I get asked hundreds of questions by actors and I thought this week I’d tackle one of the most common ones posed to me – and also seems to be the one that most actors struggle with everywhere.
“When I’m in my head and trying to get present, is there something I can do physically to help drop me in my body, get out of my own way and get present?
Part of what we have available to us at all times is awareness of what is keeping us from being released. These are not hard principles to grasp. The correlations are those to life. When I get stressed out, when I get anxious, when I’m in my head in life, the most practical way to become present (and in our body) is to breathe. Mindfully breathe. We don’t do this. We reach for our phones, we breathe from our shoulders and neck, we continue to think thoughts that make us anxious and exacerbate the problem rather than simply slowing down and truly taking a deep breath from our diaphragm. Try it. Right now while you’re reading this just take a deep breath consciously. Notice how you immediately drop into your own body and relax into you (for some people this might take a few deep breaths and that’s okay too). Just this simple, beautiful act immediately changes us. That’s how efficient our own bodies are in correcting the problems we create for ourselves in our heads.
Another way is to find (and use) the emotional equivalent to what we’re thinking that is distracting us. So we pull out of the moment (and the scene), by hearing ourselves say, “Well that was stupid,” or “I sound like an idiot,” or “I can’t do this,” or “I suck.” Immediately when we engage in this kind of left-brain dialogue, we’re in our heads and out of the moment. The key is to again understand that the body has a way of solving the problem for us we’ve created in our minds.
Saying these things to ourselves also simultaneously makes us feel something. This will be different for each of us. One person might get angry, someone else sad. One person might feel frustrated, while another person may want to scream. Whatever the feeling is, use it. The expression of that feeling into the moment is what gets you back into the moment. You will immediately get out of your head and into your body by feeling what you’re really feeling and that energy will be used to fuel telling the story.
Now sometimes the actor might say, “Well, what if that isn’t what the ‘character’ is supposed to be feeling?”
Light bulb. If you are feeling it in the moment, that’s what the character is supposed to be feeling. What you are feeling is always the scene. Always. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.
Kevin Spacey talks about this truth during his experiences playing Richard III.
“I don’t start off a performance going into a corner and trying to become Richard III. I’ve trusted that if I just go out and however I am that day, whatever mood I’m in… if I’m frustrated, if I’m angry, if I’m lonely or incredibly happy, doesn’t matter what… I start there. There is a remarkable thing that happens which is just that… I let the play take me there. And it always does.”
We have ideas of what something is supposed to look like and then the true science of acting (and the moment) asks us instead to feel and act off of what we’re actually experiencing in the moment. When we start to acknowledge the moment more and feel what we’re feeling in it, we’ll get out of our heads and be gloriously expressed in our body through the feelings we each individually experience. That’s what we’re all after anyway. We’re all after these fleeting moments of emotional expression in our lives that transcend our self-dialogues and self-judgments that keep us stuck in our heads.
Now that you’ve been given a primer in how to do it more, trust it. It’s exhilarating and inspiring and reminds us of what it truly means to be alive. We each have enormous amounts of energetic potential. Start putting it somewhere that is useful. Not in our heads. Instead, in the moment that becomes an expression of you.