3 Quick Tips for Playing Strong Emotions

I get requests all the time from actors to help them play strong emotions. Sometimes you need to cry, be angry, be threatening, or play a powerful villain. If you are not an experienced actor or are uncomfortable showing strong emotions in real life, you may feel uneasy acting with the kind of power or intensity called for in emotional scenes. Or, perhaps sometimes you can eventually pull it off, but you cannot always do it quickly. Maybe you doubt that you can cry or get angry on cue.

Perhaps you are afraid to get out of control, but the willingness to lose control will actually allow you to be more in control of the scene. Within that state of total abandon, you find freedom. You start to get lost in the character and their reality. Once you get out of your own thoughts (and your own blocks) and get into the body and thoughts of the character, you begin to operate from a deeper core which connects to the emotions of the character. In this state you will find it easier to let the other character’s words and actions continually push your buttons throughout the scene.

But you can do this. I have used these tips for beginners through very experienced actors. I use it in classes (kids, too) and for my webinars. These tips work fast.

1. Physicalize. Pump yourself up to get your blood surging...big time. You are trying to get yourself into the exact physical state that you are in when you actually feel the emotion in your own life.

For anger, do pushups or agitate yourself. I, personally, stomp around, pound my fists and yell and curse to pump my emotions up to get angry. Get your adrenaline pulsing through your body any way you can. No one cares that you are doing this. They know you need to push your buttons for an emotional scene and are thrilled you can do it quickly so they can get the shot.

For tears, slump or hold onto your body in a defeated or protective way. Perhaps even collapse a bit. I suggest audible breathing as if you can’t catch your breath. Make the ugly sounds you make when you cry. Let your voice be ugly and broken. Let your face become ugly. Be willing to be unattractive.

(Make sure you watch the accompanying video to see how insane I actually get!)

2. Rant. I love rants for many situations. A rant is when you speak passionately about something. These are great in improvisations, for building characters quickly, and for strong emotions.

For anger, choose what your character hates most and do a few minutes worth of a wild, passionate, angry rant about it. Pick what is really irritating your character in the scene or the straw that broke the camel’s back that set you off. What drives you crazy? Get madder and madder as you go. Get insane!

For tears, choose what you fear, what broke your heart, or whatever situation in the actual scene is making you sad and just rant. Get more and more upset as you go until you are sobbing. This will help you to find the buttons to push when you need to call upon those tears again.

3. Scream. This works especially well if you are playing an extremely angry or powerful villain. Just scream bloody murder. Often, if I am taping someone for an audition, I will have them scream and go right into the scene and I just edit out the scream.

For tears, this will get you so out of control that it is easy to break into tears very quickly. Just keep screaming until you are totally broken.

Now go forth...and freak out!

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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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