Method Acting Exercise – Affective Memory

Posted on 3 September 2014

“Act with your scars”

Shelley Winters


“Affective memory” technique is probably one of the most well known method acting exercises. It is widely used by Hollywood actors, whose extreme interpretations have been well documented. For some critics, it is genius, for others, dangerous.


‘Affective memory’ is the act of delving into your own past experiences to add truth and humanity to the pain, suffering and fear of a character. It is an extremely effective technique in which actors find a parallel in their own lives with the character arc of the role they are playing.


How Does It Work?


Once you are relaxed, sit in a chair and begin to relive the past experience that you believe will help with your character. Try to remember as many details as possible about the event – Where did it take place? What were you wearing?


Dig deeper, and try to remember the sensory elements of the experience – what did the place look like? What was the weather like? What did the clothes feel like? How did they smell?


It is important that you recreate the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the event in as much detail as possible.


At this stage, we are not trying to recreate the emotions that you felt at the time. The hope is that by remembering every sensory element about the experience, the same emotions that you felt then will be naturally triggered.


Sometimes the emotions can be quite unexpected. Often they can be disturbing and traumatic.


Be Careful


“I felt very much at home with the sadder side of Tommy, but it’s not a territory I need to dwell in”

Tom Hardy on his role in Warrior


Some of the experiences we need to draw on using the “affective memory” technique can be painful. They are also very powerful. This means it’s important to understand how to use the technique in detail. It’s not for dabblers, you need to master the technique to be able to us use it in a safe and effective manner.


Given the powerful effect of reliving traumatic experiences from your past, we recommend exploring ‘affective memory’ for the first time in the secure environment of a method acting class.


If you would like to explore the “affective memory” technique, or any other aspects of method acting, why not take one of our courses?



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