7 Tips to Getting Out of Your Own Head as an Actor

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Unless Christopher Nolan calls you up for an “Inception” sequel, the last place you want to be is in your own head. A major problem actors face is thinking too much—and if that happens, you won’t be spontaneous and real. Instead of thinking like the character, you’ll be thinking like the actor trying to control the scene. Below, we’ll go over tried-and-true strategies to living in the moment, not the mind.

1. Embrace movement. 

Do something physical that feels appropriate for your character and the scene. By physically doing something, you get out of your head and into your body. If you get lost in action, your character starts to take over and you begin to see out of their eyes. Fix your jacket, play cards, or snuggle into the couch; no matter what, turn your senses on, get into your body, and exist as if you were actually in the scene.

2. Smudge up the lines. 

Stop speaking your lines so cleanly. Don’t make every word equally important, because that’s not how people really speak in natural conversations. Your audience should obviously be able to understand your diction, but you should never sound like you’re saying perfectly crafted lines from a script. On camera, if you just simply drop down your speaking volume, you will usually sound more natural.

Smudge up the lines by adding some nonverbal sounds that aren’t words—like breathing and “hmmm” and laughing. This way, the lines aren’t so crisp and clear. In real life, we add lots of these sounds, and the more natural your performance feels, the less you’ll be in your head.

3. Play the moment. 

The character doesn’t know what’s about to happen, so wipe the slate clean every time you do the scene as though you’ve never seen it before. Discover something new every time. Stop trying to control the character like a puppet master; instead, trust your instincts to set up a natural flow.

4. Be mindful. 

Before a performance or an audition, take the time to do some breathing and mindfulness exercises such as square breathing: breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, pause for a final count of four, and repeat. This technique helps ground you and encourages you to focus on the present moment.

5. Focus on your scene partner.

Even a brief conversation with your scene partner(s) before going onstage or in front of the camera can remind you that you’re in this together. Plus, it’s difficult to be stuck in your own head when you’re thinking about someone else. Don’t act; react to what’s happening around you.

6. Perfect your technique.

The best cure for getting out of your head is strong technique. Any method worth its salt will help us identify things to focus on that hold our attention, reducing the noise that comes from being in our head to a background murmur. 

7. Ignorance is bliss.

Though the noise in your head can seem very loud, it may not be having as much of an impact as you imagine. Most of the time, that noise—loud as it seems to you—isn’t actually showing up in your work at all. So, while you’re working on developing your skill as an actor, a near-term solution is to try to accept that the noise in your head will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, and to give it as little notice as possible. The less you pay attention to it, the less chance it will affect what you’re doing in your work and the better your work will be.

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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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Andrew Wood
Andrew Wood is a graduate of the MFA Directing program at the Yale School of Drama, and he has a Ph.D. from Stanford University in literature. In 2004, he founded his acting studio in San Francisco, and expanded it to Los Angeles in 2008.
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