Where is the love?

images-2Two of my students were complaining after class one day that they weren’t booking as much work as they thought they should.

They both listed a number of reasons why they felt they weren’t getting the jobs. One said, “ I don’t think that casting director likes me.”

“Whoa,” I chimed in. “First of all, if she didn’t like you, she wouldn’t ask you to audition. Second, casting directors have a very difficult job. They’re handed an incomplete project and their job is to find the missing component that will make the project whole. And a lot of times their clients aren’t able to articulate what they’re looking for and that makes the casting directors job that much harder.”

“Yeah, but what can I do about that?”

“Let me ask you a question. How deeply are you delving into the relationships your character has with the other characters in the scene? Do you know the facts of the relationships? Do you know how you feel about the other characters? Do you know where the love is?”

Both of them looked at me with blank faces. One said, “Love? Like what? Romantic love? Is that what you mean by love?”

“Romantic love is one way to express love, yes. But love can be expressed in many different ways. Envy, jealousy, greed, revenge, these are all things that started out as love but then for whatever reason the thing that started out as this wonderful feeling got twisted and became something else.”

“Twisted? What are you talking about?” the other asked.

“Ever have anyone break up with you?”


“What happened?

“I was on tour. She met someone else.”

“How did you feel when you found out?”

“I was pissed.”

“Yeah, okay, and what did you do about it?”

“I was on tour, there wasn’t anything I could do.”

“But you were you jealous, right? Did you want to exact some revenge on her for making you feel bad?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So, this thing that started out as romantic love, changed to something else, something negative?”

“Look,” I went on. “Not every scene is going to be a “love scene” but there is love in every scene.” I explained how I had learned this concept from the legendary casting director Michael Shurtleff.  “’You have to train yourself to look for the love. If you don’t find and play the love in every scene, then what happens is that you end up with indifference and indifference is not only hard to play, it is boring as hell to watch.’ You need to find the love so you can create strong, honest, engaging relationships. If you do that then your work will stand out.”

As actors we’re storytellers, communicators. In order to tell the best story it’s important that we explore the depth and profundity of the relationships between our character and the other characters in the scene as well as other characters mentioned in the scene. To do that we have to find the love, whatever form it’s in, and play it.

Most of the time we’ll know the fact of a relationship: he’s my brother, she’s my uncle’s lady friend, he’s my boss. And while the facts are significant, what is really important is how you feel about the other character(s)in the scene.

To discover that, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself. Do I love her? Do I hate her (this is where those negative, twisted forms of love come into play)? Do I admire her? Do I resent her? Do I want to help her? Do I want to get in her way? The answer to these questions will determine the status of your character’s relationship with the other characters in the scene.

BTW—this is true in our real lives as well. Take an honest look at any relationship you’ve had with anybody and see if that relationship didn’t, at different times, fall within one of those parameters.

Once you know the facts and how you feel about the other characters then you need to do one more thing to create honest, memorable relationships—you need to explore the conflict you have regarding those feelings. If you hate someone from the beginning of the scene straight through to the end and never deviate your feelings the audience will lose interest. Once they do that, you’re screwed. The worst sin an actor can commit isn’t forgetting his lines; it’s boring his audience.

Let’s say the other character in the scene is a man who cheated your father in a business deal. You hate him. But what if this same man also donated millions of dollars to build a new hospital wing for young cancer patients. You admire that. At some point in the scene the hate you feel for this man is going to be influenced by the fact that you also admire this thing he did. That little bit of admiration will alter your thought process. By you altering your thought process, even for a moment, it could add a different flavor to one of your lines. By adding a different flavor you create variety. And variety is one of the elements that increases the depth of our relationships and makes them real instead of one-dimensional.

By investigating the relationships, by asking yourself “Where is the love?” in every scene—even if it is love gone bad—you have upped the stakes. Working with this kind of intensity, this kind of passion grabs the interest of the people you are auditioning for and tips the casting decision in your favor!

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2 Responses to Where is the love?

  1. Rachel says:

    I Love this entry! It’s one of the first things I do when preparing a scene or monologue thanks to John.

  2. Royale says:

    fan-freaking-tastic!!! I’m taking notes!

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