Acting is Not About Emotion

Some Actors can really turn on the taps! Their eyes can tear up at will, which as a skill is quite remarkable but this has very little to do with Acting. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to suffer through an audition where the Actor insisted on injecting waterworks into the inanest of scenes. Not only does this make me feel uncomfortable, but my wonder at their choice also removes me from the immediacy of the moment and ruins what might have otherwise been a very good scene.

What is Acting?

Every time I start teaching a new group of aspiring Actors, I always ask the question: What is Acting? Inevitably the word ‘emotion’ pokes its irrelevant head above the parapet. This is a common misperception out there: that Acting is all about emotion and to be fair, this is a reasonable assumption because we often witness performances on the stage or screen where difficult emotions are provoked in the audience’s imagination. And this is the key: emotional reactions are the privilege of the audience and not the playground of the Actor.

Howl of Disapproval

I hear you howling with disapproval! Let me explain. Your job as an Actor is to take the audience on a journey of empathy (not emotion). The gift of an exceptional performance is so because the audience begins to think to themselves that they have experienced a similar situation/ relationship/ hardship in their own lives and this actor we watch on the stage ‘becomes the embodiment of their own life’. And, we all want to be the heroes of our own lives, we want to see this character before us overcome their struggles – or at least die trying. This is the hero’s journey and every character you will ever play, whether a walk on role or the lead, will always be attempting to overcome their own personal hurdle. With this in mind, your choices become that much easier. Never play the victim!

When you begin to play an objective – when you start with the will to survive – you sidestep the imposition of an emotional ‘colour’. Human emotion is complicated and if you have a true understanding of the text, you will realise that there are not enough words to truly describe your character’s experience. And this is the beauty of storytelling: the human condition is beyond description, but when we trust the story, we can all begin to immerse ourselves in the collective consciousness of our human experience.

Get out of your own way

If, as an Actor, you are brave enough to get out of your own way; when you can trust the story; and engage in a struggle to overcome – you don’t need to reach for emotion in an artificial way. Emotion will arise, in a complex and relatable way, and your audience will be willing to suspend their disbelief and allow you to take them on a journey of their own emotions, memories and thoughts.

I am not saying Actors shouldn’t cry! I am saying that when a character tries to suppress the overwhelming emotion, we, the audience literally will the character to be brave. So should you.

Actors, get out of your own way. Trust yourself. Trust your audience. And, trust the story. If you can get there, the sky is the limit on the heights your performances can reach.

Don’t believe me? Next time you tackle a character, see if you can try a new approach. One that involves trust and action and an aversion to weak choices and see how story can transform you. And your audience.


If you are interested in Acting, why don’t you investigate the Acting Course we have on offer right here.

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