Do you want learn to act? You’ve got to learn to listen.
The self-centered actor thinks that acting is about the words. This type of actor is concerned with the impression that they’re making on the audience or the camera. And it shows. Hammy acting.
Acting is actually about the relationship between you and your partner. That’s what draws the audience in. That’s what we identify with.
Jennifer Lawrence observes, “There’s this freshness that happens within the first few takes of the actors actually listening to each other and actually really reacting.”
She’s an excellent listener, and we can’t take our eyes off her. Now you know why: she’s listening and thinking.

Listening takes courage

…And I mean REALLY listening and thinking…NOT:
  • pretending that you’re listening
  • showing us that you’re listening
  • indicating how well you’re listening…
… SIMPLY LISTENING. That means you have to surrender the control over what you’re going to look like to the camera or audience. And that courage separates the artists from the hams. Meisner training helps, and that’s why the students at American School of Acting have been taught it.

Planned spontaneity

But the hard part is maintaining that freshness take after take, or performance after performance. It’s what the students at American are learning as we make short films of their work. They’re learning the art of spontaneity, the ability to deliberately forget what they’ve just said, as we go for the next take. And it’s bl***dy hard work. A number of times I’ll stop after a take and ask them, “Now do you see how much work there is in good acting?” And they always agree.

Imagine all the images…

Want to learn a trick? Follow the advice of John Swanbeck, producer at BlueSwanFilms:
“As the other actor is speaking, create images in your mind of the thoughts the other actor is expressing. The camera will wonder what your character is thinking even as the other character is speaking. And “listen with your eyes” to the other character while you are speaking. In other words, as your lines are coming out of your mouth, try to imagine what the other character thinks and feels about what you’re saying. If you listen with your eyes, you’ll be instantly cinematic. Think about it. The close up isn’t about the ears. It’s about the eyes.”
Try it next time. But I’ll shout it out again: KNOW YOUR LINES. You have to know them so well that you don’t have to remember them – know them so well that you can’t say anything else. Only then can you start listening and acting.
Want to learn more about acting? Come on one of our workshops or courses. You can learn more about them here.
Until next time, Break a leg!

Bryan Bounds is an award-winning US-born, UK-based actor, teacher, writer and creator of the Neuro Acting System of actor training. He began his professional career began in 1984 and received an MFA in Acting in 1991.