Preparation: I am very big on script analysis. Break down the script and character to understand what is being said. It is just like in real life when you understand what to say before forming the words. Do your homework, memorise the lines and find moments that are not on the page. Preparing is what your reputation is built on, so always be prepared.
Visualisation: Actors, when auditioning in front of the camera, start to unravel because they are so used to scene study and props. Most casting directors hate props. Visualise the whole scene and get what you need from there. Memorising the lines is great, but that’s only the first part of your job. Now use your imagination to see the rest of the environment, which is like another character. If you don’t see it, we don’t see it.
Find empathy: You need to find empathy in a character to give him/her our vulnerability. And don’t try to exactly pinpoint where. If you can, that’s amazing and maybe you can exactly cry or do the famous Denzel teardrop, but don’t be surprised on set when some actors are using menthol under their eyes to get those moments. When you do find the empathy and use your triggers to emotionally invest, you become captivating to watch.
Just do your job: Stop getting all caught up in background noise, anxiety, nerves and thoughts of being famous. Just do your job. You can’t have distractions and serve your character with your imagination at the same time. It can’t happen, so stop it. Don’t be selfish. If you feel nervous, just breathe. I started using my diaphragm when acting to project stronger and it got rid of my nerves. When you use your chest to breathe, it’s shallower and can cause you to trip over the lines.
Making strong decisions: Everything you need to know is right there in the script. Trust yourself, make those decisions on the page and find that ‘aha’ moment in the scene. Find the beautiful moments created by the writer, switch on your imagination and believe you are the character by making strong choices or decisions that will enable you to find that magic in the moment.
Build the world: A lot of actors love to just connect with one another in the scene, which is important, but there is so much more. Use your eye line and imagination to build other parts of the world, including characters who are perhaps not there. Remember, for the audience you are in this whole other world and not just that one scene or interaction.
Technique: I love what Jane Fonda said about technique. Technique is something a young actor uses to give them the confidence to help them step into a scene. From breathing to script analysis to trigger work, whatever helps you confidently embody the character with commitment, do it. I absolutely believe an actor should have a technique to use. It means that they invested in their craft, they trained and they care. Every serious passionate professional has their thousands of hours of practice before mastery.
Moment to moment: You have to do moment-to-moment work, which is also known as listening and reacting. You would be surprised how actors still love to watch themselves or better yet, the other actor. I say stop watching. You are not the director. If you don’t visually get what you want, you listen to the words and let that affect you so you can react. If you have done the work, you should get your moments through the sequence of the beats and get what you want. So, always listen.
Train: Nothing beats training. The work starts here where we train and that should be no different whether you want to be on the stage, big screen or on television. Any great master, whether a sportsperson, painter or singer, has put in thousands of hours. The work ethic should be the same in any field whether you are washing dishes, dancing or training to be a doctor. Train and continue working so you are ready when the opportunity comes along. Be the artist who is in love with their craft and not the individual who chases accolades and money.
Believe in yourself: Last but not least, have confidence that you can rise up to the challenge and find that actor inside you. Be ambitious, enjoy the journey and really believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
Max Decker is an actor, director and acting coach based in Los Angeles. Visit madacting.studio, Instagram: @madacting.stuio & Facebook: Mad Acting Studio