Manual Movement: From Person to Actor to Character

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In truth, cognitive scientists and psychologists have been reluctant to embrace acting as a serious subject of study. But researchers like Thalia Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Pace University, have recently started to investigate the links between the two fields with the idea that both disciplines can be enriched by a study of their commonalities. Goldstein believes that a principal barrier to such research is that few people—scientists and average viewers alike—understand the work that goes into acting and what it means to convincingly portray another person onstage.

As a human invention, acting is hardly a hardwired part of our biology, she notes.

World explained

Goldstein looks at three categories—pretense, lying, and acting—as they fit into a trio of cognitive parameters. First, what is being presented perceptually and if it is actually happening or is just pretend; second, what behavior is being shown and whether that behavior is a cue to reality; and finally, whether the exhibited behavior is intended to fool the audience. On the first parameter, Goldstein says, all three categories are in agreement.

In the second parameter, there is some variation among the categories. Well, yes and no. But can a realistic scenario be overly convincing? In other words, is good acting a kind of Inception? Similarly, actors must do real work—build real worlds—to temporarily convince themselves and others of the veracity of unreal circumstances.

Yet they must be mindful of how much of their own lives and experiences they imbue their characters with, something they only began to do a handful of decades ago. Stanislavsky believed that an actor needed to take his or her own personality onto the stage when they began to play a character. Take somebody like Quentin Tarantino—his are highly stylized films, and yet you still believe the behavior in them. So, if you were ever in any way molested as a child, he never wanted you to use that; it would be a very unhealthy thing.

You might subconsciously be colored by that, but your imagination could bring up something else. I tell my students not to worry about the suffering. Suffering will find you—seek the joy. Many actors create their own methods, with some mix of immersion and personal history, while others include no trace of their lives. As Professor Goldstein sees it, though, either choice may result in some subtle effect on a performer. To actors who might laugh that off and present acting as being purely physical, Goldstein says other research in psychology suggests that they, too, might experience emotional aftereffects from performing.

Deborah Margolin evocatively compares the lasting impression that acting leaves upon her to the scar left on an ovary post-ovulation. And in an interview with Indiewire , Tony Greco, a veteran acting teacher who counted Philip Seymour Hoffman among his students, explained that the personal introspective work needed to mine the minds of complicated characters is what ensnares actors who push themselves. Speaking about his experiences with Hoffman and others he said:. When Phil came to me with a great role, nothing was off limits.

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A seasoned one will take it in her stride, and the audience can feel that confidence, even when nothing goes wrong. Putting this together with my first point, an actor must be confidently vulnerable. That is a tough thing to be! Discomfort with language. This is easy for me to spot, because I mostly direct Shakespeare, but it's an issue no matter who wrote the script, because words are the actor's main tools. Some people are comfortable with words: they know how to use them as weapons and aphrodisiacs.

Some people love feeling words in their mouths, rolling off their tongues, broadcasting outward. Others trip over them. Discomfort with their bodies.

Actors can be of any physical type. There are great skinny actors, great fat actors, great tall actors, great short actors, great beautiful actors and great ugly actors. But however they look, they need to own it and know how to work it. See John Goodman. Untrained voices. Humans have a huge vocal range, but most people don't use theirs.

Body language

Since an actor's main tool is speech, he must know how to, in Shakespeare's words, "Speak the speech Over-trained voices. On the other hand, you can go too far, training your voice into something that sounds unnatural and actorly, as William Shatner did when he was younger. And thank goodness Vincent Price mostly worked on schlocky horror films. Good actors spend a lot of time thinking about motivation, movement, ways to say lines The point of preparation is to make your mind as ready as possible to be unleashed. But if you don't unleash it, nothing surprising or dangerous can happen.

Bad actors don't understand that planning is the groundwork for inspiration.

What Are Some of the Telltale Signs of a Bad Actor?

They stick to the plan, no matter what happens. This is yet another way to escape from vulnerability. Bad actors don't listen. They deliver a line, pause for the other actor to speak, and then deliver their next line.

When they're not "on," they're off. Listening is equally important. Notice how often, in a film, the shot is the listener, not the speaker. Notice how often, when you see live theatre, your eye is drawn to the actor receiving information. You can't easily fake listening. You have to really do it. It's dangerous, because if you listen, and the actor you're listening to speaks in a way he's never spoken before, you may have to stray from your plan when you respond. See point 8. Bad actors don't warm up.

This only applies to the stage, but it's crucial. When actors don't spend ten minutes or however long they need vocally and physically warming up, they are not ready to start when the show starts. And then what happens is that the first ten minutes become the warmup. Have you ever seen a play that was good -- but it didn't really click until ten or twenty minutes in?

That's often because the cast didn't warm up before. Instead, they did it on your time and on your dime. In acting school, actors learn to warm up. Too many of them quit doing it once they graduate, hubristically saying, "I don't need to warm up. They think they can get away with hanging out in their dressing rooms, chatting and eating pizza -- and then strolling onto the stage. They can't. Contrast them with Derek Jacobi, who used to speak the entire text of "King Lear" -- well, his part in it, anyway he was playing Lear -- before the show started.

By the time the audience arrived, he was "in the zone. Finally, good actors are smart, have great taste, love collaborating, are extremely hard-working, are humble not divas , are generous, are inventive, are playful, are adventurous, have sense of timing, and a sense of humor. Bad actors are lacking one or more of those traits. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you.

More questions on acting :. What are some of the best acting scenes in a film? Which movie actors or actresses seem the same across all the movies they play in? How do they cast people to play fat or ugly characters in movies? How do the fat and ugly actors feel about it?

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