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The Craft

Why Your Emotional History Is Important as an Actor

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Why Your Emotional History Is Important as an Actor
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An area in an actor’s work that is often neglected is emotional history. With history comes emotion, and it shows up in what the character says and does. For instance, a person can have history with relationships, situations, or jobs. The more history, the more emotional reaction a character has when it gets triggered.

The actor playing the part has to understand emotional history because it will color the way the character reacts in certain situations.

How many times has this person been brokenhearted by a lover? The more times, the more devastating it can be. The history may come from how deeply he or she loved and for how long. Has it made the person bitter, cynical, or vulnerable? It’s something that the script is demanding but you might not have considered, and it can turn an ordinary audition into something extraordinary.

Example:

Night — Interior Apartment

Jack stands and picks up his jacket as he starts for the door. He then turns back to Mary.

Jack: Five years. I’m done trying. This is what happens when a relationship just doesn’t feel right anymore. You try to destroy it because you want to know that you’re worth it to someone. I wish I was worth it. I wish I was enough.

Plenty of feeling is there on the page, and understanding the love that has preceded the pain gives a clue to the emotional history of the moment. Now it’s up to the actor to determine how this history is expressed in the character’s emotional life.

Lynette McNeill is an award-winning director-producer who has been teaching acting in Los Angeles for more than two decades. Her former students include Adam Sandler, Jason Lee, Giovanni Ribisi, and Ellen DeGeneres.

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