are you seeing? You don’t really see words, you see images. You probably saw your idea of a rickety dock, the cold lake, and the surrounding mountains. In your mind’s eye, you would see this unfortunate episode play out, and it would be this scene as explained by me, which you essentially saw, that you would recollect and retell to someone.
Actors get so preoccupied trying to memorize all of the individual words in the scene, they frequently fail to understand the larger story the words support. This is why actors get lost and forget their lines. They haven’t fully understood the gist of the scene or story. They have made their primary concern memorizing all their words in the correct order without first fully understanding why the words fall where they do.
Most actors start memorizing by highlighting their lines and saying them out loud, trying to sound natural. This is exactly how you’re not going to start. First you’re going to detach yourself from the piece and just try to understand it as a scene you’re observing. Forget acting it. Do not concern yourself with how you’ll say the lines. Take each line and make quick and simple sense out of why you respond the way you do. You don’t have to write these thoughts down, just have a dialogue with yourself and come up with a logical through line.
Just like in real life, if I asked you the reason why you just said what you did, you would be able to give me a logical explanation, in short order. Don’t try to memorize any dialogue until you are comfortable with your overall understanding of the scene and the logic of your lines.
Next, have someone prompt you, and using your logical response through line, see if you can at least give the gist of the proper reply. Once you get to the point of being able to give an, “in the ballpark response” start accurately memorizing your lines. Make sense of your words, don’t worry about, ”acting” them. Know your lines so well that you can say them at any speed and in any way. Do not learn them at one tempo. I’ve asked actors in rehearsal to pick up the pace of the scene and they were so totally thrown, they lost their lines. This is because they had learned them at a particular pace and in a particular way.
The final test in making sure you know your lines, is to have someone call out random cues and see if you know the response. If you’ve created a logical through line of cues and response, this one should be an easy test to pass. Most actors never try this. The truth is, most actors only know their lines by rote and by the order they’re in. Which means they really don’t know them.
Owning your words
Is nothing more important than owning your words. There is nothing more important than owning your argument. Actors tend to borrow these things and then pretend to own them. Herein lies the difference between a true professional and the novice amateur. Pretending to care is never as effective as actually caring. Pretending to mean what you say is never as effective as simply meaning what you say. Most actors sit with their text, trying to come up with the proper inflection and emotion to make the audience think they actually care about the things they are pretending to care about. They try very hard to sound sincere so no one will notice they’re actually faking it. They try to say their lines and affect their emotion in a way that would make one believe they meant every word they said.
What alternative do you have to pretending to care?
You simply care and you do it the same way people do, by making the choice to care. In every day life, you make decisions to care about new things all the time. Why do you care about these new things? Is it because you’re forced to? No, it’s because you chose to. You care about the new stray cat that’s been hanging around your door, the elderly neighbor who is always alone, or the article in the paper about the overfishing of our oceans.
If you’re confronted with the question as to why you care about such things you might say the poor cat looked hungry, the old man seems lonely, or overfishing is a global concern. No one forced you to care about these things. It wasn’t your duty to care about these things. You simply choose to care. You don’t pretend to care. For some simple reasons, you decide to care about these things. When you speak about the cat, the neighbor, or overfishing, you will speak with sincerity. You won’t have to worry whether or not you seem sincere. You won’t need to concern yourself with phony things like inflection or the right amount of emotion.
As soon an actor breaks down his script, making notes as to how he plans to say his lines or emphasize his emotion, he has accepted the fact that he is going to pretend to own a point of view. Whether they mean to or not, this is generally the actor’s main focus: trying to fake the audience into believing they actually mean what they say. Instead, simply choose to sincerely care and stop with the calibrated, meticulous preplanning of how you will fool us into believing you care. If you can allow the conflict in a given scene to be more important to resolve then you’re need to be convincing, you will never need to worry about being convincing.
Honestly owning your character’s point of view, story, desires, and conflict is the foundation for being a grounded, powerful, and convincing actor.
Justify, justify, justify
Since humans have the ability to reason, choices are never made without justifying the choosing. Behind every act committed on earth there is always some form of justification. We justify why we go to war, why we vacation, why we diet, why we are angry, sad, mad, glad; there is always a justification. Justifying our choices helps us to make sense of things. It helps us to live with ourselves. It helps us to find peace. It helps us to sleep.
Fully justifying your character’s choices and behavior, resolutely and without question, is what makes an actor’s work powerful and uncompromising. Above all else, it is the engine that drives your performance. It is being clear about what you do and why you do it. It is being secure in what you believe and why you believe it. It is self confidence.
In life, when confronted with a new issue or dilemma, we make a choice as to how we feel about it and then we solidify this new belief with a reasonable justification. Scenes are generally a battle of justifications; one character is upset with the other characters actions and it is the justifications that are offered as support. It is the justifications that are brought into question. The stronger your justification, the stronger your position. The stronger your position, the stronger your character. Just like in life, justification is what gives your choices strength and clarity.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a bad guy. Bad guys will give you solid justification for doing their bad deeds. Don’t come up with weak or faulty justification just because your character is in the wrong. Always give your character the best reasons and defense for doing what you do. Just like in real life. The story will always determine who wins and who loses. Not to worry. It’s in the script. You could be the worst guy in the world with the best justifications, it won’t change the outcome of the story, but it sure will be more interesting to watch.
Never limit your character’s capabilities
I always cringe when I hear an actor say, “My character wouldn’t do that.” It is such an artistically limiting statement. Who knows what anyone would really do? How often in life do you observe friends, people you know, doing things that are out of character? I see or hear about things like this all the time. In fact, I defy you to point out a day in world news without a story of someone doing something horrible that everyone agrees was completely out of character. The reason the stories are in the news is because people find it fascinating. It stuns them. Why? Because we are fascinated by the things people do that seem out of character. Why is this? Because the things that people do that are in character are generally not as newsworthy. The more out of character the action the more fascinating and newsworthy it is. It is a more fascinating story.
If you would accept the fact that the things done out of character are often more fascinating than the things done in character, then you would have to accept the fact that what makes it fascinating is that we don’t know people as well as we think. You’d also have to accept the fact that anyone is virtually capable of anything. If you have any difficulty agreeing with that last statement, I’d ask you once again to follow the world news for a few days.
So now, can you see how silly and limiting a statement like, “My character wouldn’t do that” can be? Statements like that generally speak to actors ideas of how they think their character should be directed. But here’s the thing, the only thing that’s really important is the collaborative effort to tell the story as well as possible. That means that everyone writers, actors, directors, and producers are all on the same page with wanting to do whatever is necessary to tell the best, most entertaining story, they can. If it adds, entertains, and moves a good, clear story forward, then we should all make the choice to put it in. If it doesn’t , if it isn’t useful, if it’s perhaps confusing or superfluous, or doesn’t add or enhance the direction we are collectively going in, we don’t use it.
Every time actors tells me they can’t come up with the reason why their character would do or feel a particular thing, I tell them I will give them 10 reasons right on the spot. The only thing an actor should limit his character’s actions or thoughts to is this; nothing. Since we can prove that anyone is capable of anything why on earth would an actor limit his characters capabilities?
It’s very simple, the actor comes up with their rendition of their character but remains open and is capable of integrating into their character any choice, action or thoughts that will be good for the story. The most engrossing and interesting stories told are the ones which remind us that we don’t really know what we think we know about other people.
Be open for the twist, it’s always more interesting to play and much more fascinating to watch.
Actors tend to show too much. This is because they want to make sure they’re being clear and that the audience isn’t missing a single nuance in their performance. While this is understandable, it’s also unrealistic. In life, most people don’t concern themselves with whether or not everyone in the room is getting every nuance of what they’re feeling.
