The Actor Every Director Wants

As an aspiring actor and part-time director, I’ve always been curious what other directors look for most in the actors they work with. Especially, when I see directors like David O. Russel working with the same cast in several films.

Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro all star in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy. While Mark Wahlberg stars in Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter. There are so many actors he continues to work with like Christian Bale, Lily Tomlin and Paul Herman.

What I wouldn’t give to pick David O. Russel’s brain!

I decided to ask a few director friends to see what they look for in the actors they work with.

Jason SolariThe Umbrella (2016) & The Out of the Woods Project (2017)

Jason is one of my closest friends, so I’m a little biased about what an amazing director he is, BUT, I can say without bias that Jason has an excellent eye for finding amazing actors and getting the performance he wants.

When I asked him what he wants in an actor, this was his reply, “Comfortability. Someone who’s comfortable in their own skin and not trying to be someone else.”

This is an incredible key for every actor. Be comfortable in your own skin. The more you let your characters come from a real place within you, the more natural your character will be. Wise words from a wise guy.

Guillermo F. NavarroRelapse (2008) & Historias Invisibles (shooting next year)

Guillermo is one of those directors, as an actress, I want to work for. He’s considerate and likes to play with a scene and explore what could happen. So of course, I had to ask him what he wants in an actor.

“I look for a solid acting formation. When casting, I don’t always have 100% defined what I want for that particular character. Furthermore, depending on who I cast for the opposing roles, it might change some aspects of that character. Therefore, I want to be sure that my actors will have the range to change the performance as needed.

“Ability to take direction, ability to improv and ability to react. I look for a performance that looks and feels real. A good way to create a spontaneous action is to change an element in a particular scene (even a small one such as positioning, adding a pause or changing the speed of an action). A good actor will be able to take that small change and incorporate it to what he or she is already doing and use it to make that particular take fresh and real.

“To be a good team player, have a strong work ethic, and respect the rest of the cast and crew. Basically, to be a good professional and a good person.”

A key to being the actor every director wants is to be a good team player in all areas on set. To me, this is the key behind what Guillermo is saying.

If you are a good team player, you’ll have the ability to know when to improv and react to sudden changes in the story. If you’re a good team player, you’ll be able to listen well to your director and respect the rest of the cast and crew.

David L. CunninghamTo End All Wars & The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

When I was in high school, I had the privilege of observing David in action on his first feature film, Beyond Paradise. He’s a phenomenal creative and definitely builds the creative community around him. He’s currently in production for his newest feature, Jo, the Medicine Runner, but took the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer my question.

“Authentic. Honest. Appropriate to the role, of course. Ideally, someone that’s also going to be a partner with you. Someone that brings choices to the table, but [is] willing to be directed.”

David L. Cunningham has worked with several amazing actors – Jim Caviezel and Keifer Sutherland, to name a couple – so when he says he’s looking for authentic, honest actor, he knows what he’s talking about.

So, can you be authentic and honest? Well, I asked my good friend Google to define these two words for me in the hopes it would give me an idea of how to be this kind of actor…

  • Authentic: not a copy of, but the genuine article.
  • Honest: truthful and sincere

A key to being the actor every director wants is to truly be yourself.

The genuine article.

Acting has been defined as living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. You can take this a step further. Going back to what David said, “Someone that brings choices to the table, but willing to be directed.

If you’re living your life truthfully and authentically, then you’ll have done your homework on the character and be able to bring in genuine ideas and be able to hold them with an open hand.

I hope this has been helpful to you, my fellow actors. It’s been a great reminder for me to live as authentic and honest as possible; to be a team player and to keep it real and relaxed.

After all, our whole job as actors is to play! So have fun.

If you want more of this kind of article, sound off in the comments below and we’ll see what we can do.

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  • Charis Joy Jackson

    Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

    Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

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