From one character to the next we actors are metamorphic creatures: not content with merely viewing and exploring lives different from ourselves, but also attempting to live them and reflecting that emotional escape to the audience. As the late great Alan Rickman once said, “Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”
First of all there are no set rules for enhancing your skills.
Getting acting work can often seem an uphill task and many don’t realise their level or whether they are ready for an agent or not. Also, you may even have plenty of tools in place: an agent, top headshots; a great portfolio and a show-reel done and yet still be sat there for months before you even get a call. The advice offered here is only the perspective of someone who started from scratch and didn’t have the finances for drama school, acting classes or the luxuries of having an agent. Self- representation is a good shout. A couple of reasons for doing so: you are not yet a professional, you need to acquire a decent show-reel and a couple of credits.
So what can be done in your own time?
An often embarrassing but simple task is really just to practice in front of the mirror, better still if you can film yourself with a decent camera. Jim Carrey famously practiced many hours each day in front of the mirror. It’s hard to know if you’re overdoing it or under-doing your facial movements if you can’t see what you’re doing. The following clip is a fantastic performance by Christopher Walken using what’s around him and what he’s wearing to really draw you into his character.
Get involved with the local film-makers in your community and offer your services for free. You need to build up relationships and network in order to get the bigger roles and gain favour from an agent. Selfies and waving with glee in front of an iPhone doesn’t quite cut it! If you are starting here at Phoenix then you are in the right place with a great community to network and gain that vital experience from in workshops and courses.
Take classes and visit workshops regardless of your background. You will not create instruments of fine precision with blunt tools. For those of you who are a natural then well done, but are we saying there is a finite level to performance? Raise the bar for yourself.
Assume the character
Learning your lines and shaping emotional content can be nebulous, given the intangibility of words. Many actors have their own methods and some are educated deeply into the life of a character. The following methods can help you “fit” into a character’s mindset. Try reading a book you enjoy out loud and assuming the characters and the settings. A staple suggestion is Stanislavski’s ‘An Actor Prepares’, a great analytical approach to help set you in good stead for a role. He suggests that we “must study other people and get as close to them emotionally as we can, until sympathy for them is transformed into feelings of our own.”
As an author would mentally play out all of the characters of their novel, then reading a book can enhance technique.
Whether it be through writing, music, photography, cinematography or getting involved with set construction – the point is to get involved with these other aspects as they can help you draw inspiration. Another option is to become an extra or a sentient prop for a while. First of all, it is more lucrative to earn money to develop you and purposefully as a useful insight into how a film set works – not to mention a glorious chance to see a reputable actor plying their craft. You’ll probably be surprised at what they have to deal with such as: distance from the camera, coping with retakes – especially on high energy level performances; never looking into the camera (unless required or as a fourth wall), and the often enormous hours of work.
Warm up techniques
Some people frantically walk into the corner of a room like a classroom dunce and violently shake their head, as if to stay awake or wave their wrists about. Others flagellate themselves as they slap their face, punch into their abs and some of the ladies pull their own hair or mess it up badly to generate a frustrated or angry character. Or you could walk in and just assume the part already. Check out De Niro in this audition.
Now unburden your couch of the weight of your buttocks and get involved. Whether it be through mirrors, books; classes, workshops and projects or even if it’s just being observant of the world around you, it’s all inspiration. So get out there and enjoy becoming, if at minimum, a more entertaining individual.
Our Acting for Film Basics course runs on Wednesdays from 6 – 27 Apr. Find out more here.