In real life, if we had five cards in our hand that explained what we were about, most people would reveal one card, maybe two. An actor with the same amount of cards will flip over all five over as if transparency were a virtue in acting. Wrong. Transparency is boring and uneventful. The fact that most people tend to keep a few cards covered is what makes them more interesting and mysterious. It keeps the audience interested and more importantly, it keeps them awake.
In life, I try to be clear about what I need to be clear about in order to get what I want. As for the rest of it, people can take a guess. Most of the time, people guess well. People are smart enough to figure out what’s going on between the lines. It makes them think. It’s what draws the audience to the performance. Audiences love to figure things out. They enjoy connecting the dots.
Actors feel obliged as storytellers to make sure they’re telling their story clearly. Unwittingly, they end up betraying the reality in their work by behaving in a way real people don’t. They say one thing and not so subtly indicate something else. They clear their throat right before they, “make something up.” They pause too long or stare too long or stumbled too much and it’s all done to subtly underscore a message being secretly sent to the audience by the performer. But it’s neither subtle nor secret. Worst of all, it’s a message that need never be sent.
Audiences revel in the small revelations they experience as they are made to figure out what’s actually going on. They chortle with delight when they, “figure it out.” Have faith that the story, as it honestly unfolds, will give the audience all the clues they need. A treasure hunt is never as fun if the clues make it too easy.
If you want to do the real deal, fully connect with the other actor and don’t worry about who’s watching. Don’t worry about whether or not the audience is, “getting it.” Do your scenes as you would in real life and trust that the audience will connect the dots.
Creating real tension in a scene
The invisible line that is crossed whenever tension fills the room. Social customs, manners, etiquette, and acceptable behavior all stack up, just on the inside of that line. Whenever this line is crossed, whenever this boundary is breached, everyone in earshot is aware. Like in the old West, it is the moment the gunfighter stands up and flips his jacket back revealing his six shooter. Someone has a problem with something, and it’s going to need to be addressed. The air gets thick with anticipation. What is going to happen next?
In life, the amount of tension that can be felt at times can be gut wrenching. Similar scenes acted out don’t seem to create that same thickness in the air. The audience doesn’t quite feel the same tension one feels in a real life circumstance. Oh sure, we understand the story and we know that a particular moment is meant to be tense but I’m talking about the tension you feel when some, almost innocuous short phrase slips out that stops the room. As an observer you feel the air gets so thick you could cut it with a knife and at that moment you wish you were anyplace else. Why don’t we feel that same thickness in the air when we watch a play or movie?
In real life, society’s lines and boundaries are always present. They are a given. When you act, unless you impose them and are hyper aware of them, they do not exist. Poof! They disappear. There is no line to cross; no boundary to breach. The reason they disappear is because deep down the actor knows there will be no real consequence for their actions onstage. There are no real ramifications or repercussions. The actor will be able to be as mean, as rude, as cutting, as inappropriate as he wants to be, and the worst thing that will happen will be the other actors pretending to be scared or hurt. The air never gets thick. The audience never feels the same tension they would feel in life.
There is only one way to make these moments of real tension, palpable. You have to impose the same penalties on your actions you would encounter in life. You have to take responsibility for crossing the line as you would in life. In life, there is a funny little thing that happens to you when you’re about to cross the line. You realize you’re about to breech some etiquette, some form of social order. You are aware that you are about to hijack the current situation and divert it. It’s a brazen move and you know deep down once you make this move, things may change forever. You may never be able to go home again. But you don’t care. The thing you need to do next has become more important. Things are about to radically change and you’re willing to suffer the consequences.
Tension can’t be acted. Tension needs to be provoked. It needs to be prodded. Impose the same standards on your character as you do on yourself. Most people hate confrontations. When they are pushed to the point of having to confront, you can always feel there distaste for having been put in that position. The toughest guys in the world get nervous before a fight. Because the consequence is real and they know they will have to live with.
Actors need to make their work more personal. The more personal it is, the more sensitive you become to the material. The more sensitive you are to material, the more likely you are to be honestly provoked. This is how the air thickens up.
Between the words, “Action” and “Cut” you want to be the type of actor who takes it all very personally. You want to be the actor everyone else is a little intimidated to work with. Other actors are intimidated because when you’re in a scene with them and argue or criticize, or chastise, you never go easy. Your onstage confrontations seem more caustic, more hurtful. It’s because you actually seem to mean everything you say. It’s not the way you read your lines; it’s more than that. It’s as though you actually believe everything you’re saying and worse still, you mean it.
If you want to create tension, you need to pull the gloves off when you act. The other actor needs to believe you have crossed the acting line and are actually taking him to school, or to task in front of an audience and with no holds barred. You may have been friends before the curtain went up, and you may be grabbing a beer after, but right now you’re giving your friend the business and he’s feeling it all the way down to the soles of his shoes.
Remember, creating tension is never a result of the volume. It is when intention clashes with the order of things. Make sure your character is as aware of lines and boundaries the same way you are in life. Be hyperaware when you cross them and you’ll create real tension. Just like you do in life.
(Crossing the line creating tension)
Being the CEO of your career
When you confront a problem in your career take a step back like a wise CEO and assess it from all sides. Don’t be the lazy actor who is always complaining and blaming their current state on everyone else. Complaining becomes the lazy actor’s vocation and it’s so easy to do. You can relax on your front porch, complaining while rocking in a chair and sipping sweet tea. Complaining about the problem takes the place of correcting the problem.
Actors don’t become stars by complaining their way to the top although, they have been known to complain their way to the bottom. Being a smart, detached CEO means being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses for what they are. Try not to look at your self through rose colored glasses just because you’ve been intimate. Don’t be unnecessarily harsh either. Just be reasonable and honest with yourself. Ask yourself the question, “Why would they benefit in hiring you over someone else?” Your answer can’t be because you would promise to do a really, really good job. Everyone says that one. You have to be smarter than the rest of the highly inpatient mass. In 21st-century show business, you need to be a sharp, measured CEO.
Look at the market and use your logic to guide you into making the best moves. Accept the fact that the industry is overrun with way too many actors wanting far too few jobs. How do you separate yourself? How do you get noticed? How are you different and why is your difference so good? Anticipate where most of the mass is charging the wall and come up with a better point of entry that’ll better suit someone of your skills. Think outside the box. Don’t worry about how everyone else is doing it, come up with the best way for you. Blaze your own trail. Make up a new way to get where you’re going.
Don’t be the lazy actor who never acquires skill because it’s not a prerequisite to apply for the job. These types flood the market. If you really want to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd, get really good at what you do. This will immediately make you stand out. Don’t kid yourself, this industry loves talent. The hard part will be to have you work seen once you’re ready but, once they see it, the industry does recognize talent.
Avoid discussing how good you think you are. The truly talented ones never do. Their work always speaks for itself. These are the real actors, the real artists; they don’t go on and on about how good they are. They just get up and do it. They let their work, like the gunslingers pistol, do all the talking.
Be a smart CEO, get your talent in a training program and develop standout skills. Don’t rely on other people to get you where you want to go, figure it out for yourself. Take control of your career like an ambitious CEO and find the best way to get your product to market.
(Sample chapter: A big black monolith)
(The Real Life Actor on Amazon)
Acting classes with too many people
It’s always exciting to visit a class that is brimming with people. It creates a certain electricity. It gives actors confidence that they’ve probably stumbled into the right class. After all, if the class wasn’t effective why would there be so many people present? While this may be true, it’s not necessarily a great situation to get into. Acting is a doing sport. You need to practice it on a regular basis. If you can’t get on your feet and rehearse a scene with your teacher at least once a week, you might want to look for another class. Arguments are made for the fact that you learn a lot by watching. This is true. But even in the class where you get up once a week, you will still spend the remainder of that class watching other people work.
