How Do Actors Prepare for Roles?

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The key to unlocking the fantasy world that allows for compelling performance is actor’s prep, a simple but crucial part of the acting ritual. Everyone approaches this differently, but at its most basic, actor’s prep is a form of deep relaxation. If you already meditate or practice another calming or focus ritual, you’re a step ahead of the game. Here’s everything you need to know about actor preparation techniques.

How actors prepare for roles

Actor performing under spotlights

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The acting process is complex—and what works for one actor might not always work for another. Still, these tried and true techniques can help actors of any skill level improve their craft.

Dive into the storyworld

Think about when you read a book. Your eyes look at words on a piece of paper, but that’s not what your mind sees. Your mind dives into the world of the story. You go inside that world and look from the inside out. Your mind stops paying attention to the real world and brings the fantasy world to the forefront as if you’re really there. You can apply this same concept to the world of acting. Take that deep dive—leave the real world behind as you move into the world of the script. Choose to go inside the character’s world as if you’re really there. Relax, make that leap, and get into the zone. 

Do script analysis

Read through the script several times. If needed, conduct research on socio-historical context, genre, and style to ensure you have a strong understanding of your character and their world.

Interrogate character motivation

Look for the intention behind why a character thinks, speaks, and acts the ways they do. This will allow you to flesh out your character and create consistent narrative logic. 

Stop and relax

Do a relaxation exercise, such as this simple breathing technique:

  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
  • Hold for a count of seven.
  • Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight.
  • Relax until your brain stops spinning. It might take a second or a few minutes to really stop, but it’s important that it really does come to a halt as that full stop is the key to unlocking the door to the creative state.

Step inside the creative zone

Once you’re relaxed, all the walls inside start to fall away. You’re in a heightened state of awareness. Your senses are in tune. Your imagination and creativity are set free. Fears disappear as instinct replaces overthinking. You begin to step inside of your character instead of trying to be his puppet master from the outside. It’s much easier to let go and allow your character to live and breathe, while you look through the eyes of your character.

Create a new reality

Begin to see and feel the world around you as if you’re really there. If you’re supposed to be in an angry state at the beginning of the scene, stomp around or do pushups to get your adrenaline coursing through your veins. Once you begin to move as your character physically, you begin to see and think as your character quite easily. Get lost in the actual activity that your character is doing at the beginning of the scene.

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Cathryn Hartt
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt & Soul Acting Studio, is known to many as “the UN-Acting Coach.” She coaches all ages (children through adult) and all levels (from beginning through masters).
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