Throughout my career as an actor, I’ve spent countless hours in classes, workshops and reading books to help strengthen my craft. While there are literally thousands of acting techniques and methods out there, perhaps one of the most important techniques any film actor must know is the art of reacting to a situation.
As a film actor, you must learn how to react to what is happening in the scene, and not simply relying on your premeditated reactions as these predetermined actions are typically inappropriate within real-world settings.
The Art of Reacting
I want you to think back on a time when you were having a conversation with a friend or loved one, and while the beginning of the conversation was going normally suddenly a fact was revealed that shocked you. How did you react? How did this revelation alter your thought process within the realm of the conversation? Did you have a physical reaction or was this reaction purely internalized?
You see, as a film actor you must rely on your ability to naturally react to what is said and done within the context of a scene. While many actors over-prepare by outlining their reactions, predetermined reactions always appear phony and rehearsed. This will do nothing but make your performance look amateurish and fake.
Some of the most successful film actors in the entertainment industry only memorize their lines and review basic blocking for a scene, but completely avoid full-preparation like stage actors. The reason for this? Film actors must rely on their ability to react to a situation in order to achieve a great performance.
Reacting isn’t something that can be planned or rehearsed, and the only way to truly react is to truly be living in the moment of the scene. To avoid over-thinking and to concentrate on the other characters while actually listening to the words they are saying and not just waiting for your cue to speak.
An example of how the art of reacting can affect your performance is when I was taking a film acting workshop in Chicago. The director overseeing the workshop handed out various scenes and paired off the crowd of actors into pairs. We only had 15 minutes to review the scene and make very basic blocking choices.
When it was time for my partner and myself to perform the scene, we went through the first half of the scene like we rehearsed. However, instead of relying on our precious moments of rehearsals, I forwent these choices and simply relied on my ability to react to what was being said to me. To my surprise, I began crying and shaking as what my character was hearing from the other character was unbelievable. While this was not planned, my performance was wholehearted and organic simply because I reacted to what I was hearing.