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The Craft

Making It Look Easy

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Ever watch a film and think to yourself: "Where did they find these people? How did they get these town folks to act?" Then, as the credits roll, you see the cast weren't, in fact, just plucked off the street but are a roster of professional actors.

These admirable performances are the work of performers who so captured their characters they made us believe they were really the residents of that small town or blue-collar workers on the late shift.

And they made it look easy. Isn't that what every actor is striving for?

There are shelves of texts on acting stretching back 90 years or so, many of which make acting sound very difficult to do. Page after page, the authors wend through the process of creating a believable character with complexity only an actor desperate to perfect his or her craft would delve into. Leaf through even the best-known titles, and you'll find treatises detailing how to delve into one's psyche to wrench out a character or the technique of reliving personal trauma to bring forth the emotion of your character.

But the question remains: How do you bring that complexity to the real world of film and television production? With tight production schedules, actors don't have the luxury of time to "discover" a character. And what does one do with all that technique when the director asks at the audition or callback, "Can you make him silly instead of sinister?"

Let's get back to where we began. Acting is making the audience believe you are someone else. That's the simplicity of it. How do you do it quickly and believably?

Here's the first step: Simply look at the world as the character.

Think about it. When you grabbed your double latte this morning you may have been worried about the fact that you had 20 minutes to get to your audition, or stressing about what you were going to get your mother for her birthday, or wondering if that barista noticed you. And your viewpoint influenced your reaction to the packed parking lot, how long the line was, and everything else about the experience. The point is that even getting a cup of coffee is colored and shaped by your thoughts.

Now, how would another character react to the same situation? To find out, you only look at the world from a character's point of view. Do that and his or her world will come alive to you.
Sound simple? It is. That's not to say it doesn't take a lot of practice to create rich, full, and believable characters, but it isn't complicated. Master it and you'll be one of those actors we all admire for making it look so easy.

Christopher Smith is an actor, improviser, writer, and co-founder of The Acting Center-an acting and improv school whose curriculum produces confident actors who can create rich characters in any emotion, in any situation, instantly. For more information, visit www.theactingcenterla.com.

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