As an acting student, you might have heard a million times “do acting without acting.” But how the hell do you do that?
Well, acting without acting means whatever you do on stage or in front of the camera should be natural. You can use unique acting techniques like using an activity in the scene, developing leaving breathing character, delivering dialogues without thinking, and interacting with co- characters and not co-actors.
Let’s understand look into a detailed process to achieve the most natural-looking acting.
What Does Acting Without Acting Actually Mean?
You might have seen some performances which can be described as real and organic.
My personal favorite is Daniel Day-Lewis.
Almost all of his performances feel so real and effortless.
You never feel as if he is acting or hamming.
Everything is fluid and on beat!
This is what acting without acting looks like!
And want to know what it feels like when you are doing it?
Do this exercise for a minute, and you will learn what it feels like.
Just sit comfortably in a chair, set the timer on your phone to one minute, and count different colors in your room.
If you do the exercise as described, then answer the following questions:
Did you think about something else rather than counting?
I hope it is No!
Were you conscious that you are counting colors?
I hope it is No!
For you, did the time fly?
I hope it’s yes!
Were you focused only on counting colors in your room?
I hope it is yes!
This is what organic acting should feel like when you are acting.
But there is huge difference between this simple activity and doing a scene.
You can consider the scene as a mix of several types of activities which could be internal, emotional, external, and more.
To do these complex activities, you need to have well-developed acting techniques and years of experience to make it look effortless.
Four Effective Techniques To Act Without Acting Now
It may take years to make your acting look organic, but what if you want to do it now?
Well, there are a few acting techniques that you can use to make your performance look organic.
Let me tell you, these are not some quick tricks, but I have taken these tricks from well-known method acting techniques.
Also, it does require practice to use these techniques for scenes, plays, or auditions.
So let’s get started and look at them in detail.
1. Adding An Real Life Activity To The Scene
Out of all techniques, just this one technique makes the performance look more natural.
When I started learning Eric Morris acting technique, we were taught to find at least 20 different activities per scene.
This trained us to add or discover some activity in the scene even if there is nothing in the script.
Also, we as humans are always involved in some activity every moment in our life.
What could these activities be?
This depends on the location of the scene.
You have to think of things you can do at a given imaginary location.
Let’s say the scene is at the bus stop and the script defines no activity other than just waiting for the bus, and then you can probably add these activities:
- count the change to buy the bus ticket.
- Have a quick snack.
- Search for something in your bag or pockets.
- If your character is going for a meeting, rehearse for the meeting.
Whatever may the location of the scene, try to list out multiple activities and try out all.
Once you have tested it all, keep one activity that suits the scene.
One important point to note is that you can add activities only if nothing is mentioned in the script.
If you are preparing for a professional set up like a theater play, show, or film, you should consult with the makers.
But for practice and auditions, I advise you to always add some activity of your choice.
Also, strongly advocate practicing all the acting techniques before you apply them in a real audition.
Another aspect of this technique is your understanding of how to find exciting activities.
For that, you should rely on your observation skills.
It would help if you took note of every activity you do at a specific location.
If you are in your bedroom, make a note of all the activities you do in daily life.
Activities like sorting clothes, making the bed, getting ready, searching for keys, cleaning, etc.
If you have a bank of activities for every kind of location, your job becomes much more comfortable. Just open your diary or whatever you use to make a note of your daily observations.
I love to use Evernote to note my daily observations.
Also, one piece of advice makes it a practice to list out activities for the scene or monologues whenever you start prepping for it.
Make it the first step of your preparation process.
2. Developing Living Breathing Character
Developing leaving breathing character is easy to say but hard to execute.
Let me tell you, it is the most time-consuming process in acting.
It requires research, interpretation, and a deep understanding of the script.
But once done, your job becomes a lot easier as an actor.
How to develop a living, breathing character?
In acting, a character is built on for pillars:
These are the main factors that define a character.
There is a long process to it, but if you use my “100 questions to build character worksheet,” your job will be much easier.
Get The Worksheet
I have developed this worksheet from my experience as an actor and acting student.
This worksheet will help you determine the four main factors that I have described here.
After that, all that is left is to execute it.
But before that, let’s understand what these four factors are.
As the term suggests, it is all about the physicality of the character.
First, you must be able to determine what physicality the character has from the script.
The script is your friend. It will tell many things about your character and things that are not in the script you should improvise.
Be creative and add exciting physicality to the character.
Adding physicality is a step-by-step process of your developing character for movies or TV, but for now, we will stick with the basics.
Just by getting the walk of character, you will discover most of the physicality.
If you understand a little bit of biomechanics, walking makes use of the whole body.
A simple change in any part affects the whole walk.
So how do you discover the walk of character?
Acting coaches offer many techniques, but I have successfully used the Body center technique from the book No Acting Please by Eric Morris .
I have explained the technique in a separate post (check it out).
However, let me still explain it in short for those who don’t want to detail.
According to Eric Morris, there are centers in our area that you can choose from, including the forehead, nose, shoulders, hands, chest, belly, hips, knee, and feet.
Choose any one of the body centers, keep it 1-2 cm ahead of your body when you walk.
If you choose a forehead, bring your forehead to a position where it is 1-2 ahead of your body.
Take help of your friend, ask him or her to see from the side if the body center you have chosen is slightly ahead or not.
It would be best if you tried different body centers to find the right walk of the character.
3. Deliver Dialogues without Thinking
I have seen many struggles with their dialogue delivery.
The main reason being they just focus on how they should say their lines.
I have seen actors practicing lines for hours.
They think acting is all about how you speak your lines. Also, they do not care about developing character or do any preparation.
