I’ve just released a tutorial on my YouTube channel about realistic camera acting. Basically, I’ve compiled 4 simple tips that will help us to act as realistically as possible on screen. In other words, how to act like a natural human being in real life would act. I elaborate on the term ‘realistic’ because, of course, acting realistically is a bit of a contradiction: acting is not at all realistic. You can, however, act in a realist way, or a naturalist way, but I digress. We all know what we mean by acting realistically: it tends to be the question people ask when they want to know how to act: it’s basically about being believable.
My first tip is to don’t show it, think it: you’re not supposed to look like you’re acting. A lot of aspiring actors, when they first get in front of the camera, get all worried about showing that their character is thinking and feeling certain things. We don’t act like this in real life, so why do we act like this in front of the camera? You’ve got to trust that the camera will pick up those thoughts and feelings that your character is having. Basically, don’t worry about “showing” it to the camera. Just have that thought behind the eyes: think those things the character is thinking (as much as is possible of course). Acting is the only profession where the goal is to encourage the viewer to forget you’re an actor. For instance, we don’t look at a painting and go, !wow, that painting is so good, I forgot Picasso was a painter for a moment there.” But for acting, that’s the goal: to make your performance feel real so that the audience can get lost in the story, can suspend their disbelief, can find cathartic release, can ultimately forget they’re watching actors playing make-believe (Brecht would have something to say about this, but we’ll talk about this another time).
My second tip is it’s not how you say it, it’s why you say it. A lot of aspiring actors, when they’re starting out, get hooked up on ‘how’ they should say their lines. This makes people look like they’re acting. Think about it: in real life, you don’t go around thinking about HOW you should say things (unless you’re preparing a speech or confession or breakup or something, but again, that’s acting – I digress). For most of the time, you usually think about WHY you say things. Therefore, if we want to act realistically, it’s important to understand why our character is saying what they’re saying. Then the ‘how’ they should say it will come naturally out of that (if you don’t force it and just let it happen). What is the character’s motive? WHY are they saying this particular line in this way? We’re getting into Stanislavski now and his units and objectives (again, I digress).
Think about it: is a character being poetically verbose to express the extent of emotional pain they’re going through? Are they joking and resorting to B.S. to change the subject and hide their sadness? Making jokes like this and thinking sad thoughts can reveal some contrasting layers to a character that also helps make them appear realistic.
My next tip is not to pause all the time (learn your lines!). Don’t pause after every sentence (or phrase, or line, or whatever). This is very unrealistic and so many beginning actors do this: they pause between each character’s lines like there’s a bad connection. Or they’ll sigh to buy time because they haven’t prepared enough and haven’t really learned their lines. I’ve seen this happen in workshops and in lessons and it’s annoying: learn your lines. Yes, in real life you don’t have to memories a bunch of lines and there’s an argument against learning lines suggesting that not preparing can help an actor come across more natural. The reasoning behind this is that the more you prepare, the more you fall into the trap of becoming robotic and repeating the exact vocal intonation every time you recite a line. The argument goes that preparing too much in this way can stop you reacting to the other character in the scene and can make the whole scene look unrealistic. HOWEVER, my argument against this is that in real life you can say whatever you like: you can’t do this when you’re acting. Acting is not a real situation (no matter how realistic you want it to look) and trying to literally turn it into a real situation isn’t going to work. You’re just going to forget your lines, add in pauses everywhere and sigh unnecessarily. It’s annoying to the other actors who are trying to react to you. Just learn your lines, prepare. If you react to the other character totally and become responsive, then you won’t end up repeating the same vocal intonation.
My final tip in this tutorial is about having your own rhythm and not copying your scene partner’s rhythm. Stop copying the same way your scene partner talks and acts and that overall energy. It becomes samey and boring and no one does this in real life! It’s just bad acting. Plus, it’s annoying for the other actor who’s trying to listen to your character and react to you and what you’re saying. Have a variety of intonation in your voice. Don’t stick to one tone throughout. No one talks like this in real life. People only talk like this when they’re reading something out (badly). Vary your rhythm.
Thanks for reading. The acting techniques mentioned in this blog are by no means exhaustive and you might come up with your own. I know I’ll be coming up with more ways in which we, as actors, can act in more ‘natural’ or ‘real’, so stay tuned for those!