What is your very least cool tool on camera? Talking! Yeah, you guys love to say lines. But please do not sacrifice all of your other more powerful communication tools in lieu of just talking. Camera is about pictures. And stage, also, needs physicality to be entertaining. Plus, the writer did not just write the dialogue, he wrote the whole package. When you read a book, do you just read the dialogue? Of course not! It wouldn’t make sense.
Don’t invest all of your acting in the lines or they will sound like lines. You’ll end up looking like a frozen talking head. Instead, you should feel like you are having a conversation. In a real conversation, you throw away a lot of what you say, maybe even mumbling it under your breath. You use many other tools to communicate all around the words.
So, what are the other tools you could be using?
1. Your body. To act means to do something, so do something physical instead of just telling me about it. Step into the character’s shoes and imagine you are really the character. Get lost in the world of the character. Touch, smell, taste, hear, and see as the character. Move like the character. Find the character’s mannerisms. It’s all just a great game of pretend.
Think of acting almost like painting a picture with your body and other tools. You can use your body in big ways or small. On-camera acting should have subtle, tiny nuances flowing through your body constantly, just like you have as a real, living human being. Act all the way down to your toes. On stage, you definitely need to use your body to communicate all the way to the balcony.
2. Your clothes. Get a piece of lint off of yourself to tell me you don’t care. Straighten your sweater to tell me you’re uptight. Show me you’re a snob by fixing your jacket with a jerk rather than smoothing it.
3. Your hair. Mean girls always have to flip their hair at least once in a movie. It’s practically a law. Show that you are nervous by moving a piece of hair out of the way. Tell me you’re shy by fidgeting with a strand of hair.
4. Your props and sets. When you look at a scene, don’t think about how to say your lines. Think about how you are going to make an entrance. Think about what prop and bit of business you will use. Think about a cool way for your character to walk or flop down on a couch. Think about how you can touch the other actor to tell me about your relationship.
5. Your energy and eyes. Energy rules! Try to let your energy go through your whole body. I tell my students to act with their whole souls. Practice with energy. Work your energy like a laser beam. Or try filling an entire room with your energy, and remember that “the eyes are the windows of the soul.” Energy and eyes will make you a star.
6. Your voice. Use your voice like a musical instrument. Let it vary in pitch and rhythm and quality. Practice doing all sorts of different things with your voice to loosen it up. Speak high, then low, then whisper, then growl. Be weird. Discover places you didn’t know you could go with your voice. This will loosen you up.
7. Your timing. Add dynamic shifts to surprise the audience. Put beats and pauses into your scenes just as you would use punctuation marks in a written piece.
8. Camera and stage techniques. Use those great tools of cheating out, playing close-ups, making entrances and exits, making pictures with your body, and all of the hundreds of tricks you are acquiring constantly as a learning actor.
9. Silence. Silence doesn’t mean nothing is going on. It may be the most powerful moment of the whole scene, so shut up and embrace it!