When classes become very successful actors clamor to get in. Since the teacher is only one person and since this one person is in business, he or she is going to want to make the best living they can. Which can sometimes mean over-filled classes. It’s completely understandable, but if you want to get the most out of an acting class you’re going to need to get on your feet as often as possible. A word to the wise: if you have a choice between a very popular class with too many people and a very good class that is smaller and allows you more time on your feet, pick the latter.
Solid time on your feet with a good coach will be worth much more then spending most of your time on the bench in a popular class. Don’t waste your time joining a trendy class just because someone told you it will look good on your resume. That’s baloney. I’ve auditioned over 10,000 actors in my career and all I ever focused on was their ability when they auditioned. That’s all that matters. The rest of it is just ink on a resume. The ink never gets you the job, your ability does. Practice, practice, practice as often as possible.
If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense. Don’t be intimidated.
One of the biggest commodities sold in most acting classes today is confusion. If you can keep actors confused, in a never ending maze, yet still tempt them with the dream of a big career waiting at the end like a block of cheese, you can have students for life. It’s like being sold a drug that creates a symptom, and then making you believe the only way to cure that symptom is to continue taking the drug.
Any teacher can master the art of confusion. Actors sit in confusing classes, feeling uncomfortable, and wondering why they can’t quite get it. They see a recognizable actor in the class and figure, if that person is there then it must be a good class. Or the instructor will talk about the old days when he once had a beer with Marlon Brando and how Marlon slapped him on the back and told him he was a good egg and he really knew his onions. So the actor stays, even though he feels uncomfortable with the silly exercises and never quite understands the acting jargon. He stays because he feels intimidated.
The biggest problem I have with these old or overwrought techniques is that the confusion they create leads to insecurity and insecurity is systemic. Being insecure effects every aspect of the actor’s career, from meetings with potential agents, to auditions, to just having a happy and sane life. Folks, we’re ultimately discussing and dissecting real life, something you should be very familiar with. It’s not quantum physics. If it’s not crystal-clear and if it doesn’t make perfect sense, flee.
Don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. You’re smarter than you think.
The actors should improve after receiving help from the teacher
You sit in an acting class having just watched a scene performed. You listen to the teacher give notes on the scene. The teacher makes a lot of sense. Certain, often heard platitudes are used. Undeniable wisdom is offered. The teacher makes a very good case for what is wrong with the scene. The teacher also makes a very good case for what the scene needs. You find yourself agreeing with the teacher’s criticism and notes. You look around the room and see lots of other heads nodding in agreement.
The same actors do the scene again but there is no real difference in their work. The problems remain and no improvement is made. The first thing you will think is, “I guess those actors don’t have the ability to understand and implement what the teacher was saying.” I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. If the actors don’t improve after the teacher’s notes, why are they in the class? Are they there just to have their flaws pointed out to a group of people?
Therein lies the difference between a teacher and a lecturer. A good lecturer is someone who can impart clear and useful knowledge. A teacher is someone who not only imparts clear and useful knowledge but also impacts change. A good teacher will not only make good sense with their notes but will also have the ability to connect with their students in a way that will facilitate positive change in their work. The best teachers are able to get immediate improvement from their actors. That’s what you’re looking for. Find one of them.
You shouldn’t have to rehearse with your scene partner outside of class
I think rehearsing with your partner outside of class is a bad idea. I’m not talking about running lines with someone. I’m talking about full blown rehearsing, blocking, props, etc. I can give you plenty of reasons why I feel this way. Number one is that you are never given a similar opportunity in a working environment. Professionals don’t get together to work on scenes on their own. It’s all done, on stage, on set, in front of the director and crew.
Okay, but what would it hurt if you did it anyway?
The actors I’ve worked with who come from a background of rehearsing on their own with scene partners are frequently lost when they get up in front of people and try to rehearse a scene for the first time, which is exactly what you’ll be doing every time you book a job. You will have made the mistake of having gotten used to working your stuff out and getting comfortable with your scene partner before ever coming to the set. This is a false security you do not want to nurture.
Sets aren’t always quiet focused laboratories, where concentration can be found in abundance. There are all sorts of distractions. You often meet the star of the show right before you run the scene. As you’re running the scene with the star you just met, there is generally a person down on the ground placing colored bits of tape corresponding to where you seem to stop in the scene. These bits of tape are used as focal length marks so they can keep you in focus when they shoot the scene. In your periphery you may notice a lot of crew silently milling about, not out of disrespect, they just have to get ready for this scene or the next.
TV and movie sets are always in a battle with the clock. It can all be more than a little distracting and you really can’t afford to be distracted. You need to get used to the way it’s going to be. Daniel Day Lewis is not going to invite you to his house to run the scene a bunch of times and then drink wine with you while you the two of you cook pasta and laugh the night away. He’ll just show up on set looking like Lincoln, you’ll address him as Mr. President, and then get on with it. Rehearsing alone with your scene partner is a lousy habit. It won’t happen in a professional circumstance. Avoid it whenever possible.
Yeah, but still, what would it hurt if you did it anyway?
The worst part of working without a director is the need for the actors to watch themselves. If there is no one to assess the situation for you, you will need to do it yourself. You’ll have to pay attention to your behavior in a way that you wouldn’t in life. You’ll end up subtly directing each other and yourself. This is not genuine human behavior. We are certainly conscious of most of our behavior in life, but two actors in the scene by themselves will have to be extra vigilant. This will necessitate concerning yourself with details a real person would never concern himself with. This will become a bad habit and will lead to the actor always bringing a little bit of false behavior into his work. You want to be in an environment that’ll allow you to most honestly pursue the needs of your character. Always rehearsing in front of a teacher or director can solve this problem.
(Classroom acting vs. real life acting)
Avoid classes with too many “exercises”
Most acting methods want to have their actors first stew in a pot of analytical scene analysis. Actors are told they need to breakdown every line, every idea, every nuance, and every possible double meaning in the text. They are told to do relaxation exercises, which implies they are tense. They are told to work harder on their script breakdown, which implies they are probably missing something. They’re told to focus on their breathing, which implies they are breathing incorrectly. These kinds of statements only succeed in knocking the actor back on his heels and off-balance. What the actor first thought he understood and had a handle on is suddenly out of reach. Now, he’s thinking too much, he’s in his head, and he’s questioning his instincts.
It’s not the busywork of script analysis that I object to, it’s the adverse, detrimental effect of training actors to deal with their lines in an unnatural manner. Classes will make the argument that these exercises give the actor a good foundation. A good foundation for what? Something to stack more unnecessary exercises on? If a school wants actors to pretend like they’re walking around inside a whales womb, fine. I have no problem with that. Playing make-believe can be fun. However, I don’t ask adult actors to engage in these types of theater exercises. People often say, “Theatre exercises help get people out of their shell.” What shell? The people who show up for my classes are there to become working actors. These types of people tend to be natural storytellers and extroverts. These people weren’t brought up in caves and raised by wolves. People looking for acting classes generally don’t wander in from foreign prisons where they spent the last 10 years in solitary confinement.
Try to find the class that focuses on the matter at hand and the matter at hand is always the scene. Scene work should be approached the same way we approach similar scenes in real life. How do you prepare for a scene in real life? You probably go over the facts, you decide why you are right, why the other person is wrong, you decide how you want the argument end up, but do you ever do exercises to get ready for them? Do you do a relaxation exercise? Do you do tongue twisters? Yet every time you enter into one of these very important scenes in life does the fact that you didn’t engage in any of those exercises ever hold you back? That’s how life works. That’s how scene study should be conducted. The rest of it is overused, antiquated malarkey.
Avoid it whenever possible.
