SHY ACTORS RULE – why actors should know about neuroscience

This post is for the introverted actor who quietly suffers in a world of extroverts. If that’s you, we’ve got a lot in common. The world labels us as ‘shy’, and yet we have this mysterious hunger to connect with other people through art. There are many of us – this actor included. I spent a long time full of self-doubt and analysis paralysis.

What you need is a champion who can try to explain the conflict that you feel. I felt it for many years when I started acting. But once I had the information laid out, it blew away a lot of clouds of despair. So from now on, I’m not even going to use the ’S’ word – I’m going to give us our propers: Introverted.

First a question:

How many times have you seen a wonderful performance from an actor that you admire, and then later heard them during an interview and they sounded so quiet! There’s a reason.

I’ve worked with quite a number of well-known actors in my life both onstage and on-camera, and quite a few of them are introverted. I once shot a film with the actor Ben Stiller. On set he was charismatically animated, but once the sequence was finished, he became a very contained quiet guy, making his way back to his trailer to prepare for the next shot. Like many of us, he had two opposite personalities – which makes the non-actors eye us actors with suspicion, and which leads me to the following opinion which non-actors can’t fathom.

Introverted people make the best actors. You’d think that the outgoing, life-of-the-party, star personalities make the best actors. After all, our job calls for being the center of attention. So you’d think the introverted wall-flowers would just pale in comparison.

Not so. My experience of watching and working with actors is: audiences remember the introverted actors.


Here’s why introverts make a bigger impression. But first I’ll have to explain the difference between extroverts and introverts. I’m not going to use complicated psychology, I’ll just describe it like this:

  • Extroverts (74% of the population) love external stimulation and bounce things off immediately, so they are ‘outgoing’
  • Introverts (26% of the population) love internal stimulation and recharge their batteries in quiet environments.


Here’s where we introverts seem weird: A (the introvert) says something to B (the extravert). B gets instantly excited and lights up the room. B says something to A, and A thinks about it, her eyes move off, she smiles warmly, but she doesn’t provide any ‘light’. B concludes that A is either stupid, secretive or ‘away with the fairies’.

What’s going on? Extroverts take incoming information and immediately bounce it back. And since 74% of everybody does that, it looks normal and attractive. Introverts on the other hand take information and look at it from several different points of view before giving anything back. This can be unsettling to extroverts, leading them to think that we’re antisocial.


This reaction from society can fill us with self-loathing, but here’s where we’re stronger than extroverts (see any actor traits coming?):
Introverted minds are:

  • Able to concentrate deeply (but we do our best without distractions).
  • Able to process material to deeper levels of what psychologists call ‘semantic memory’
  • Able to learn without being aware that we have learned
  • Deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions.
  • Our bodies are different too. Most Introverted nervous systems make us:
  • Specialists in fine motor movements
  • Good at holding still
  • More ‘right-brained’ (less linear, more creative in a synthesizing way)


Personally, in my career, the most interesting actors have definitely been the introverts. I believe that they are more adept at the craft of acting than extroverts because extroverts operate in the external world. Onstage they often have less time for a rich emotional life because they immediately redirect their energy outwards without allowing themselves to feel the rich, complex emotions that a dramatic character is called on to experience. And to be honest, the hammiest actors I have ever worked with are the most talkative, fun-loving extroverts. It’s the quiet ones who light up the stage.


But being an introverted actor has its drawbacks:

  • We often think about our own thinking, so we need to learn to listen with our ‘guts’ (i.e. Meisner training)
  • We often see life as a torturous balancing act (not just balancing work/life, but balancing spiritual and artistic parts of our life)
  • And most crucially: we often delay making career decisions until we’ve exhausted all our options.

What I’m getting at is this: if you’re an introverted actor, stop doubting yourself. Become friends with the raw parts of your personality. That’s where your art is – although you may feel alone, you are the deep poetic one in the crowd. And your truth is the same as the extroverts’ truth – you just express it differently.

But if you’re meant to be on that stage or in front of that camera, and you don’t feel happy anywhere else, then for God’s sake get out there. We need you to remind us of what it means to be human. And rest in this awareness: most actors themselves already think and feel the same way you do. You can be a service to them and yourself by embracing this knowledge and sharing in that experience.

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Art critic, Robert Hughes

Bryan Bounds (MFA Acting) 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 has taught Acting at the University of Texas at Austin. His next 10-week course in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, ‘The Actor’s Way’ for new and seasoned actors, will begin on January 28, 2023.