There isn’t a person whose ever been to the movies who hasn’t had the thought, “Acting. That’s easy. I can do that.” The reality is, acting, good acting, especially good film acting, isn’t easy — if it was easy everybody would be doing it. But the flip side is also true, film acting isn’t as difficult as a lot of people claim.
Most actors who want to work in film come from a theatrical background and don’t realize that a good deal of what they learned in theatre doesn’t directly translate to film. Film is a much more intimate medium. In theatre actors are trained to reach the person in the last row of the third balcony vocally, physically and emotionally. In film however, everyone in the audience is automatically in the front row. When you see an actor on the screen he could be anywhere from two to two hundred times his real size. If an actor in a movie is working with the same intensity he needs on stage his work will be too big.
So, the film actor has to learn how to convey his emotions and ideas in a much more subtle way — through an active thought process. This doesn’t mean stage actors aren’t thinking; of course they are, but the theatre audience isn’t able to see what’s going on in the actor’s head, not the way a film audience can.
One of the things that makes As Good As It Gets such a wonderful film is that the audience can see Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt engaged in an active thought process. There are many scenes in which their characters don’t have any dialogue to drive the film from story point to story point but the audience can track what’s going on because we can read the actor’s/character’s thoughts. If actors aren’t engaged in a thought process that supports the story then that scene, and perhaps the whole film, falls apart.
It should be the goal of every actor to create fully realized characters who, given the circumstances of the script, are not only believable but truthful. The daunting task for the film actor is that he has to tell the truth twenty-four times a second — film plays at twenty-four frames a second — much of that time while working in close ups. Because the actor is often the only thing on the screen and because the camera has the ability to read his/her thoughts, the actor can’t afford to drop out, can’t afford to stop telling the truth, not even for a fraction of a second. The moment he stops telling the truth the audience is pulled out of the experience and the illusion is shattered.
Creating and maintaining an active thought process is difficult. How do actors do that? All the great actors of our time — Hanks, De Niro, Pacino, Streep, Lange, Bates — have all answered that question with two words — training and discipline. It takes a lot of hard work to make it look easy.
A large part of the training component is technique. The plan for this blog is two fold: to share a technique that I have been honing in my nearly forty years in show business as an actor, director, producer and teacher. And to create a forum where you can ask questions.
The goal is that the answers to those questions will help you navigate your way on this exciting and special journey you have chosen for yourself. And please, never doubt this — acting is a unique and honorable career. As actors we hear the beat of a different drum and it is up to us to make sure the light of humanity is shining so the rest of the world can see itself.
I’ll be posting about every two weeks or so. If you think any of your friends might be interested in my blog please share it with them. And if you have any questions – fire away!
Acting – creating an active thought process that ignites an emotion that provokes a behavior. JHS