Teaching acting and singing has been my passion for over 30 years. I enjoy helping young artists who have a deep desire to learn. That’s why I’ve been posting short acting lessons which will soon be a book, and started this sub so I would able to interact with more actors who need help.
I’ve learned a lot in being involved in Reddit the last few weeks. Just reading some of the questions and comments from young actors made me realize that many beginners are at the mercy of “not so great” acting classes in their communities. Either their teachers are neglecting to include very important information or they are teaching the opposite of good acting technique. Of course others are receiving great training.
But I’ve seen quite a few actors mention that they practice facial expressions on camera or in a mirror. One young man was studying both in class and with a private coach in Boston. He said he did this because he “wanted to show deeper expression” and “look genuine”.
I know he has great intentions and I admire his dedication. But I can’t think of anything worse for a real actor to “practice”. Anything you are trying to “show” — any way you are trying to “look” will never be genuine. If your objective is to make certain faces in a scene, you can’t possibly be in your character’s moment. Your character is not thinking about his face. He’s immersed in his current quest. If you are thinking about your face, you will be playing the role of someone trying to make a face.
Acting is about recreating what you do everyday in real life. Be honest…when YOU are busy trying to accomplish something each day, are YOU thinking about your facial expressions? Do you think perhaps your expressions are lacking in anyway because you are not thinking about them? Less genuine, perhaps? NO!!!! When you are involved in a real-life situation, your facial expressions are always perfectly appropriate.
So when you are playing someone else, you must trust that thinking and feeling and pursuing his/her goals will automatically produce the appropriate expressions for him. It’s none of your business what your face is doing. It is only your job to think and feel the thoughts and emotions that will spontaneously move your face in a genuine way. Forget about how you look. Your character is too busy for that! Simply think his thoughts.
For instance, If you are thinking about seeing a dear friend who has been gone a long time and saying to them, “I am so glad you are here!” You will feel genuinely happy and a smile will appear. If you are thinking about being alone in a cabin in the woods where a murderer has recently escaped from prison and you suddenly hear scratching on the door, you will feel frightened – and you will have, automatically, an appropriate facial expression. You don’t want to try to make your characters “LOOK” genuine. You want to actually (genuinely) feel his/her feelings. Your face will always follow.
Someone was giving me a compliment the other day about my student/client who stars in a TV show. “Since you’ve been working with him, he has gotten so good with using his eyes. He has so many different expressions. He looks like he is really thinking. How did you teach him to do that?” I had to laugh. I have never mentioned his eyes or his facial expressions. I have merely encouraged him to have an active, varied and responsive thought life, as his character, very moment he is on camera…from “Action”…to “Cut”. He is always thinking and reacting. His face and eyes come along for the ride and do exactly what is needed in the scene.
Expression should always start from the inside. Never try to show your feelings. Just feel them. Your imagination and memory and thinking the thoughts of your character will lead you to actually experiencing his/her emotions. That is the true magic of acting.
Another acting student here on Reddit told me that her teacher insists that film acting must be smaller than real life. She became overly concern with acting “correctly for film. So she feels self-conscious whenever she is on camera…trying to give a “film-size performance”. There is no way she can give a believable performance with that mindset. Not unless she will be playing the role of someone trying to be small. Are you starting to get the picture?
Bottom line, you can’t watch yourself when you are acting. You can’t try to show an audience anything. You cannot aim for a certain effect. Not if you want to give a believable performance. You must simply be involved as your character…completely, naturally and sincerely. If you do that, it all will happen on its own, perfectly…just as it does for you in your real life, every day you are alive.