The Rules of Acting
There aren’t any.
Whatever works for you to get you into the moment and present and fully available emotionally is a way into acting. That’s life.
We often doubt our natural abilities because we listen to what the “experts” say ”“ especially for years ”“ thinking that if we don’t subscribe to a certain way academia often teaches there must be something wrong with us.
So we spend an inordinate amount of time distrusting ourselves.
I know I can’t be a brain surgeon and cut someone’s head open without years of study and practice ”“ so obviously, I advocate taking an acting class because of how much one can learn and grow. But some of the greatest actors have never taken a class or “studied” and they are just as honest as those coming out of a conservatory program.
There are no absolutes.
Acting isn’t a medical procedure. It’s not reducible to one simple pat method. All ways of working simply try to get the actor to be more honest. What I keep coming back to is applying life-isms to your approach to the work and you’ll find your way.
1). We only have a moment. The physics of life is distilled into tiny blips of experience. To act means to be available to those experiences in each moment.
2). We only have our breath. It’s life itself. It’s connected to all feeling and is the moment. Without breath, there is no moment of life. We completely take breathing for granted ”“ and maybe at one level that’s good because it does itself. But at another level, to start becoming conscious of our breath and how we don’t mindfully breathe ”“ starts to give us access to relaxation, de-stressing, presence, intuition, and feeling.
3). Stop trying to reduce things. I was shooting something recently and tried an experiment. The lead guy and girl had never met before (in real life) and in the story, they meet for the first time at a cafÃ© and possibly have a love affair upon meeting. I was driving with the actor to set and said to him, “Let’s go all Method here and not have you meet [the woman] until we start filming ”“ so we actually capture that moment for the first time. Just as an experiment.”
Like most things in acting (and life) ”“ the truth of the moment supersedes our ideas of how we want something to look.
As soon as the two actors met on the first take, we had to stop and adjust the camera. Then we started rolling again, but by then they were standing there waiting for us for at least 10 minutes. Then we had to stop again because there was background noise. Then we did a take. Then we moved the camera around. We tried another take. Then the lights needed to be tweaked. By then the actors were eating snacks together, took a bathroom break, exchanged selfies, drilled their lines and talked about where they were from. The idea of maintaining an artifice was destroyed.
Acting is pretend anyway ”“ but the illusion you’re setting up some alternate reality simply becomes shattered by real-world-scenario demands.
If I’m an actor and I want to really “inhabit” my character and immerse myself in the role and believe I am that character fully . . . then where does it end? If you’re playing a Neanderthal and are grunting throughout the day to stay in character, what happens when you’re hungry? Are you going to craft services to eat a doughnut? Did cavemen eat doughnuts? Did they have them in 10,000 BC? What happens when you have to go to the bathroom? Are you still “in character” when you use the on-set port-a-potty? Or do you take a shit in the woods? When you’re wrapped for the day, does your driver take you back to your 5-star hotel or do you sleep in the forest?
My point is there are loopholes, concessions, deviations, fakes, cheats, shortcuts, inconsistencies, compromises, negotiations, allowances, tricks and incongruencies that are made. Always. In life and in acting. Does this mean you’re not committing or being honest? No. It just changes the conversation about what we think acting is and what it really boils down to.
Ourselves. A moment. And what we choose to do in it. Or as Gary Oldman says, “You take what you know and you put it through your own prism. If I play characters that break down or cry, it’s Gary Oldman crying; it’s not the character crying.” And as social researcher (and most popular TED Talker Amy Cuddy with almost 30 million views) says, “Who you are is better than something that seems scripted and choreographed that you don’t believe.”