Advice and Tips for Actors Helpful thoughts on acting from someone who wasn't the least successful actor of all time.

April 22, 2009

Becoming a Good Actor

People wonder all the time how they can be the best actor they can be.

Learning how to be a good actor can be broken down into two questions.  The first question is, “How do you act?”  This seems to come from a lot from people auditioning for community theater or trying out for their first student film.  It’s natural to be nervous and wonder how the heck to perform in front of an audience or act in front of a camera.

Here are my basics:  Know your lines, know your character, know the story and then try to speak clearly and have fun.

You want more complicated answers here are a few books that I’ve pretended to have read:

Sanford Meisner on Acting
Acting: The First Six Lessons (by Boleslavsky)
Acting for the Camera (by Tony Barr)
True and False (By David Mamet)

The second part to this question is “how do I behave as a good actor.”  And here’s my personal advice on that question:

  • Don’t Be Crazy – Crazy people like to say they’re actors and actors often think they have to be crazy to be taken seriously.  It’s not true.  Some of the best actors I’ve worked with are normal people who happen to be very good actors.  Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids.
  • Don’t be a Jerk – Actors somehow got the impression that they have to be mean to everyone they meet.  Series regulars are mean to guest stars, guest stars are mean to co-stars and everyone’s mean to craft services.  Don’t.  Be nice.  People like to work with nice folks.
  • Roll With It – Sad fact of life is that lines change, blocking gets switched and scenes get added/deleted.  Relax and deal with it.  No one is out to get you.
  • Be Helpful – Performing a play or shooting a film is a lot of work.  Depending on the union status of your project actors may be prohibited from doing anything but acting.  That means if you’re on the set of Grey’s Anatomy and someone asks you to move a c-stand around, you say no.  But when you’re acting in community theater or doing a student film do us all a favor and help as much as you can.  Don’t let it get in the way of your acting but lend a hand any way you can.
  • Take it Seriously – You are an actor because you enjoy acting and that’s great.  But it’s a job (paid or not) and you need to treat it as such.  No one says you can’t enjoy work, but you’d better put your nose down when it’s time.
  • Listen to Your Director – The director has one goal, make this the best project possible.  It’s not about stroking your ego, it’s not about ruining your career and it’s not about trying to make your life difficult.  If the director tells you to cry as you cross from stage left, then cry as you cross from stage left.  Try it before you start complaining about how it’s not something your character would do.  It’s the director’s decision, not yours.
  • Listen to the Script – I’m stealing from one of the books above but you’d be shocked how many actors see something in a script like “Irving hits his sister” and claim, “Irving would never do that.”  Yes he would, it’s in the script.  Everything you need is in the script.  If you start making up crap outside the script you’re not performing the same play/film as everyone else.
  • Be Friends With Everyone – This is the most important advice I can give, especially starting out.  This doesn’t mean you have to buddy up to everyone and kiss butt.  It means you have to smile, be nice to everyone on set and help in any way you can.  This goes triply so in small projects that don’t pay.  People don’t do student films forever.  They go on and do bigger and better things.  Or maybe their college roommate goes on to do bigger things.  Either way, they become a good ally in this industry.  Everyone says the entertainment industry is about “who you know” and that’s completely true but more importantly it’s about who likes you and wants to help you out.

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