Olivia Newton John had a big hit on her hands in the ’80s with the song “Physical.”
Let’s get physical, physical
I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk
Hmm”¦she makes it sound so easy, doesn’t she? And for some people it is. For others””and often for actors””it’s the hardest thing to be in the world.
Our bodies are an extension of (and contain) our emotional being. When we feel feeling, we often have a physical expression of that feeling. When we cry, our shoulders slump. When we get angry, we throw something. When we feel joy, we jump up and down. It’s natural. Our bodies express that which we feel.
But actors stop that forward-moving momentum of full expression by overthinking. I’ve been punished for doing that! I can’t touch my partner. I’ve been rejected before, so I can’t display how much I care. We go into our heads and stop instincts from being fully expressed.
What if you just stopped doing that? Stop censoring yourself. We all have connection to our bodies and our impulses. Sometimes we act on them, but often we don’t. Or sometimes in our work, we follow an instinct only to abort the mission halfway through. So you have an impulse to touch your partner, let’s say, but get so scared as to what might happen, you just stop. You move into some sort of arrested development””a limbo land where you freeze.
Our physical expression might get us into trouble. It’s supposed to. The danger of putting your hand on someone else’s hand might lead to sexual chemistry. That’s the risk we take in life. Your collapsing on the floor with anguish might lead to more openings of feelings of being overwhelmed.
Your job is not to limit the channel that you’ve become in those moments. Life expressions can’t be analyzed and intellectualized and then recreated as “behavior.” We feel and do, do and feel. We touch, we fall, we throw, we slap, we cry, we laugh, we slink, we stumble. We don’t think about slapping our thigh in response to a funny joke. We do it. We don’t think about covering our mouth with our hands because we’re in shock, we just do it. It’s automatic.
An actor’s self-consciousness often is what keeps him from doing that which is natural in life. And then often, in acting training, because we don’t learn to trust our own bodies doing what they want to do, we’re taught to add “behavior” to a moment. I don’t add “behavior” to my ordering a coffee at the Starbucks. I don’t add “behavior” to my running down the stairs to see my lover. I don’t add “behavior” to a moment in my life that naturally evokes a physical response out of me.
So just do it like you would in life. Let acting be an extension of your life. Don’t add concepts to that which you do naturally. If you find that it doesn’t come naturally, the work is to figure out why it’s so scary to express.
And that, then, is the breakthrough. You begin to realize that as physical human beings, we often limit our physicalness in ways that most often feels comfortable for us. Or in ways that are most safe. But to expand beyond that requires vulnerability and risk. And that’s what being an actor is all about.
Take leaps into expressing your physical self in ways you’ve never dreamt. And what you’ll discover is that your own physicalness has been there to catch you all along.