When I began acting, my acting coach clearly said, dialogue delivery should be the last thing on your mind.
You will deliver most natural dialogues only when you are the character playing situations of the character truthfully.
I know some of you are restless by nature and like shortcuts to everything.
I faced many situations where I had very little time to prepare.
Many casting agents ask you to do something on the spot with a script that you might not have even smelled before.
In that case, it is tough to develop a character or do any other kind of preparation.
For such cases, I have developed a sweet little method called to speak to the other.
This is my own method which has worked for me every time I have used it.
So how does it work?
Well, the beauty of this technique is to not worry about your character but create the other characters to whom your character is speaking to.
Creating character doesn’t mean developing characters inside out!
In real life, when you are speaking to other people, all you know about other person is
- what they look like
- how they speak
- their attitude towards you
You have to create these three things for another character.
This is how I do it:
1. When I am looking to create what they look like, I imagine what they are wearing and where they are standing in the room, and also I give them activity if there is something they are doing in the scene.
This gives you an idea of where to look, which is very important when doing scenes for the camera.
2. Next, try to imagine how they speak. We, humans, love to mimic each other. We reply in the same tone as the other person.
If the person has a soft tone, we try to match the soft tone of his or her.
And if he has an aggressive tone we match it.
So guess what would be the tone of the character and try to match it.
3. Third and last thing, all you have to understand is your character’s relationship with another character in the scene.
Throughout the story, the relationship keeps changing, so learn what the current relationship with another character is.
If the character has an attitude of affection, and you have the same attitude towards him or her, play it.
The thing with attitudes is that other people may love you, but you hate him or her. There are contrasting attitudes.
So, imagine the other character playing his attitude towards you, and you react with your own attitude.
4. Speaking with Co-Character And Not Co-Actors
When you are delivering dialogues, it is always directed to someone. Even if there is no one in the scene, you are speaking to yourself or to God in some cases.
This is the most important aspect of the scene.
So if you know who you are speaking to, your acting automatically looks natural.
Why is it so?
What happens when you know who you are speaking to?
With each person in your life, you have a certain kind of relationship.
The way you speak or behave differs when the person you are interacting with changes.
You speak and behave differently when thou are speaking to your mother.
You speak and behave differently when you are talking to your girlfriend or boyfriend.
So when you are preparing for a scene, determine to whom you are addressing your dialogues and what kind of equation you share with him or her.
You have to find the equation in detail to get a free-flowing dialogue conversation.
In a relationship, what does the equation mean?
As an actor, you must understand that equation is nothing but emotions you experience when you are with a certain person.
What emotions do you experience when you meet the person, and what goes through your mind when you are having a conversation with the person.
Another aspect of the conversation is what you want from the person after the conversation.
There is always a hidden agenda when you are interacting with the other person.
It could be love, sympathy, permission, understanding, etc.
This so-called ‘want’ should be in the form of emotion and not some physical object like money etc.
I will explain everything in detail.
If you follow my process, you will be able to not only start well but make dialogue seem smooth and natural.
Here are the detailed steps to make your dialogue look effortless:
One thing I have learned in my small career as an actor, if you begin well, you will end well.
I often had issues starting scenes. The first few minutes of my performance looked off and unnatural.
To solve this issue, begin a few moments before the actual scene starts.
You might have heard about the moment before in many method acting techniques.
I applied the same principle here.
It would help if you first determined what had happened a few moments before the scene.
Were you happy?
Were you angry?
Were you sad?
You don’t have to go into detail, determine what the last emotion that you had experienced was.
Now you know what the last emotion you experienced was. Start the scene with that emotion.
You have to carry that emotion until you meet the other character in the scene.
Maybe the scene is you entering into the room and walking up to the other character.
The moments that occur until you begin actual interaction with the other character should reflect where you are coming from.
It should reflect in your body language, in your eyes, and in your face.
It’s time to begin interaction with the other character. But before you speak, you should know what’s the exact nature of your relationship with this character.
So when you are preparing for the scene, spend some time understanding the relationship with other characters.
First, find out what the relationship is.
Are you a brother, father, mother, friend, boyfriend, colleague?
Once you know that, understand if it is a good relationship or a bad one.
By knowing these two things, you know how to greet him or her.
If it is a good one, you will greet the person with a smile or joke.
If it is a bad one, you will greet the person with a straight face or won’t greet at all.
To find that right first emotion according to the relationship and play it.
When you begin right, the next step is to get what you want from another character.
I have already mentioned what this want is.
The want should always be in terms of emotions.
Always ask what your character wants emotionally from the other character. The answer that you come up with should be in active form.
For instance, the character should say,
I want to be loved.
I want to feel safe.
I want to be accepted.
I want to make you happy.
And so on.
With each word you speak, it should be fueled with the desire to fulfill ‘the want.’
I personally feel even if you skip all the above steps and play using the want technique, you will be amazed at how improved your dialogue delivery is.
One aspect of dialogue delivery that many actors don’t follow is listening.
When you listen with all your senses, you react well to the words.
And for acting is all about reacting to the given situation.
You should follow the same principle while speaking dialogues.
You should speak only after you get a stimulus from your co-actor.
A stimulus can be words, facial expressions, body language, or action.
Depending on the stimulus, you will feel emotion. That’s your key point.
As soon you experience that emotion, the words follow.
This is what delivering natural dialogues feels like.
If you follow these steps, you will be able to take your dialogue delivery to the next level.
These four techniques are gold nuggets for an actor. If you master it, you will be a much better actor than before.
But the practice is a must.
The more you practice these techniques, the better you will understand