(Questioning common ideas)
You should leave class feeling inspired and motivated, not humbled and beat
I don’t really have any issues with tough, demanding teachers. It is an incredibly tough and competitive business, so there’s nothing wrong with a teacher who reflects that toughness. However, at the end of it all, a student should walk out of a class feeling inspired, not beaten. Acting teachers will argue that because it is such a tough and demanding business they shouldn’t coddle their students. I would agree, but I don’t think that means they should set out to break their students spirits and create insecurity. Being tough is the easiest thing an acting teacher can do. They can justify their behavior with some of the aforementioned facts. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s generally a lazy way out of a lesson; blame the inability for the student to improve on the student. Criticize their work and chastise them for not be “committed” enough.
Anyone will tell you, building something is harder than tearing it down. The student will encounter enough hard knocks in real life, the classroom should be a safe place, an oasis of patience and understanding. A place where a good student can work hard and not be criticized as much as enlightened and inspired. Throughout history, the best teachers in any field were remembered for being able to do those two things. They enlightened and inspired. Effective teachers instill confidence. Artists tap into their true potential when they are confident.
There was a study done amongst highly successful people and the one constant they found in all of them wasn’t their socioeconomic background or the schools they attended, it was simply that when they were young, their parents instilled confidence in them. A good acting class should ultimately instill confidence, enlighten and inspire you.
The entertainment industry will kick your ass and try and steal your confidence.
You shouldn’t need to pay an acting coach for that.
(The Real Life Actor on Amazon)
Moving and fiddling
Of the things I’ve noticed when I’m directing or teaching is the insatiable need most actors have to constantly be moving while they’re acting. Their acting becomes about where they’re going to move next. There’s nothing wrong with having physical movement in a scene, the staging of a play or the blocking of a scene for film needs movement, and lots of it. But there’s a difference between organically motivated moves and the self-directed moves of actors.
As a director, I’m always interested in the actor’s natural impulse to move. I’m not as interested in the actor’s impulse to stage the scene. Sometimes actors think they’re following an acting impulse, but what they’re really doing is coming up with ways to block the scene. They say things like, “how about if I walk over and put my foot on this bench while I talk to him?” In life, people don’t make plans like that.
The problem I run into when I’m directing a scene with move happy actors, is it creates confusion. The actor’s attention is split between servicing the information of the scene and thinking about where they should move to next. Human beings don’t concern themselves with how they should stage their body in a room. Human beings move to better pursue what they’re after or to find more comfort. That’s it. If the actor isn’t fully committed to the content and conflict of the scene, we are not having an honest rehearsal. If the actor is focusing on blocking himself in the scene, then I’m not working with a clean, honest canvas. My actor is constantly going AWOL with all sorts of erroneous wanderings. Next time you work on a scene, see how few moves you need to make to accomplish what you’re after in the scene.
Along with attempting to quiet the unnecessary movement, I also want you to quiet the need to play with props. This business of giving your character activities to make the scene more natural can also lead you down a false path. Some actors are obsessed with wanting to do activities because they think it makes them more interesting. I’ve heard actors say many times: “I don’t feel interesting just sitting here. Is there a little activity I could do? Perhaps I could shuffle some cards, peel a potato, or play with a box of matches.” It gives their hands something to do. It makes them feel more natural. While these little activities can add texture to a scene and certainly scenes should have activities, actors should never feel that they need an activity to be interesting.
In life, people are interesting and it’s not because of the little activities they happen to be doing. In fact, how often are people doing activities when you’re in discussions with them? Most people don’t do little activities when they’re having discussions and it annoys them when other people do. You’ve heard it many times: “Put that down, I’m talking to you.” “Stop washing the dishes, I’m trying to discuss something.” “Quit playing computer games, we’re having a problem.”
Let your character’s need motivate your moves. If you don’t need to move, don’t. Always remember; In real life, you never need an activity to be interesting. If you truly believe you need an activity to be interesting, the next time it’s important for you to impress someone you might want to take along a little piece of brass you can polish, or perhaps a little needlepoint.
Be still. Focus on your story. There’s nothing as mesmerizing as an actor who can sit still and still be mesmerizing. Aspire to that.
Quit trying to “become” the character
This is one of those myths that really needs debunking. Actors don’t become their characters. They can’t. If they actually became their characters, wouldn’t suddenly finding themselves on a movie set be confusing for them?
If you think I’m taking the phrase too literally then what do people mean? Do they mean, you just become the character between, “Action” and “Cut?” Still, even between, “Action” and “Cut,” if you became the character and were playing the part of a criminal on the run, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable with a crew filming you? Wouldn’t you want to get out of there fast? I would.
Perhaps they mean that you become the character but still know it’s a movie and you still know your lines and all your blocking. And even though you’ve become the character, when the fight starts, you’ll remember not to actually hit the other guy. Then, when the guy shoots you with his fake gun, even though you’ve become the character, you’ll remember to fake die right after the fake blood pack explodes on your chest.
Because if that’s what they mean, then all they’re describing is, acting.
Some actors get caught up pursuing a romantic notion that they will “become” the character. As a result of “becoming” the character, all of the mannerisms, movements, and line readings will all be channeled through this “other” person they, “magically” or “hypnotically” become.
Rubbish. Come on, doesn’t this all sound a little romantically silly?
All sets are generally in a hurry. The best they can sometimes do is try to create an atmosphere that they’re not in a hurry. But every set is fighting the clock and a setting sun. Actors need to be focused and present. Things change, locations, dialogue, etc. Actors need to adapt to those changes and “make magic” as quickly and efficiently as possible. Actors don’t have time to indulge in “character conjuring” to get the work done.
Never worry about the character, the lines and situation always dictate character. If you discuss what it’s like to be a policeman, we will assume you’re policeman. If you tell us about the third bar fight you had this week, we will assume you’re a rowdy person who likes to drink. If you tell us about the problems you had with one of the partners at the veterinary clinic, we will assume you’re a veterinarian. Don’t worry about becoming characters, just say your lines with truth and sincerity, Wear the costume, be the situation and the audience will see the character they need to see.
Try to be as truthful, as authentic, as spontaneous as you can be while still servicing the story as well as the technical requirements of the scene. Never worry about “becoming” the character. Don’t waste your time trying to trick yourself into believing you’re something you’re not. Spend your time tricking the audience. That’s what they’re paying for.
(Do we actually become the character?)
Stop with the excuses already
The more time you spend on excuses the less time you’ll spend on achieving results. Actors who allow themselves to make excuses will forever find reasons to need to. You see these types everywhere. They show up to auditions mumbling about how they just got the sides and how their agents screwed up their appointment time and how they had to take their cat to the vet first, blah, blah, blah. No one cares. Least of all the people you’re trying to get a job from. Avoid being this type of actor. There are already far too many of them out there.
Once you adopt the no excuse policy, everything about the way you work will improve. You’ll never be late for anything, you’ll always be prepared for auditions, and always ready to rehearse or work. Whenever an actor tells me their life is such that getting their work done or being places on time is next to impossible, I always ask them the same question, “If you were auditioning for Steven Spielberg’s latest film, would you be late for your meeting with him and would you have your material fully prepared?” If the actor says he’d be prepared and on time, then there is no excuse for his faulty behavior. If the actor says it really depends on the day and what he has going on, I would tell the actor to look for another vocation.
Put in the work and develop the focus to be a true professional. This will separate you from the rest of the pack. Be the actor who is always on time, fully prepared, and excuse free. You’ll never need to offer up excuses because there will be nothing you will ever need to excuse. Your work will improve and your confidence will increase. Become the pro all others aspire to be. Set the example.
Never apologize after a performance
Ever. It’s lame. Always. Amen.
Nip it in the bud. End it. Don’t ever do it. Lose this kind of thinking from your mental vocabulary. The more you allow this type of thinking the more apt you are to remain perched on your own shoulder when you work, forever whispering criticisms into your own ear. It’s a self imposed distraction. You’ll never be the free artist you want to be if you allow the critic gnome to reside on your shoulder. The actor who is forever apologizing and excusing has one of these gnomes in residence.
