What Meryl Streep Says About Acting

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“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” —Meryl Streep

Many young actors I meet are under the misconception that acting is about being someone else. They’ll memorize their lines and recite them, the same way they learned them, while trying to make them “sound natural.” Then they try to imagine how “their Character” would feel and act and they try to “act it out.”

That kind of acting is about showing us how skilled are you are at “acting” like someone else and puts a lot of pressure on you to be a very good impersonator. It also encourages self-consciousness because your attention is often on checking in to see how you’re doing and if your charade is going well. Johnny Depp put it this way:

“With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting. It’s lying.”

Unfortunately, in school we’re taught that how you feel is less important than getting the right answer. In our work, knowing how youfeel about what you say isthe right answer. “The character” is words on a page. Without you, and how you personally feel about everything they say and do, there is no character. Without you expressing how you feel and act in their circumstances they don’t exist. Without your feelings, quirks, and point of view, they don’t come to life. It’s the life you give them that makes them breathe and that only happens when you give them yourlife experience, yourfeelings, and yourimagination.

Instead of “acting it out,” I suggest a simpler approach. Just tell us how youreallyfeel in their circumstances. Share with us how you, the person, truly, deeply, personally feel about everything you say. Responding as if the scene is happening to you right nowcuts “acting” out of the equation and frees you up to be your authentic self. Then you’re free to simply tell your personal truth about what you say. The people watching will see the character speaking but what they’ll really be seeing is you responding honestly, with your personal point of view, to events as they happen.

Many of you get nervous at auditions because you feel like you’re being judged. You think of auditions are a test of how good you are. By simply telling us how you feel about what you say, your audition stops being a test of how good an “act-er” you are because you’re not acting! You’re just you, standing there telling the truth as you see it right at that moment without apology. Just tell it like it is. There’s no test and no judgment. It’s just you.

Remember, no one can be a better you than you. Not having to act is liberating and let’s us see who you are instead of your idea of how someone else might behave. By taking personal responsibility for what you say, their words can become yourwords.

If you don’t find youin the writing, there’s no truth in it. You’re just acting like some other person who has no real history, memories, thoughts, passion, or real point of view toward the world of their own. You are the artist. It’s your job to give them that, and you only have yours to give.

If finding yourself in your acting is something that interests you, I invite you to join my class Audition Sides Made Easy where I show you how.

Now get started by browsing Backstage’s film audition listings! And for more great career advice, watch the video below.

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Philip Hernández
Philip Hernández is an audition coach and working actor in New York City. He uses his 30 years experience on stage and on camera to teach the real world skills you need to book the jobs you want. His students appear on Broadway, in regional theaters, national tours, on television, and in film.
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