THE BEST ACTING IS REACTING
A crazily talented actor that I coach ran into a little problem on set the other day. Here’s how it went: Wardrobe approached him right before a scene and said, “Hey, can you just watch your suit? It’s riding up in the back when you sit down.” Now this is a seemingly innocuous comment – meant to help him ‘look better’ in the scene, right? Very nice thing to do. But what resulted was indeed not helpful at all. It caused him to pay particular attention to his suit; how he was sitting; and how he looked at all times. And kept him from actually being in the scene at all. He was, in that moment, watching himself. The scene came off robotic, shallow and stilted. Not what you want, right?
In my own experience, I once had an acting teacher say to me, “Warner, you are holding tension in your wrist.” What?! Hahahaha! I’m not even sure how you actually do that. But I can tell you for the next three months, all I paid attention to was limber wrists! I was watching myself. I certainly wasn’t paying attention to what I needed to focus on in the scene. Blew a couple of auditions that way too. Ugh.
Watching ourselves. It makes sense. We want to do well! And so we pay particular attention to ourselves gauging whether or not we’re accomplishing what we set out to do. But…when we are watching ourselves…we are not being the character. We’re in our left, more analytical brain – all busy making sure we do the so-called correct things, in order to get that desired result. Which by the way never really comes when we’re in that state of mind. When we act, we are primarily engaging our right brain; we get lost in that character and in those imaginary circumstances. Oooo isn’t that just a joy!
So let the fun begin. Take your primary focus off yourself and place it on the other person or persons in the scene. I like to call that popping your focus to what’s important. If you’ve done your character work, you really don’t have to worry about yourself, right? When you’re focused on things other than yourself, there’s the added bonus of really, truly listening – which in turn allows you to react in your character’s most authentic way. In real life, when we’re engaged in conversation, we’re rarely thinking things like “How do I look? What does my wardrobe look like? Did I sound okay when I said that?”
Pop your focus! And let’s get rid of the judgmental, self watching, result oriented thinking so we can get on with the business of living inside another person’s life and experiences. Go. Be. Brilliant.