On Acting

Great acting is about action—about affecting—as opposed to showing.

When an actor really inhabits a role it is riveting for the viewer and also completely exciting and fulfilling for the actor. But in order to inhabit a role you need to inhabit yourself. Sanford Meisner’s repeat exercise is a great tool to this end. It teaches you what it is like to just be. When using text (the script) the tendency is for the actor to hide behind it—to play the text rather than the action, the relationship. In the repeat exercise there is nowhere to hide—no text—no story. It gives the actor a taste of what it is to just be exactly where you are—in all of its inherent vulnerability. This tool is particularly important for film actors. The camera wants to see your soul, but you have to be open enough to let it in.

The next trick is to add your character work and script analysis. But remember that as the character you should feel as vulnerable as you do in the repeat exercise. The character work is like stained glass—there are different shapes and colors, but you are the light—the consciousness shining through it. That is why for centuries we never tire of seeing different actors play Hamlet (well—almost never!)—Hamlet (the character/the play) is the pieces of glass—but each actor—each source of illumination–is unique.

My brilliant mentor, Roy London, used to talk about the “the four W’s”: Who am I? Where am I? Who is the other person? What do I want?

Here is my basic script analysis technique:

  • First read and re-read the script until you understand the overall story of the piece.
  • Then see how your character fits into the story and what is the story of your character. (Who am I? What do I want out of life?)
  • Then go through each scene. (What’s happening here? What story is being told? Where am I? A bedroom? A cemetery? Is it hot? Cold? Who is the other person? What do I want in this scene? (This must support what you want out of life.)
  • Then go through each line. (What is your “action” on that line?—what are you trying to get the other character to do/feel? And how does that support your overall “objective” (want) of the scene? The overall story?)
  • Simple. Yes. Easy. No. How to become a great actor? Practice! Study! All the time. Even when you are not in class. Watch people, see plays, watch documentaries (that is where you will see true human behavior), see films, learn monologues and poems while you exercise, practice dialects in your car.

Roy London once said: “something happens when an actor is “in” (inhabiting a role)…They change physically. Suddenly they look like themselves…”

Too many actors are looking for the quick fix. They change their hair, their name, they take expensive workshops in order to “network,” they concentrate all of their energies on getting an agent etc. and don’t spend enough time on becoming great actors. If you are only about outward success—fame money etc., I promise that there will never be enough of it to fill you up—but if you concentrate on filling yourself with the magic of creation—of achieving excellence in your work, then not only will you have good chance of attracting the spoils of success, but if for some reason you don’t succeed, you have something: your craft, your passion, your self.

All the different acting methodologies: Meisner, Method, Hagen, London, etc. are like different religions—all the prayers are going to the same place—find the one (or two, or three!) that works for you—that gets you “in”–that makes you believe. If you do, so will your audience.

All rights reserved. Jamie Rose 2006.