Many actors I meet are under the misconception that acting is about being someone else. They’ll memorize their lines and recite them, the same way they learned them, while trying to make them “sound natural.” Then they try to imagine how “their Character” would feel and act and they try to “act it out.”
That kind of acting is about showing us how skilled are you are at “acting” like someone else and it puts a lot of pressure on you to be a very good impersonator. It also encourages self-consciousness because your attention is often on checking in to see how you’re doing and if your charade is going well. Johnny Depp also put it this way:
Unfortunately, in school, we’re taught that how you feel is less important than getting the right answer. In our work, knowing how you feel about what you say is the right answer. “The character” is words on a page. Without you, and how you personally feel about everything they say and do, there is no character. Without you expressing how you feel and act in their circumstances they don’t exist. Without your feelings, quirks and unique point of view, they don’t come to life. It’s the life you give them that makes them breathe and that only happens when you give them your life experience, your feelings and your imagination.
Instead of “acting it out,” I suggest a simpler approach. Just tell us how you really feel in their circumstances. Share with us how you, the person, the actor, truly, deeply, personally feel about everything you say. That releases you from having to act at all!
Responding, as you, as if the scene is happening to you right now, cuts “acting” out of the equation and frees you up to be your authentic self. Then you’re free to simply tell your personal truth about what you say. The people watching will see the character speaking but what they’ll really be seeing is you responding honestly, with your unique, personal point of view, to events as they happen.
Many of you get nervous at auditions because you feel like you’re being judged. You think of auditions are a test of how good you are. By simply telling us how you feel about what you say that, your audition stops being a test of how good an “act-er” you are because you’re not acting! You’re just you, standing there telling the truth as you see it right at that moment without apology. Just tell it like it is. There’s no test and no judgment. It’s just you.
Remember, no one can be a better you than you. Not having to act is liberating and let’s us see who you are instead of your idea of how someone else might behave. By taking personal responsibility for what you say, their words can become your words.
If you don’t find you in the writing, there’s no truth in it. You’re just acting like some other person who has no real history, memories, thoughts passion or real point of view toward the world of their own. You are the artist. It’s your job to give them that and you only have yours to give.
Remember, without YOU, there is no character. As Meryl Streep says, by “finding the similarity” between you and the character, you “find myself in there,” and, as Mr. Depp put it, you won’t be “lying.” Take their advice and you’ll be on your way to booking more auditions before too long.
If finding yourself in your acting is something that interests you, I invite you to download my free ebook The 6 Secrets of a Working Actor here.
All my best,
Philip Hernandez is a respected acting teacher and singing coach in NYC. He is also the only actor in Broadway history to play both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. He created principal roles in Broadway’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Paul Simon’s The Capeman. You may also know him from his many television appearances: The Blacklist, Gotham, Blue Bloods, The Path, Bull, Nurse Jackie, Elementary, Person of Interest, Law and Order, Hostages and Damages to name a few. For information about acting lessons CLICK HERE or singing lessons CLICK HERE.