"The Pursuit of Truth"
Being Bold and Believable
Does your acting stand out from the crowd? If so, how do you do it?
Most actors work at being ‘truthful’, ‘real’, ‘believable’ and ‘in the moment’. They see this ingredient as the key to success. But is it? Some people say never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
It’s certainly true that if a director or casting director doesn’t believe your performance then they are unlikely to hire you. So, believability is an essential issue. The big question is how to create a satisfactory outcome and what's the balance between story circumstance and believability.
THINK ABOUT THIS
If every actor attending an audition is working significanlty on being believable then the likely outcome is that they will all look pretty much the same. In fact, that is often the case. Casting Directors will tell you that often actors essentially make the same choices and that’s probably because they are all using the same ingredients.
The Disadvantage of 'Truth'
The actor whose focus is prioritized on being ‘truthful’ is inevitably working on how the character feels about the events that are unfolding. This is predicated on the belief that it’s the embodiment of this feeling that makes the performance believable.
However, there are a number of significant disadvantages to this approach. Often the actor becomes focused on their internal reflections and the preparation that enables this awareness and so THEY ACTUALLY STOP LISTENING. At best listening drops dramatically. Often the actor is also monitoring how truthful they feel they are being. This running of a ‘truth meter’ also generates a major disruption to engagement in the scene as well as inhibiting listening.
Sometimes, perhaps often, a conscious quest for ‘truthfulness’ results in the opposite outcome.
This quest to be truthful has another significant and very negative effect. It flattens and diffuses the power and complexity of the story. Actors who make ‘truthfulness’ the conscious goal often end up AS VERY DULL STORYTELLERS.
Being a dull storyteller is the very element that makes you look like everyone else at an audition.
The Advantage of Being 'BOLD'
The advantage of pushing performance, both in auditions and on the set, is that you will stand out. Why?? There is a simple reason for this outcome. Every actor (and that’s most) who is focusing on a truthful performance will be holding back on being ‘big’ because they are afraid of not being real – they fear ‘going over the top’. It is this fear that holds actors back from taking risks. It is this fear that keeps their career in mothballs because without making bold decisions they are just doing the same thing as every other ‘wanna-be’ actor.
Being 'bold' will definitely make you stand out. The risk is will you stand out for the wrong reasons.
'BOLD' and 'REAL'
The key to success is being both ‘bold’ and ‘real’. There are two issues here –
The answer to this problem is simple ... practise playing ‘boldly’. Make 'BOLD' the habit..
HOW TO MAKE BOLD CHOICES
If the actor’s aim is to behave like the character then consciously focusing on how the character is feeling wont achieve the desired goal. In fact, that will have the opposite effect. The character is not focusing on the way they are feeling. The character is either doing –
THE POINT IS THAT THE CHARACTER IS ALWAYS CONSCIOUSLY ‘DOING’ SOMETHING TO CAUSE A CHANGE. THE ‘FEELING’ THAT EMERGES FROM MAKING THAT EFFORT IS OFTEN THE UNCONSCIOUS OUTCOME OF THE ACT OF DOING. The feeling will flow from the ‘doing’. It isn’t the goal in itself.
The way for an actor to make bold choices is to be consciously working on defeating the difficulties that the character is facing and not indulging in the way the character feels. Once that difficulty is identified then the actor needs to make the boldest possible choice that is appropriate in the circumstances to defeat the problem. The main tool to implement that process is the actor’s ‘listening skills’. The actor MUST be listening to the exact dimensions of the difficulty the character is facing. That enables the most active choice about how to defeat it, to be made. The most active choice is the best one. Listening is the first step. Making an appropriately bold choice is the next one. After that everything else will follow.
In fact, that is exactly what the character is doing. If the actor is making choices in the way I have just described they are much more likely to be behaving like the character. If the behavior is like the character’s IT WILL IN FACT BE MORE REAL AND MORE TRUTHFUL, TOO.
WHY DO MANY ACTORS NOT FOLLOW THIS VERY PRODUCTIVE PATH ...???
The reasons are simple. Firstly, they are focused on their ‘truth meter’ so they aren’t listening. Secondly, they are in the habit of making soft choices for fear of ‘going over the top’.
The solution to this problem is to create new acting habits. The tool for doing that is to ‘PRACTICE’.
Recently in The Rehearsal Room MASTER CLASS there was a 'pushing story' competition. Actors had to focus on hearing the difficulty that was facing the character. They then had to make a BOLD decision about how to respond. If the choice didn’t confront the difficulty and respond actively I stopped the scene. The competition was to see which pair of actors could get through their scene.
There were rules to the game. They were allowed to act badly (so, believability wasn't the issue) but they had to move story forward. If they didn’t, I would call out, “CUT! You’re out.” That night no one got through a whole scene although they had lots of goes. Some were counted out on line 4 ... others got halfway down the second page. We had a lot of fun. No one found it easy. No matter how hard they tried eventually they would take the safe option. The old habit would reappear and I would call, “CUT!”
It wasn’t until the following week that the lessons learnt that night became clear. A week later when they shot that scene we had been playing with the week before, the results from everyone were fantastic. Really fantastic. The scenes were immensely engaging and very entertaining. What is more they were thoroughly believable.
Being bold and being truthful simultaneously is absolutely achievable. It is also very desirable. And you too, CAN do it with practice.
What Happened Next
We immediately started work on a new scene and everyone was much bolder and more ‘on story’ than they HAD EVER been before - BUT, they all started to slip backwards. Immediately, there was a slight regression back towards playing safe. The end result of that approach is ultimately a uniform dullness. So, beware. You have to keep practicing to build a new habit.
I once worked with an actor, TIM ROBERTSON, who always started really big. It was a bit disconcerting at first but he would then pull back and ultimately play with incredible stillness. He let himself off the leash to start with, by playing BIG and BOLDLY. It worked extremely well for him.
So, if you need to stand out from the crowd it is time for you to put away your ‘truth meter’ and get your ‘story meter’ out. Stop worrying about truthfulness and start concentrating on the difficulty the character is facing. Then focus on how you can boldly deal with that difficulty.
Remember: Story is driven by the difficulties.
So, stop being an explorer of feeling and start delivering story. Your audience will notice the difference. You will hear their approval in their laughter and their applause.
And, keep listening.
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