Actors think there is a certain humility about being brazenly honest in the assessment of their own work. There isn’t. It’s just self-indulgent. No one wants to hear apologies and reasons; we just want to see results. There is an old saying, “Woulda, shoulda, coulda.”
Apologizing for a performance can seem innocent enough. Someone offers you kind words about your performance, but in all honesty you feel it important to come clean with what you really thought of the performance. You want to make it clear that you’re normally much better. Well if you could’ve been, you should’ve been. Don’t apologize, excuse or explain, accept the compliment and say, “Thank you.”
It’s also an uncomfortable position you put audience members in when they’re thanking you for the evening and you respond with how lousy you felt you were. It’s bad form. If someone is sincerely congratulating you on what they perceive to be a nice performance, be gracious. Don’t put them in an awkward position by challenging their perception.
We all want to do well. We all want to give the performance of a lifetime whenever we get up to perform. But that isn’t always going to happen. Besides, anyone can say, “Oh you should’ve been here last night, I was really cooking and then.” Since talk is cheap, why bother?
Show us how great you are by example, not with disclaimers. Be gracious. Accept kind words and be thankful. If you think your work needs improvement, improve it. But don’t tell us about it, show us.
(The Real Life Actor on Amazon)
You’re looking for information on how to become and actor and there is a lot of information out there.
Be clear about why you want to be in the business.
The entertainment industry is a tough, tough, tough business. Did I mention it was a tough business? It is also a great industry that I am proud to have been in for 35 years. But with an unemployment rate of over 90% it can be grueling at times. The first thing you need to be really honest and clear about is, why do you want to be in the business? It should be an important reason. It should be a powerful reason. Because it’ll be this reason that will keep you going when the going gets tough. And it will get tough. There has to be something about acting that is important to the core of who you are. There has to be something about being an entertainer that seems to complete you when you’re given the opportunity to do it. It is this powerful desire that will drive you through insurmountable challenges kind of like the salmon who fight their way upstream, against strong current, up waterfalls in order to fulfill their destiny.
Reasons like making lots of money, or becoming famous will fall away quickly in the average career. If you want the best chance for success, truly fall in love with the process of learning your craft, of being a better artist, of truly enjoying what it means to be an entertainer. These desires and ambitions are more likely to see you through the storms in your career and will give you the energy to get you up this mountain you‘ve decided to climb. There is an old saying that’s been around the business forever: If you can imagine yourself doing anything other then being an actor, by all means, go do that other thing.
Save yourself. Or learn to love the process. Because chances are it’s going to be a lengthy process.
What is great acting?
Not who is a great actor, but rather what specifically is great about their acting? Come to a clear understanding of what you think great acting is. Since you plan on pursuing a career in acting, the sooner you come to an understanding of what great acting is and what you are trying to emulate, the better off you’ll be. If you take the time to break down what you think good acting is, you’ll have a much better understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.
For me, great acting begins when an actor is so believable that I forget I’m watching an actor, acting. I get so swept up in the sincerity of their work that I accept them as the character they or portraying. They seem spontaneous in thought and action. I don’t feel like I’m hearing rehearsed lines. Their work commands my attention. It makes me care. It makes me want to see what will happen next. It’s honest. It never seems contrived. It’s as real as anything I’ve seen in life. In short, it seems like real life unfolding before my eyes.
Your ultimate goal should be to conjure and create real life experiences out of make-believe situations. The authenticity of real life cannot be improved upon. Find authenticity in your work. That’s how you will captivate and move audiences.
Whenever possible try to think of your work as a real life, we’ll call it acting only because people are watching.
(What is great acting?)
Learn to swim before you dive in
The title says it all. Yes, it’s a very exciting business and if it’s the type of thing you fancy, there is nothing as exciting as working on a professional set. Getting to do the thing you love to do, the excitement, the attention, the adulation, it all can be very intoxicating. Even the smallest jobs can offer a fair paychecks. I’ve said it many times about acting, “It sure beats working for a living.” This is why you want to treat it like the outrageous opportunity it is. You want to be fully sure you are capable of doing the job before you apply for the job.
The chances of getting to a point where you have the opportunity to audition for a professional job, let alone a really great one, are slim. This isn’t meant to dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. I’m just trying to give you some straight talk so you can more realistically pursue them. If opportunity knocks, you want to make sure that you can deliver. The casting directors that audition you are deluged with possibilities for a given role. If you walk into the casting directors office and reek of inexperience, it may be the last time you have the opportunity to walk into that office. Casting directors don’t have the time to waste on those who’ve already proven themselves to be inexperienced, ill prepared, or unprofessional. You want to make sure that you are completely capable, confident, and ready, before you apply for professional jobs.
I’ll make a distinction between professional jobs and regional and community theater or student films, etc. It’s in these projects that you will be able to sharpen your skills. But you really want to know the ropes before you walk into a professional audition or onto a professional set. Make the wrong move and it may prematurely end your career. Make the right move and it may lengthen your career.
You wouldn’t enter a professional boxing match without knowing how to box would you? Think of the entertainment industry as a boxing match. You don’t want to get knocked out too early.
What is the product you are selling?
Keep this in mind: There is only one you. The way you see things and your perspective is the artist’s eye that you bring your work. Always concede as little as possible to character. If you can use yourself in the part as is, do it. Only make the adjustments that are absolutely necessary. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. You’ve been you your entire life. You’ve taking you into countless situations. You’ve been with you at every life-changing experience you’ve ever had. Throughout life, you have counted on you to get you through your toughest ordeals. You have trusted yourself to be your own best wing man. Trust your judgment and your ability to make the same interesting choices you have made your entire life.
It is this unique, interesting person you have been testing, training, and polishing your whole life that we want to see. It is your greatest asset. It is the high card in your hand. It is your most powerful weapon. You can’t be any smarter, greater, or more clever than you already are. If you could be, you would be. Remember: You have the market cornered on you. Use yourself. Don’t worry about creating characters. The lines and situations will do that. Always try to bring as much of yourself to the characters you play as possible. Bring the uniqueness that is you to your work. That’s what you’re selling. That’s what you take to market.
You, is what you’ve been selling your whole life. You’ve come this far in life gambling on the person you are and on your ability to trust your instincts make the right choices. You might as well let it ride and roll the dice. The odds are bound to be in your favor.
(You have the market cornered on you)
Have a plan in place to maintain an acceptable lifestyle.
You’ll need to find a way of living that is sufficient enough for you to be comfortable and free from suffering. This business is going to be hard enough to manage. It’s hard to compete if you’re desperate and constantly on the verge of living on the street. TV shows generally don’t hire desperate actors. It’s a TV show, not a soup kitchen. You’ll need to first create a secure, livable existence that offers the flexibility needed for an actor’s life. Be realistic. If you’re going to take your chances getting employment in a business with a 90% unemployment rate, you need to plan for the fact that show business isn’t necessarily going to supply you with a steady paycheck.
Try to find a way of maintaining a happy and peaceful life. You need to be able to comfortably keep the world at bay so you can happily pretend for a living. Learning to cope with the extreme highs and the extreme lows of this business will be a major factor in your survival. The distance between those two points can sometimes be staggering. It is this distance that frequently destroys an actors resilience. The challenges ahead will be accomplished much more easily with a roof over your head and food in your stomach.
It has been said that the image of the tortured artist is romantic to everyone except the artist. In this business you need to avoid being desperate. Desperation is hard to hide. There is no deodorant for desperation.
