All actors have a different approach to acting and how they prepare for a role. There is no right and wrong, and definitely not one ultimate formula for acting. But I think it’s still helpful to find out how the greats do it, listen to their advice and try it out for yourself.
Have a read over the following list of quotes from well-known actors giving advice. Maybe there is an approach you haven’t discovered yet which will help you immensely.
1. MORE DOING, LESS THINKING
Michael Fassbender – “I go over the words again and again and again and again. Hundreds of times. It’s more of a doing than a thinking thing. I have thoughts about the characters, I learn about them, but that’s not necessarily where the majority of the work gets done.”
2. EVERYTHING BUT ACTING
Meryl Streep – “My own bias is to educate yourself in everything but acting. Learn about the world. Learn about everything else. Learn about the human condition. That’s the kind of actor I wanted to be. I’m curious about everything and everybody and not to limit myself with a certain kind of acting. I wanted to understand what made people, all kinds of people, not just those from New Jersey.”
3. FIND THE THREE DIMENSIONALITY
Benedict Cumberbatch – “As an actor approaching a role you have to find a level of empathy and understanding with your character. […] Certainly as an actor I want to find out the three dimensionality of the character, and what motivates them, what’s human about them. And that’s not to soften the edges at all,[…] but it’s something we can relate to rather than something that’s ostracised from us and telling us how to feel and think.”
4. BE A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER
Idris Elba – “It’s important to have an open mind, it sounds like a very obvious thing, but obviously you are the vessel and on top of you, added into you are these personalities that you have to portray. […] Throw away any ideas you’ve got, just let the character start building from the beginning.”
5. NOT FOR FAME
Emma Thompson – “Don’t ever desire to be a star. Fame is a byproduct of what you do. It’s just an accident. What you do you must do because you love it, enjoy it, because you’re good at it, because people enjoy watching you anything else is by the by really. Make your choices carefully. Don’t take work just because it pays well.”
6. ACTING IS NOT SUCH A BIG DEAL
Ryan Gosling – “Acting isn’t that hard, really. I mean, I think that people make a big deal about it, but you just kind of try to say your lines naturally. You try to make them sound like you’re saying them for the first time, but that’s about it […] think that it’s an interesting job. I think that you can sort of have your own personal journey and you know, you can just kind of apply that to whatever characters you’re playing.”
7. SAY YES TO YOUR SCENE PARTNER
Viola Davis – “Whatever the actor gives me, I use. I don’t go home and prepare a performance and come to the set and use that performance that I’ve prepared at home. Whatever I work with at home, I only take to a certain extent, and when I go on stage, I prepare myself for the fact that the other actor may give me something completely different […] You gotta say ‘yes’ to your partner.”
8. OVERTHINKING IS A CRIME
Alan Cumming – “I think there’s been so much mythology and overthinking about acting […] that has ruined it. Obviously if there’s a character with a certain job I don’t know how to do, I’ll research that […] but mostly, when it comes down to it, I just pretend to be someone else and mean it. […] Acting is a collaborative thing. It’s not just about you. […] Overthinking is the biggest crime in acting.”
9. LOVE SURPRISES
Jessica Chastain – “I live for surprises. I love to be surprised by the director. I like to not know what’s gonna happen sometimes when I’m on set. I like to be surprised by the other actors. To me that’s the magic of what filmmaking is.”
10. NURTURE YOUR IMAGINATION
Alan Rickman – “Forget about acting. […] Whatever you do as an actor is cumulative. I say, go to art galleries, listen to music, know what’s happening on the news, in the world and form opinions, develop your taste in judgements so that when a quality piece of writing is put in front of you, your imagination, which you’ve nurtured, has something to bounce off of.”
There is not one way to go, because everyone’s journey is different. But, there is a lot of wisdom to glean from those who’ve gone before us and have had much more experience.
I hope this list was helpful and gave you the inspiration you need to keep going, or try a different mindset/approach.