Emotion is the great white whale of the acting world. I find a lot of actors live in constant fear of it. They get a piece of text that involves extreme emotional connection and instantly they seize up, convinced that they won’t be able to access the level of connection they know is necessary to effectively interpret the role.
Here’s the thing:
Emotion is to Acting what Sweat is to Working Out.
A lot of my students have heard me say this many, many times. But you don’t enter into a workout freaking out, exclaiming, “I just don’t know! I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sweat! I know I sweated on the way here, it was pretty hot, but now? When it matters? I just don’t know if I can perspire!” You simply lift heavy shit and sweat happens.
But this is EXACTLY what actors are doing when they enter into an audition saying to themselves, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to emotionally connect. I don’t know if I can do it. I know I’ve felt before, hell, I felt ALL OVER my living room in rehearsal, but now? I just don’t know if I can feel things.”
Emotion is a byproduct of circumstance. Circumstance is determined by what I define as “The Current State Of Natural”.
“Natural” is a dangerous word. Too many people in our industry use it to describe conversational. Many actors, when getting the redirect “Ok, but can you make it more natural?” simply try to make their speech less affected and try to, in general, speak words without investment. This proves absolutley nothing other than the fact that you can speak and not fall over at the same time. Congrats, you’re a kindergarten graduate.
“Natural” is a very different thing pending on the circumstance. Natural when storming the beaches of Normandy in WWII is a very different definition of Natural than say, proposing to your long time girlfriend. Neither of them are particularly unaffected, they’re simply affected by the specific relationship dynamics, stimulus, objectives and needs within a scene.
Too many actors look at emotion as the base of a scene as opposed to a product. Something happens to us, we feel something which causes us to do something. It’s in the doing that emotional connection in born.
Where auditions go south in a big way is when all actors are worried about is feeling. We’ve all heard these auditions from waiting rooms. They’re loud, they’re messy and on camera they look like absolute shit. We can never forget that Film and Television is a VISUAL medium. If all you’re doing is playing emotion, 9 times out of 10, you’re looking utterly ridiculous, and even if the emotion is genuine, we’re not going to cast you because no one is going to want to watch you.
General Rule: Our job isn’t therapy, it’s entertainment. Leave that shit at home. Emotion is a tool, a surgical blade, not a blunt instrument. Anything other than that is masturbation, and masturbation feels great for you but it’s a fucking mess for everybody else.
The next time you’re worried you won’t be able to connect emotionally to a scene, break it down into its core components. Truly define your character and who everyone even mentioned in the scene is to you, establish exactly what you want out of the scene, figure out what gets in your way, connect to your reader and mercilessly go after your objective. If you do this, if you are truly invested in your scene, I promise you, emotion will happen. How could it not?
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