Be a supportive parent to your creative inner child
Imagine your creative side as your inner creative child. The following is how many actors deal with theirs. The actor works with his inner creative child in making decisions on the role. They practiced the lines together. The actor continually corrects his creative child to make sure he gets it just right. Then the actor brings his creative child to rehearsal. Rehearsal starts with the actor’s hand clamped on the back of his creative child’s neck. He squeezes tight and whispers into the child’s ear, “Alright, let’s do it just like we practiced it, real normal like.” This is the tight reign many actors hold on their creative impulse. Be a better parent to your creative child. Learn to release your grip and let the kid play. It is the quickest way to discover the authentic artist you have within you. Grow a fearlessly creative inner child. Release your grip and be daring.
Most actors are far too hard on themselves. Imagine if you could separate yourself into two parts, one as the creative child and the other as manager/teacher/parent. How would you want this person to treat you as a growing artist? Would you want this person to chastise you and come down on you like a ton of bricks every time you made a mistake? If you happen to give a bad audition, would you want this person to unrelentingly grill you and give you a hard time for not having done your best work? If you flubbed a line on stage would you want this person to confront you just as you got into the wings, berating you about how stupid you were for flubbing your line? I can’t imagine an actor would want any of these things. But don’t you know this is exactly how most actors treat themselves after similar situations.
Learn to be more understanding of yourself, learn to be more patient with yourself, learn to nurture your talent. It’s easy to lose patience with yourself for not being perfect. It is a far greater person that shows patience and cheers on personal growth no matter how small the progress. Learn to be a positive, good friend to your inner creative child.
There may be times in this business where you may be the only friend it has.
(Controlling your mood is key)
The 3 Ps, Patience, Persistence, and Perseverance
Chances are you just entered a marathon. Occasionally there are exceptions. People fresh off the bus are plucked from obscurity and become stars with huge careers. These exceptions frequently give false hope to other actors planning for quick results. It’s natures way of weeding out the less committed. Look at your career as a marathon, not a sprint. Getting into the industry truly is a case of survival of the fittest. It’s not just about your talent. That’s only part of it. You also need the talent of perseverance. Above all else, you need to persevere.
The timing of success has nothing to do with timetables. Success can suddenly happened now, or just as suddenly never happen. Make plans for the long haul but, if it happens tomorrow, swell. In the meantime, accept the fact it’s not supposed to be an easy mission. Develop an unrelenting persistence and turn perseverance into a pleasure. Look out at the horizon and begin a focused trot. Make a focused and unwavering commitment. Be a champion, an Olympian. You’re in it to win it, and you’ll figure out the way.
If you look at every challenge and hurdle as an opportunity for you to test your resolve and prove your mettle then there isn’t anything this industry can do to you that you won’t benefit from. Don’t be the sucker who sits around like a sad sack lamenting about the unfairness of it all. This industry doesn’t owe you anything. When you’ve proved your worthiness, when you’ve figured out how to showcase your salable talent for the world to see, that’s when you’ll be invited to sit at the table. Until then, be willing to be the last one standing. Learn the art of joyful perseverance. Be patient. Be persistent.
Success rarely arrives on schedule.
By Jeff Seymour, Author of The Real Life Actor
Whether you’re a young actor starting out, dreaming of Disney casting calls or a professional actor in the LA casting scene, you’re never going to get any acting jobs or have any kind of acting career if you sabotage your auditions with these common, easily avoidable mistakes
Most actors feel the same way about any casting call. Most actors don’t like the pressure of having one quick, moment to win a part. Since it’s common for most actors to dislike auditions, why not put yourself ahead of the group by learning to enjoy the process? Teach yourself to thrive under pressure. Here is an opportunity for you to gain an edge by assessing a common weakness in most actors and exploiting that knowledge by making it one of your strengths. Change your perspective. Power can always be found in perspective.
Most actors spend time commiserating over how difficult or lousy auditions for T.V. shows can be. They moan about how long they were kept waiting at their movie auditions or how rude the casting director was. They complain about the number of lines or the short amount of time they had to prepare. While I know their complaints may be warranted, I also know that a lousy carpenter always blames his tools.
If you want to be a champion, you need to do what champions do. If there is a weakness in your game that can be strengthened, you need to strengthen it. To simply succumb because something is difficult, is a loser’s mentality. Refusing to overcome this difficulty, which could give you an obvious edge, is nothing more than a mixture of laziness and fear. Successful actors must not only be able to endure these pressures but must also perform at their best. Their careers count on it. It is an ability all professionals must acquire, the ability to deliver under pressure.
Stop throwing your psyche under the bus with your negative disclaimers each time you have an audition. Don’t sabotage your work with the cliché complaints of hack actors. Look at each audition as an opportunity to improve your game. See each opportunity to audition as an opportunity to test yourself. Don’t waste your time with self-defeating, negative thoughts. Learn to excel under pressure. Get better at it. Improve. Look forward to the challenge.
EVER. But don’t be too early either. Give yourself enough time to arrive, find your way and sign in with no more than 15 minutes extra. Walk in with a quiet, peaceful optimism. Respect everyone else’s space. Sit quietly. Let your mind drift a little. Stay loose and relaxed. Be grateful for the opportunity. Sit in that outer office with your engine idling, ready to walk in and go pedal to the metal. Look forward to getting into the room and getting to business. No matter how long you have to wait, remain courteous and quietly confident. Don’t ask unnecessary questions. Don’t become a needy nuisance. Mind your manners and don’t cause problems.
The people in the inner office know what’s happening in the outer office, always. Just because you put on a nice face when you walk into the inner office doesn’t mean they won’t hear about your poor behavior in the outer office. They will. Be sure to conduct yourself professionally from the moment you arrive.
Just relax and focus on the good work you’re going to do in that inner office. The only thing you have control over is your work in the audition. Everything else is out of your hands. The part isn’t given to the best actor. It’s given to the best actor who also looks exactly the way they need him to look. You can’t control that.
Avoid thinking silly thoughts like if you do the audition well enough you’ll get the job. It’s a suckers ploy that’ll get you off your game. If you get preoccupied with hitting a home run, chances are you’ll miss the ball and pull your back out. Relax, keep your eye on the ball and try to get as much wood on it as possible. The casting gods will take over from there. You can light a candle when you get home.
#3 — Don’t Practice Your Lines Out Loud At The Audition
I don’t think an actor should do this, ever. There are many reasons and I could certainly list them all, but the first one that comes to mind is that it just looks silly. I know a lot of you have seen this and some of you have done it, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. To see someone standing in a hallway at open casting calls shouting at a fire extinguisher or talking to an imaginary mother in law, just looks absurd. I can’t help but think, “Why does he need to practice his lines out loud?” Is he still trying to find that magic inflection that’s going to unlock the door behind which the riches of a new part await?
Trust your creative self. Start showing it some faith by not making it recite all of your lines before you walk in. When actors practice their lines out loud by themselves they are focusing more on how they sound. Humans don’t do such things.
In life, if you were waiting to go into an office for a business meeting, would you sit in the outer office and go over what you wanted to say, out loud? You’d probably be thinking about the points you want to make and why it’s so important that you get your way. You certainly wouldn’t be as insane as to say what you were thinking out loud in front of everyone. You wouldn’t take out the anger you have for your boss on a water cooler as a warm-up, would you?
Be prepared before you show up to the audition. It’s been my observation that the actors I saw arguing with the wall in the outer office were the same actors who didn’t do quite as well when they came into the inner office.
Everyone gets nervous. Everyone gets the jitters. So what? Big deal. Stop worrying about it. The more you are afraid of something, the more you empower that thing you’re afraid of. Instead of allowing your nerves to work against you, figure out a way for them to work for you. Allow them to help you focus. Learn to love them. Look forward to them. Use them as inspiration. Use them as energy. But whatever you do, don’t try to suppress them. You can’t squeeze nerves away. You shouldn’t try. You’ll only make them more powerful. That’s why it’s a good idea to turn that nervous jitter before a performance into an ally.
