Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do, for you.

Johnny Depp

Acting, by the simplest possible definition, is the performing of fictional or otherwise specified roles in a narrative or enactment. Acting is an art form. There has never been any doubt about that much. It is the heart of any performance. You can have as much over the top visual editing as you like, but without an inspired performance by the actor, it won’t count. The importance of good acting in any piece of work cannot be overstated.

A brief history of our subject matter would suffice, don’t you agree? According to lore, the man who invented acting was one Thespis. He single-handedly pioneered the beautiful art form. This happened around the year 500 BC. Inconsistencies brought by changes in calendars over the course of history make it hard to pinpoint when exactly it happened, but it did – and that’s all that matters. He surprised everyone when he leaped unto the back of a cart and started reading lines of poetry as if he was the person whose words he was reciting. In doing so, he became the first actor in history. It is from his name that we derived the word Thespian. He may not have realized it then, but he had breathed into life an art form that would touch many souls for centuries to come.

In this article, I will delve into what separates good actors from great ones. After all, the writing and technical demands are just the craft. It is the actor’s qualities that truly make acting an art. No two actors can bring a character into life in the exact same way, and that is what makes it so beautiful.

Modern Movies

Now that we have completed our little trip down memory lane, I think we can focus on our current times in relation to acting. It is no secret that the scene has changed a lot since acting was first invented. Emphasis has shifted on various issues in the industry, and we need to know them in order to move forward. This notwithstanding, the classic works will always be treasured.

Time changes everything. The most significant change that has developed over the many years is the shift from theatre to film making. You may be wondering what the difference is. I’ll tell you – the audience. In theatre, the audience is right in front of the stage. They get a first-hand and close-up perspective and delivery of the acting. This means that there is no much room for mishaps from the actors. The close scrutiny also means that actors have to be more controlled and deliberate with their actions and words. The upside is that, if pulled off well, the impact is tremendously felt by the audience. It also has a more natural feel and allows the audience to put themselves in the character’s shoes.

In film making, the audience only gets the finished product after it has been polished – most of the time, severally – to the director’s satisfaction. The completed product has the obvious advantage of near perfection of the script. The audience does not get to see any lapses in concentration or forgetting of words that may have happened on set.

The demerit is also huge, though. You see, acting is all about reacting to imaginary stimuli. When you repeat the same thing over and over and over again, it becomes draining and the reactions lose their authenticity.

Take a good example; one of the most natural things – laughing. If the script entails a joke, and the actor has to laugh on cue, he/she can only do it so many times. After a number of takes, you will have one very fake laugh. I won’t even go into crying.

While theatre is still available today and is still very classy, our main focus will be on the skills that make you a great actor in movies. We will discuss what the industry requires of you and how to deliver.

Non-verbal Cues

In everything we do, body language is as important, if not paramount, to passing the message. Our bodies send strong, clear messages, and unlike our tongues, they rarely tell lies. In fact, scientists widely agree that if someone is sending two different messages with his body and his words, you should believe his body. Our bodies are controlled by our emotions and hence, always give up our true intentions.

In acting, body language and non-verbal cues create an emotional connection to the words being recited. They make acting emotions possible. Without representing the way your character feels, you will never fully embody the role.

So, how do you nail non-verbal cues? Well, I have good news. It is not an innate ability that we are born with. Some people are certainly naturally better at it than others due to the nature of their nurturing (careful not to fry your brain on that one) However, it is a skill you can pick up and perfect through practice and more practice. At this point, I would like to introduce you to the Delsartlan Idea.

Francois Delsarte was a French actor who lived in the seventeenth century. He firmly believed that if you could discover the correct accompanying set of movements, you could represent any emotion you wished.

You see, back in those days, there was no systematic way of training actors. If you wished to delve into the industry, you either had to stick it out and learn through trial and error or as was more preferred, attach yourself to a more experienced actor and learn through apprenticeship. The latter usually meant that you would pick up your master’s technique and styles.

Delsarte got tired of this imitation after four different masters corrected his non-verbal cues on a single line in four different ways. Frustrated, he decided to launch his own study into how people reacted to different emotional stimuli.

He visited every possible place, including churches, schools, parks, hotels, barbershops, and even morgues, all the while conducting his research.

