As an actor, being able to create authentic acting and a believable portrayal of any character you play is one of the most important skills you must master. And shrugging off your own personality and history to embody the life, thoughts and feelings of a character may seem like the most effective way to achieve a realistic performance. However, as Stanislavski said: “the person you are is a hundred times more interesting than the best actor you could ever become”. In other words, the best way to create a believable character is to bring your own life into the process. And in using your own history to bring your character to life, you will allow yourself to give your most believable performance to date.
Getting to know the real YOU
Being able to be your authentic self is a crucial and useful part of becoming a great actor, but it is by no means easy to achieve. Being the ‘real you’ means opening up completely, making you vulnerable. And in our society, being open and therefore vulnerable to others is viewed as a negative, weak attribute. But in the world of performance, it is a brave and necessary step to take if you are serious about your craft.
The truth is, everyone is different, and has had a unique set of experiences. The emotions that are stirred up organically in life are little less than weapons to the talented actor that knows how to use them. Your personal experiences and the emotions and feelings that come along with them are some of the most valuable attributes you have as an actor. Tapping into them by being open and regressive isn’t weak or strange, it’s the only sensible thing to do!
Authentic acting: how to get there
So it’s all very well understanding that one of the best ways to improve your performance is to bring yourself into the character, but how do you actually achieve that and deliver truly authentic acting? Being able to be as honest and authentic with yourself is key. Bringing your own life into a character designed to be performed- and watched, can be a frightening thing, but the authenticity of your performance will shine through.
However getting in touch with your authentic self needn’t be a strained and difficult process, requiring a therapist and countless hours on the couch. Instead you can use some key techniques to get in touch with the aspects of yourself that will be useful to you in performance. So although keeping your mind open and taking time to think about your own behaviour and emotions will be useful, some method acting techniques will allow you a much more ‘targeted’ recall.
Your best friend in this endeavour will be one of the most beloved techniques of The Method – affective memory.
Affective memory is a term to describe the process of using your own memories to bring a little humanity and a lot of truth to a performance. But it is important to remember that delving into your personal history may dig up emotions and repressed memories that may be distressing to re-experience. While it can be extremely effective, it is not an exercise to engage in lightly and is always best done in a secure environment, such as one that can be found in a method acting class.
How it is done:
First, explore all aspects of the character you are working on. What have they been through? How would that affect them? Have there been any similar experiences in their life to your own?
Once you have an idea of a few experiences that may be worth exploring, find a comfortable place where you can relax and not be disturbed. Think about the experience or event- don’t try to relive it step by step. Instead focus on remembering as many details as possible: the location, how long ago it was, what you were wearing, etc.
Then you should focus on the sensory elements: what could you smell? How did the place look? Were you eating anything? What did it taste like? How was the weather? Did you feel warm or cold? Exploring all the sense memories you have is key to this technique.
Focusing on these details, in particular the sensory elements, should naturally trigger the emotions you felt at the time. Not only will you be able to bring that full experience to a character portrayal, but you should be able to fully recreate those authentic emotions at will.
Authenticity is an art-form
Most people conceal their thoughts, feelings and emotions without even intending to, and unconsciously bury painful or distressing memories. It is unlikely that anyone in your life (including yourself) is being their true, authentic self, which makes exposing it and using it to your advantage a true art-form.
Delving deeper into yourself than you ever thought possible is something that serves to define The Method, and it is a large part of what has made it one of the most famous (and talked about) acting techniques in the world. With over 80% of ‘Best Actor’ Academy Awards going to Method Actors since the year 2000, there’s no denying it works, and has arguably helped to create a higher standard in the world of performance.
Unlocking your authentic self is something that takes time, and it is also best done in a professional Method Acting class. From perfecting your Affective Memory recall, to other performance techniques, it is your best bet to becoming the authentic actor you were always meant to become.
If this is something you want to explore further as part of your quest to becoming a professional actor, my Ultimate Acting Programme will help you learn these techniques and how to put them into practice.