There are many scenes that can benefit from a jolt of the jitters. Your scene may have you delivering bad news. Or maybe you’re supposed to be angry, shy, excited, anxious, impatient or just plain nervous. Look for ways to use that energy. Look forward to your nerves. Be happy when they arrive.
Stop obsessing about your nerves. Quit looking for a magical way to make them go away. There are no elixirs, pills, diet regiments, or deep breathing techniques. Forget it. You get nervous. So what? So does everyone. Focus on the needs of the scene. Get to the point. Win your argument. Affect the other person you’re talking to.
Make your nerves your ally. Use them, or they will use you. (Dealing with nerves)
Generally, you walk in and the people behind the desk are introduced. Acknowledge everyone, quickly and simply. Shake their hands only if they offer. These people have been meeting actors all day long. To have to politely lift out of their seat, reach forward, and shake every actor’s hand that comes through the door can be a little tedious. There will be plenty of time for handshaking when you get the job. Be comfortable and ready to work. Be a confident, focused version of yourself. If they want to chitchat, then chitchat. But be aware when it’s time to stop the chitchatting. Otherwise, try to be relaxed and ready to go. There is nothing as impressively professional as a comfortable, focused actor, prepared to work.
Don’t try too hard to be funny or entertaining. If you’re clever and witty then I suppose you’re going to be clever and witty no matter what I say. Just try not to make it seem like you’re trying too hard. Try not to ask too many questions. Sometimes actors want to show how clever they are with their list of questions about the script and their character. Avoid this. My favorite type of actor walks into the audition, respectful and in a good mood. We introduce ourselves and ask, “Do you have any questions? The actor simply replies, “no.” Then the actor does an amazing job, smiles, thanks us for our time, and leaves like he has somewhere else to go.
You want to aspire to something? Aspire to that. (Walking into the main room)
Avoid this a little habit. It’s the thing that actors sometimes do when they’re preparing for their audition. They write little notes off to the side prompting them as to how they’re going to “act” a particular moment. We may see things like: “Ferocious like a dog,” “Really let them have it,” or “Start to cry.” Actors shouldn’t need little emotional cues written in the margins to remind them what to feel. Do you really need to see, ”Really let them have it,” in order to understand how angry you need to be? Generally, this is the kind of work actors do in their attempt to feel like they’ve done homework.
Over the years it’s been my observation that the actors who wrote in their scripts weren’t as good as the ones who didn’t. One could come up with many reasons why that was, but I think it was simply that the good actors new what they were talking about while the others needed to be constantly reminded.
Asking to do it over again should be a, “Break glass in case of emergency” situation. Do it only when it is completely necessary. The reason is simple: If every actor asked to do their scene twice, the casting director’s day could last twice as long. Besides, part of the test is seeing if you’re able to come in and nail it the first time. That’s one of the ways you impress the people you’re auditioning for. It’s not as impressive if you have to wind up two, three, or four times in order to get the job done. It may make them wonder how efficient you’ll be on set.
When actors ask to do it over again they rarely do it better. I can tell you from having watched countless auditions; the work is usually not that different. Once in a great while, it is. That’s why I say: only if it’s absolutely necessary. The main reason I say this is because if you are prone to allow yourself to start over again when you drop out, you’ll be more prone to dropping out. In fact, you’ll focus so much attention on whether you’re in or out of the scene that you’ll tend to be more out, then in. Focus on accomplishing what you’re trying to accomplish in the scene. Don’t give yourself the task of trying to accomplish good acting. Stop obsessing about how your doing while you’re doing it. Go in, lay it down, and leave.
Be a winner not a whiner. (Should I ask to do it again?)
When the audition is over, thank them and leave. Don’t stall. Don’t stare at them with big doe eyes looking for acknowledgement or approval. If you feel that things didn’t go perfectly, try not to look like a sad sack. These are the types of actors who are visibly disappointed if they think they gave a bad audition. They seem disgusted with themselves. They look like they might cry. What are the people auditioning the actors supposed to think? “He could have done better, look how sad he is?” If the actor could have done better, he should have.
Better to leave what you did where it lies. Don’t make excuses. Don’t act sad. Don’t act disappointed. Thank the people auditioning you for their time and leave the room like you have somewhere else to go.You always want to make them believe that there might be other people wanting your time.
Maybe they didn’t think you did a bad job. Maybe they don’t know what good acting looks like. Maybe you’re just not what they had in mind for the part but, because of your wonderful professional attitude, they’ll keep you in mind for something else. They’re less likely to do this with sad sacks.
I’ve seen actors give weak auditions and then had them in for a call back anyway. I’ve done this because I liked their attitude and because they were right for the role. But as a rule, I avoid using sad sack actors. This kind of actor is so self critical that he’s not much fun to work with. Save the sad, “I could have done better” attitude for the ride home, it has no place in the audition.
(How to leave when its over)
So you’re a great actor. Terrific. No one is going to care one bit unless you can prove it in the audition. As an acting coach I make sure that my clients are ready to shine when they get in front of decision makers. You only have a few minutes and you’ve got to make them count. Here’s a crash course on what every actor needs to know to nail that audition and get a call back. Put these tips into practice and you’ll be ahead of 95% of the other actors up for the part:
Whenever possible, wear something appropriate for the character. I say whenever possible because sometimes you won’t be able to wear what the character would wear. You might be auditioning for the part of an alien. It might be for Henry VIII. You should never look like you’ve been to a costume fitting before the audition. This tends to make the actor look desperate. Just try to be correct enough. I say ‘correct enough” because even if your character was in a tuxedo and you own one I wouldn’t recommend wearing it.
A good rule of thumb is; what would you feel comfortable wearing to your neighborhood grocery store? You might dress up in a suit and tie, but a tuxedo or an evening gown might be too much. You might wear jeans and a plaid shirt but maybe not with chaps, spurs and a ten gallon hat. You never want to seem like you’re trying too hard. You want to show up in an outfit that respects the idea of your character but never makes you seem like a keener. Extra credit, apple polishing, goody goodies rarely become movie stars. Avoid showing up to the audition in “costume.” Always remember to hang on to a little of your dignity. It can come in handy.
There is nothing as impressive as the actor who walks in without paper, nails the audition, word perfectly, and leaves with a warm smile on his face. He comes off like a pro who can pull it off under pressure, no net, an actor Olympian. Combine that with his calm but enthusiastic demeanor, add a splash of genuine, old-school manners, and that room is going to feel like they just met a hero. But here’s the thing, if not having that script in your hand impinges on your performance at all, you’ll go from hero to zero in an instant. You’ll go from being a magical Cirque du Soleil contortionist, to an out of shape fool who just tried a backflip or no good reason. You’ll become a, “bit off more than he could chew,” bozo.
Watch my video “Should I hold the Script?
Working without a paper is something you only try when you’ve mastered the art of auditioning. In the meantime you should err on the side of caution. It’s always wise to become a masterful trapeze artist before you work without a net. No sense risking an accident.
The obvious advantage to holding your script is having your lines right there in your hand. But you can’t let them rule you. A script needs to be treated as if it were a page of notes only there to remind you of what you were going to say anyway. We never want to feel like the scene is coming from the page you’re holding. Master the art of handling a script properly and it won’t matter whether you hold it or not because no one will really notice it. Casting directors just want you to deliver the goods, however you need to do it. Always make the choice that makes you most comfortable and gives you the most confidence.
I remember watching a woman doing an audition, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, she scampered to a chair and sat down. It was as though she was playing musical chairs and the music had stopped. In the next audition, I saw the same thing. It wasn’t until the third audition that I finally picked up the script and realized it said,”she suddenly sits.” All of the actresses allowed this bit of stage direction to force them into a move that meant nothing to them.
