Acting is an art, and a difficult one to master. Good actors are able to fully embrace their roles, placing themselves completely in the mindsets of their characters. This goes beyond memorizing a few lines and acting out specific gestures. There are multiple ways to approach acting which appeal to different actors depending upon their experience and the specific role. None are specifically right or wrong, but there are nevertheless specific moments where it is more advantageous to use them.
We’ll jump right into the most “severe” example of an actor’s dedication. A method-actor prepares for the role by fully possessing the character in their everyday life. This includes portraying the character on-set when the camera isn’t even rolling. Some method actors take this as far as putting themselves in the mindset of the character continuously until the project is complete. Method-actors go beyond memorizing lines and trying to see the world through their characters. They try to live their lives as their characters. Many critics will argue that method-acting produces more believable results than a less intensive approach. However, the outcome still relies heavily on the skill of the actor involved.
Though this next one covers a broad range of definitions, they are all essentially the same in that they rely on less preparation than method-acting and more than acting off-the-cuff. Most actors rely on basic memorization, which alongside rehearsing for line delivery by memorizing also consists of prepping for actions by blocking out scenes or physically readying themselves for the project. This is often considered a more healthy approach to acting, as the actor in question can remain in their own head space throughout the rest of the day.
Some actors take minimal time in their preparation, either through choice or circumstance. Being caught off-guard can happen to any actor, even the most hardcore method-actor, and it’s at this point that the actor is forced to act off-the-cuff. This refers to the idea of an actor briefly summarizing their lines or actions just before performing, which often results in more profound errors. Some people are more skilled at impromptu line delivery, but off-the-cuff performances are often not nearly as well-executed as those that are memorized ahead of time.
When an actor isn’t relying on a predetermined script, they are improvising. Oftentimes we’ll hear about famous scenes in movies or shows that were improvised, which is supposed to be a mark of extreme skill. Improvisational acting, or ‘improv’ for short, is a very different skill than typical acting for screen. Much more often than not, improvised bits in filming come across when an actor forgets their lines, and the camera operator doesn’t cut the scene. Most of these scenes are omitted from the final product, as they are little more than errors. The exception comes of course when improv is put in place on purpose.
No matter the approach, there are several key skills that will benefit any film actor. Everything about the scene affects the actor. Details such as atmosphere, personal feelings, and the presence or lack of other actors determine the outcome of the scene, and the ability to adapt to these factors determines the skill of an actor. Everyone with an opinion on acting will argue about how difficult it is, and how much skill is required by established actors. While acting is truly an art, it is nonetheless one rooted in simplicity. The nuances and aspects of acting can be condensed to a simple explanation: feeling emotions of another mindset.
Beyond lines and bodily performance is the raw essence of acting—an actor should feel what they are portraying. It can be difficult to feel anything real beyond our own means when we’re not simply pretending to be somebody else, however. But if we’ve already experienced the feeling that we are supposed to portray, then it’s possible to recall that feeling and bring it forward. By this, I mean the basic human power of empathy, of feeling for ourselves, of replaying emotions from moments in the past. If an actor felt joyous of an event in the past, something that was so uplifting that they still remember it fondly to this day, then trying to recapture that feeling will present a much more realistic performance than merely flashing a fake smiling and pretending to be happy. This could involve remembering their wedding day, first kiss, or a great day with friends or family—essentially, something that they would enjoy remembering. This skill becomes more difficult when we try to conjure something darker. To present real sadness, we need to feel that sadness. For this, to truly show sadness, an actor would need to recall something heart-wrenching, something that nobody would like to relive. I’m not insinuating that every actor who portrays a sad character needs to have suffered in their life, but I am trying to show how good acting requires a certain mental toll.
Acting off Each Other
Most videos will focus on select relationships throughout, with most characters interacting with their own little circle of acquaintances. These core relationships help define each character, and every actor should learn how to take advantage of them. Though it takes time on screen to develop these relationships realistically, once established they can help guide each actor in their interactions with their counterparts. This will create a template for how the characters react to each other and to various situations, but should also develop an empathetic link between actor and story. While this really depends on the quality of the story and skill of execution, the very act of portraying the characters within gives the actors involved closer ties to the outcome. Using these feelings can help an actor feel more genuinely involved with their character’s situation, and thus result in a more realistic performance.
Beyond repossessing our own emotions, the difficulty of acting without other people is best thwarted by learning to better control our characters through setting and familiarity with the story. In any scenario, extensive knowledge of the script and story will help an actor develop their character, but it’s always the experience playing the character that is more helpful. Without other people to play off of, acting alone takes a different approach entirely. Through a mixture of recalling emotions and learning the character, the actor basically has to put the character together as a head space to inhabit alone. Focusing on the little things, such as the setting and its significance to both the story and character, helps associate the character and its necessary feelings with the process of acting.
There are many more varieties of acting, and much more that can be learned by the aspiring and talented alike. However, these simple skills are incredibly useful to keep in mind when working on any acting project. Many aspects affect the quality of a video, but above all the most memorable are the actors’ performances.