Getting to the real feelings of the character…
I think one of the most common issues among actors is the inability to create a real feeling in a performance. So, instead of seeing a character who has just watched their mother die react to the situation, we more frequently see an actor who is “acting” like she had just done so.
The most single, valuable lesson that I learned from the great Stella Adler was to simply stop acting. Of course, she was prone to scream it at an actor who had just walked onto the stage and taken off his hat and who hadn’t uttered a single word. But she was always right. The actor just hadn’t done the work to get there and so was trying to “act” his way through the scene.
Ugh. Just gives real actors a bad name.
There are lots of different “techniques” to create emotional triggers for an actor and you have to find what works best for you. And let me tell you this clearly…it doesn’t matter what you do to get there. There are no rules. As an actor you should use whatever gets you where you need to be in a given performance, that is being in a state of emotional truth.
There are, however, a few guidelines that I’d recommend.
Firstly, although emotional memory around something that happened to you can be a productive starting point, it’s better to get to that place of emotional reality in the character through imagination and character work. It would be difficult to play a queen or a prince such as Hamlet without creating as complete a world as possible for the character by a process dedicated to imagining. Actively envisioning and thinking through what has occurred in their lives up to that point that has created their unique psychology, their behavior and feelings and reactions to their circumstance and to other characters around them.
I also find that emotional memory can sometimes become a crutch to actors who aren’t willing to do the real work of developing character.
But once you begin the process you bump into the reason you didn’t want to in the first place and it’s then that you have to be willing to be open to whatever comes. And if you’re really working, really tapping into that creative flow without any restrictions or judgments, trust me…some shit will come up. And that’s a scary thing. But what you have to know as an actor and an artist is that if it’s not scary, you’re just acting.
Don’t act. Stop the acting. Understand why the character is being the way they are and then just be. And be fearless…