At the end of it all, he broke down every movement and reaction of our heads and bodies. He followed that by creating an extensive list and accompanying every set of actions with the emotion they represented.

For example, different combinations of eye and brow movements could indicate different emotions, such as firmness, coldness, indifference, horror, or desire. In the same vein, different positioning of the head during a conversation could suggest pride, disdain, remorse, sensuality, or abandonment.

The basic premise of Delsarte’s work was that everyone’s facial and bodily muscles are involuntarily stimulated in the same manner when experiencing the same emotion.

Very intriguing, right? Now, I’m not telling you to take this concept to the extreme as our dear old Delsarte did – but you can certainly work on it.

Most behaviorists universally agree that Francois was correct in his findings. In real life, some of these expressions don’t even last for more than a second, but they are certainly there and are dead giveaways. These subconscious micro expressions are used by professional interrogators in detecting deception.

In acting, they serve another purpose. Actors actually master these set of movements and consciously show them to the audience in order to make them understand what can’t or won’t be said in words. The audience recognizes the body movements sometimes without even realizing it, and that is because non-verbal cues are so clear and universal. You just can’t miss them.

Make it an everyday effort. Create a mental or even better, a physical list of bodily reactions that you have consistently noted to accompany a certain emotion. Incorporate them into your acting and experience instant results. Your execution will significantly improve, and so will your versatility in the field.

Improved execution and versatility will give you a great upper hand in auditions and on set in movies, while at the same time providing great insight into the nature of human beings. They especially help when quickly switching from one emotion to another. However, care should be taken not to go too far in their execution. Don’t overcook them in order to remain as natural as possible.

Verbal Delivery

Verbal delivery is a grey area for most actors because it comes with so much pressure from the crew, especially the director. What is right by one director is simply not good enough or even acceptable at all for another.

However, that is no excuse to be bad at it. The best remedy for the constantly shifting parameters of how you should deliver your lines is adaptation. Learn to adapt to the different demands of different directors you will surely meet in the industry.

Patience is crucial, too, because doing it with a smile certainly helps. There are other things you can do to master the verbal delivery of your lines. Let’s explore them.

One of the most essential aspects when delivering lines is how to carry yourself. It should always be the first thing for you as an actor to figure out how much importance is attached to your character in the specific fictional setting. Let me elaborate. An actor who plays a king is expected to deliver his lines with a lot of decorum. He is to modulate his performance to involve traits such as, but not limited to, pride, entitlement, and ego.

A character who plays a street beggar though is different. No matter how rich he may be in real life, he must be careful not to carry over any self-importance in the delivery of his lines as a beggar.

Any excesses in the traits you are trying to express ruins the character. Avoiding expressing excesses in traits is considered a great skill in the acting industry and has enabled many actors to get noticed for how well they deliver in certain niche roles.

This may come as a no-brainer, but you need to learn how to memorize your lines. This will help you get in good books with most directors. There are simple ways of achieving it, as well. Read the lines out loud, and if possible, read them with a friend. Record yourself saying the lines and play the recordings to yourself during the day. Also, try to move around as you say the lines. You can pace up and down the room.

Remembering lines should not be very hard, though, as most movies are not shot in a day or a week. You can simply memorize the lines you will need in the next shoot to come in a few days, and you will be alright.

When delivering your lines, do not succumb to the urge to try and be like someone else. Another person may be a better actor, but they are not you or your character. Focus on doing your character justice and try to be as inventive as possible.

As you embody your character, try to be the most genuine version of himself/herself according to what he/she is going through. Do not try to make it more interesting as it will only make you come out as insincere – unless that is the point.

There is also the technical stuff. Certain things must be done by all actors indiscriminately. Be audible so that the audience will not have to struggle to hear what you are saying.

Your words should also be spoken deliberately and at a good pace. Doing this makes you more eloquent and prevents swallowing of words, which can lead to important details of the plot being lost on the audience.

Finally, try to have fun. At the end of the day, acting is made by humans for humans, and nothing is more human than error. You will find that the filming crew, and even your fanbase, is very forgiving as long as they can see you are enjoying yourself.

Actors Takeaway:
how to be a good actor in movies

As we wind down, I hope that you have learned something that will help you. After all, aren’t we all actors? The truly most important thing of all is to believe in yourself. Good luck with your journey.