Don’t feel compelled to follow stage directions just because they’re there. If a writer happens to put in, laughs gently, I can’t tell you how tedious it becomes to watch every single actor, laugh gently. You start hoping one actor will mix it up. Maybe he’ll try, smiles warmly, anything but the little laugh. Don’t concern yourself with superfluous stage directions. They can make you look a little like a lemming.
There may be a bit of direction that is important to the scene but in the audition it won’t be practical to do it. For instance, if it says, “grabs the other guys collar and shakes him violently,” it’s not wise to grab the person auditioning you, lift him off the ground, and shake him. Besides, much of the time the person reading with you is 8 feet away. Don’t worry about following the stage directions, that’s not why they give you the part. It’s based on what you to bring to the table. So, bring us something, your own thing.
Keep it simple and try not to be a lemming.
How does an actor approach an emotional scene?
You simply tell your story sincerely and let it communicate your grief. Don’t focus on the emotion. Focus on what is going on in the scene and let nature take it’s course. Honest emotion is more likely to occur. It asks for a lot of trust on the part of the actor, but that’s what it’s all about. You can’t force tears. You shouldn’t force emotion. It’s like a fake yawn. It doesn’t work as well. Be sincere about what’s going on in the scene and trust that by being in the right frame of mind, the right emotions will occur.
Trust the real life model. In life, you don’t try to cry. In real life, you tell your tales and try to accurately impart the grief you feel through the words you use, not by the tears you shed. Don’t be an actor who cheaply emotionalizes everything, always shoving their sad tin cup into the audience, constantly on the prowl for emotional donations. Tell your story with respectful sincerity. Use the words to tell us how you honestly feel. Own the loss. Be sincere. These things alone will make the audience feel everything they’re supposed to. And in addition, if you feel yourself a little weepy, you will have earned it honestly.
Just remember that in real life people generally fight the urge to cry. And isn’t that what is most gut wrenching to watch. There is something so sweetly tragic about a person who, in the face of tragedy, will not indulge on his audience by making them have to be party to their breakdown.
Actors who are in touch emotionally and who can cry easily tend to do it a little too much. An actor can’t tell a poignant story if he’s blubbering, because the scene will become about a blubbering actor. Think back to all those times in your life when you’ve had to convey some sad information, and think about what you actually did. Use that as your model. There is a saying that has been around forever:
If you cry the audience won’t.
Now it’s time to Read a sample chapter from The Real Life Actor: Chapter 19 – “Emoting Emotion”
Whenever possible, don’t. Leave miming for the mimes.
In my time spent holding auditions, I’ve seen an amazing array of objects that have been mimed by actors. Objects and activities so unimportant to the scene are suddenly of paramount importance to the actor who has magically become a mime. They create kitchens and cabinets and refrigerators full of beer, can openers and bags of groceries, all of which ultimately make actors look silly. Actors look silly because they aren’t usually very good at miming. Their sloppily mimed activities end up being more of a confusing distraction then a help to the scene. Figure out a way to minimize those actions.
For instance, if there’s a scene that takes place while you’re in a car, is it really important that you’re driving the car at that moment? Could it be that you’re sitting in a parked car? Believe me, the casting director isn’t hoping to see a great mime. The producers of the project aren’t thinking: “Oh goodness, look how well he’s miming that steering wheel. We won’t have to provide the car! He’ll just mime it and the audience will see it.”
When you look at your scene, see what activities and actions are really needed in order to make the scene work. Keep the miming to a minimum.
You do the same thing you’d do if the reader we’re giving you everything: A great job. I’ve heard too many actors blame their audition on what they didn’t get from the reader. In a perfect world, actors play off each other, each one responding to what the other is doing. But this is an audition, and you’re going to read with people who are sometimes poor readers. Don’t count on the person reading opposite you to bring your performance to life.
Sometimes, the reader is so ill prepared or inept, it would seem your audition is being sabotaged on purpose. It happens. But at that point, are you going to be more interested in blaming someone or getting the job? Don’t worry about what the reader is giving you. Just focus on what they’re saying. React to the words. Most of the time that’s all it takes. Simply hearing someone say what they’re saying can be enough. Hear the words. Don’t worry about how the reader is saying those words. Aspire to be the actor who can deliver a performance in any situation. Those actors tend to work more.
Check out this video “Focusing on the Matter at Hand”
Being a professional actor — WHO CAN MAKE ANY SCRIPT WORK — is a gift.
Watching actors in auditions changing lines always feels a little sloppy. It can seem lazy. It can seem disrespectful to the writer who frequently is in the room. Sometimes we’ll wonder if the actor is capable of learning his lines correctly and this can be a concern on shows where they want them word perfect. An actor who has a bad habit of loosely learning lines will quickly feel the heat when asked to get them word perfect during filming. Those situations can quickly go south when the actor starts to fumble from take to take. A slight tension can sometimes be felt and soon the actor’s performance is spiraling into the ground.
If you happen to get a poorly written audition scene, remember this; everyone is stuck with the same scene. Once again, here is an opportunity for you to gain an edge. Be the actor who embraces any scene and makes it work wonderfully. I’ve seen magnificent actors make weak writing work. I’ve also seen lousy actors destroy magnificent writing. You want to be one of those actors who can make anything work. Allow the writers, producers and directors to hear the lines said exactly the way they were written. This is what they’ve been sitting in the audition waiting for. They’re waiting for the right actor to come in and breathe life into their lines.
Do exactly what they tell you to do. Being asked to do it again is always a good sign. There is a tendency for actors to feel as though they have done something wrong. This will tend to get their minds spinning and as a result they sometimes won’t be fully listening to the redirect. Relax and focus on the direction they’re giving you.
Actors will often come into an audition with one idea that they’ve latched onto with a death grip. This rendition will become their life preserver and they will not want to release it easily for fear of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.
Don’t worry about it, let it go, you’re not going to drown.
They may ask you for something completely different, in which case you’re going to want to do it completely differently. What you did when you walked in no longer matters. All that matters is that you do exactly what you’re told, and to the best of your ability. And don’t be shy. Go for it.
I shot archery as a kid growing up in Virginia. There was a tendency to undershoot the target in trying to gauge the needed distance. You avoided overshooting the target because it was far easier to lose an arrow. But the truth was, if you were willing to take the risk of losing an arrow, you could more quickly judge the distance and hit the target. As actors, never be afraid to let one fly. Be brave. Be bold. Don’t make the mistake of doing a “stuck in the mud” variation of what you brought in. Now is the time to show them how effortlessly, how quickly, you can take direction. You want to impress them with your ability to assimilate new information and make it work wonderfully, like the world class dancer who performs a routine just given to him like he’d been dancing it his whole life.
Q: What do you think of keeping a beard/ mustache, but having headshots without? Stating “Willing to shave” in audition videos?
A: No problem, as long as it’s not the other way around. If you have headshots with heavy facial hair and you’re currently clean-shaven, this could cause a problem. Producers might be attached to the look in the photo and you might blow an opportunity because you wouldn’t be able to re-grow the look in time for the shoot. Also, you don’t need to state, “willing to shave.” Unless you have a mustache that is currently in the Guinness book of world records, the producers will assume you might be willing to shave. Besides, it can sound a little desperate, like stating, “willing to do frontal nudity.” If they are interested, they will ask. Producers may be many things but being shy isn’t one of them.
Q: How often do you get new Headshots? – Joshua Powell
A: When you no longer look like the old ones. Or if there is a marked change in the style of what’s being used. For instance, there was a time when a photo might have included more of your body. That was when casting directors looked at actual 8x10s that were forwarded to their office. These days they look at a computer screen of thumbnails, a wallpaper of faces. Your face needs to fill the shot. If you include too much of your body, your face will be the size of a pea. Just make sure you have good pictures, professionally shot that accurately represent who you are. Try not to go overboard by overspending on a super fancy photographer. Remember: the headshot is just the jab you throw to get their attention. The knock out punch is your audition.