How to Act “Realistically”

My latest YouTube video is another video about acting ‘realistically’. In this video, I say I’ve compiled four simple tips that will help us to act as realistically as possible on screen. Having said this, there are way more tips than this. Also, when I talk about acting ‘realistically’, I’m talking about acting like a natural human being in real life would act. As I’ve written about in a previous blog post (and mentioned in a previous video), acting realistically is a bit of a contradiction because acting is not at all realistic. You can, however, act in a realist way, or a naturalist way, but I digress. Basically: we all know what we mean by acting realistically.


The first tip I’ve learned about from various acting lessons and from experience is about contrasting layers. These must be present in your performance if you’re to act convincingly. I’ve learned from workshops that casting directors LIKE contrasting layers in an actor (something to think about!). People are complex and multi-dimensional, they think lots of different things at once, usually. So, to act realistically we must consider how people in real life are a melange of contrasting (or even contradictory) layers, or thoughts, or emotions, that can be seen in the eyes. We can represent such complexity in our acting via layers.

Layering is the idea that what you think or feel and what you say or do can be contrasting (or even contradictory) things. This is also useful if you can’t access a particular thought: maybe your character is breaking the law and you just can’t access this thought strongly enough because you can’t relate to your character’s actions. Well, as an actor, you might choose to incorporate unspoken guilt in this instance (this is just an example). This unspoken guilt will add a contradictory layer to the unlawful character that will make them more three-dimensional and maybe even more relatable to an audience. If you want to act realistically, you will inevitably have a bit of ‘you’ in your portrayal of any character you play anyway. For instance, maybe you’re playing a detective who is investigating a murder and thinks they know who did it, and when you’re interviewing your suspect, you might speak and act calmly and indifferently (because this is the job of a detective), but, at the same time, you might be feeling hate or disgust towards your suspect. These inner thoughts will reveal themselves in your eyes alone. And these inner thoughts will contrast with your outer exterior (or the front you’re putting on).  You may say something simply that could mean anything like, ‘and your name is?’ But if you say this line thinking hate and disgust then you’re adding subtext to this line. It becomes less about asking someone’s name and more about letting the audience know your character doesn’t like this ‘someone’. Likewise, if your character feels sorry for the murder suspect and doesn’t think they did it, then they might ask the question with pity. This contrasts with the outer detective exterior that also tells the audience more about the way your character feels about the situation.

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