So many young actors I encounter are desperate to “break in.” They seem to believe that if they can just land an agent or meet some casting director, their careers will be launched. Sometimes, that is true. But sometimes, young artists force these doors open before their skill level is where it should be. What they fail to understand is that the best way to compete in a highly competitive business is to bring something genuinely unique to the table. What grabs the attention of potential employers is an actor who’s full of ideas and in command of their talent. That maturity can exist in an actor of any age, if they are present and alive in the room. Acting class is a great start, but here are a few other easy, fun, and free things we can all do to become better artists.
1. Pay attention. Yes, acting is an internal process. It requires us to probe around inside ourselves, but we also must become good observers of human nature. If we want to act truthfully, we need to take a look at how people actually operate. Watch strangers. Talk to strangers. Ask family members to tell you their story. Find out a little about your coworkers. Embrace any eccentrics that come across your path. You will be shocked at how much this kind of research and observation will come in handy in your work.
2. Read. Each year we spend more and more time reading bite-sized bits of information on electronic screens. Nowadays, the concept of reading anything longer than a tweet seems unbearable. Believe it or not, reading uses the same part of your brain that you use to act. It engages your imagination and draws you into a carefully crafted and emotionally dense world filled with keen observations about human behavior. What actor in their right mind wouldn’t want to know more about that? Get a library card. Read as much as you can. Fiction. History. Biographies. Notice how it affects your acting.
3. Listen. And I’m not just talking about listening to your scene partner. The world is full of music. It is full of sound. It is full of information. Take off your headphones and listen. What do you hear? What thoughts, images, and emotions do these sounds create in you? Turn your car radio to a station you would normally never listen to. How does that music affect you? Tune in the news station. How do the latest headlines make you feel? Happy? Sad? Anxious? Angry? Listen, notice, and be affected by what you are experiencing. Deepen the well.
4. Become a fan. Netflix is one of the best acting schools on the planet. Watch all the performances of actors that you love. If some particular scene blows you away, rewind it and watch it again. Ask yourself some crucial questions. What made that scene so brilliant? What action was the actor playing? What made the scene so moving, funny, or terrifying? Learn from the best!
5. Live a little. Acting – or the pursuit of acting – can easily consume your entire life. Don’t let it. Go out and have some fun. Experience nature. Travel when you can. Volunteer. Have a romance. Find a hobby. Step away from the world of agents and casting directors and live like a civilian for at least a little while every day. Live your life so when you do book an acting job, you’ll be able to bring a little of that “life” into your work.
The best way to stand out in a ridiculously overcrowded field is bring your whole self into the game. This comes from simply observing and absorbing meaningful experiences and then recreating them in the room (and hopefully again in front of the camera). With all due respect to the many great acting teachers out there, life is best acting instructor in the world. In wise words of that ancient Greek drama-lover, Socrates, “Know thyself.”
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David Dean Bottrell has recently appeared on “Justified,” “Save Me,” “NCIS,” and “True Blood.” He teaches two popular acting classes in Los Angeles. More info at www.DavidDeanBottrell.com.