What should I do when I’m directed to act “bigger”?

Nervous directors often don’t trust the actors and ask for bigger and bigger “acting.” They want to make sure they’ve “got it.” The best answer I’ve come up with…is to give them what they want (as truthfully as you can) and ask them to let you also give them a take with what you believe will work (often more subtle). Your thoughts about this actor challenge?  – William H.

Directors and actors often approach a problem from different points of view. Directors are more result oriented and actors are more process oriented. Directors are sometimes afraid they aren’t going to get what they want and will start to push the actor toward a result. This places the actor in a difficult position. He has to assure the director he will give him what he wants and at the same time stay true to his own process/technique. If the actor starts jumping through hoops just to please the director then the actor’s work, instead of looking real and organic, starts to look fake.

One of the great things about working in film is that it is a collaborative effort. To get the desired results everyone needs to work together. What you suggested is a viable choice. If the director is pushing you in a direction you think is not organic or real, then yes, ask him if you could, after you’ve given him what he thinks he wants, let you do a couple of takes your way.

Hopefully these discussions will happen before you get on the set. Otherwise the production could lose valuable time.

Years ago, a young director was working with the venerable veteran actor Gary Cooper. The director had never worked with Mr. Cooper before. They’d been shooting for a couple of days and the director, in a panic, called Mr. Cooper’s agent. “You’ve got to talk to him. He’s not giving me anything,” the director complained.

The agent asked, “Have you watched the daily’s?”

“No,” the director answered.

“Watch them and call me back.”

The director called back three hours later. “Oh, my God,” he said. “He’s doing everything.”

The point of this is that directors often don’t see the “magic” of an actor’s work until it’s up on the big screen. By then, it could be too late. Our job is to work with our directors, to collaborate with them, to help them get what they want while staying true to ourselves. Because in the end we all want the same thing—we want to tell the best story possible in the most honest and believable way.

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1 Response to What should I do when I’m directed to act “bigger”?

  1. Mary Lahti says:

    GREAT! The example helped. Sometimes I don’t go deep enough or up the stakes. You write well, clearly and interesting at the same time. Thanks.

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