Which is the most acting role hardest to play?Comedic roles? Crying Roles? Silent roles? Roles where you have to play as a blind?
In my opinion and based on my experience as an actor it is-
“One Line Roles”
Why? Because you never know exactly what to do with them. And, no one ever taught us what to do with them. There are classes on how to be emotional, how to master a scene and even how to improvise a scene, but neither of us knew of a class on how to do one-liners. Unfortunate, indeed!
Why One-Liners Are the Most Difficult?There are many reasons why one-liners are so difficult.
To start with, if you have a scene with several passages of dialogue and you make a mistake or miss a word, it’s no big deal. It’s probably not going to matter in the scope of the whole passage if you miss a line or forget a word. It will likely not even be noticed. But, if you go in and miss a word when you only have one line, everyone in an audition/ shot knows it. And, that makes the pressure on you all the more intense.
I always feel more nervous to get it right when I have one or two lines than I do with a paragraph. The pressure is more intense the less you have to say.
When you only have one line, there is no chance to building a scene. You just have to hit the perfect note right on the very first instance and then you’re done.
There’s almost no chance to build chemistry with your co- stars, if involved in a scene and which is pretty much rule number one in auditioning or in a take.
In my own experience of a scene while auditioning, I had to say a one liner-“He tried to kill him!” I had to turn to a police man and let him know that a man in a car tried to run over the victim. Auditioning guys wanted it loud, emotional and passionate. There was no line before and no line after, just my one line. So, as usual I introduced myself, and on “action”, took a second and then blurted my one line out.
And, that was it. I was out the door. No, build up, no visual cues, no fake victim on the ground, just me, a casting director and a camera in an empty, echoed room...
There is no way to know how I did because there was way or time to see how did I do. I was in and out in ten seconds, literally.
Another reason one-liners are so difficulty is that there is no one right way to say your line. Although that’s true of any line or scene no matter how long, you at least get a sense of what’s right because of the context of the rest of your lines when you have a whole scene and several lines.
Consequently, you end up practicing your one line in hundred ways and eventually settling on two or three ways of delivering it. Then when you get in the room and go with one of the ways, you inevitably doubt your choice. Why? Because there is no “best” way to say it.
Finally, there is added pressure to not shadow the main character (Star) with your one-liner.
More often than not, one-liners are in the script for explanation purposes or serving as a link or for a change in the rhythm. They are merely there to explain what’s really happening in the scene so the audience and/or main characters know.
In my above case (2) the “one line” let the police man and the audience know that the man in question was seen trying to run over the victim.
Now, How Do You Deliver a Great One-Liner?
- Great one-liners are delivered in a way that moves the story forward without detracting from the energy of the scene.
- So, how do you do that in an audition room when you have no idea what the other actors attending an audition for the same role will be doing?
- It’s simple… just keep it simple and subtle.
- The biggest problem almost every actor faces in their acting is they want to give away too much. They naturally want to tell everything they are feeling and thinking so the audience will know what’s going on inside our heads. That may be okay in the theater when the audience is sitting at a distance, but that is definitely not for films, where the acting is subtle.
- Make no mistake, the less you give the most fascinating you’ll be. Think about it in life? The quiet ones are always more interesting. Let the audience figure you out. Keep it simple and subtle.
- Say your one line the way you would say it in life.
An actress friend once had the line, “Coffee gentlemen?” in a film. The line was purposely put in the film by the writer to stop the two guy’s conversation before it went too far. It was getting heavy and the discussion needed a break. Can you imagine if she made that line all about her? It would have ruined everything. The audience is locked into the intense conversation between the two men, it’s getting intense, they may make the wrong choice, they need a break and suddenly a waitress comes up and screams out with rage and furor, “COFFEE GENTLEMEN!!!” The quiet moment that grounded them and ultimately allowed them to come to an agreement would have gone terribly awry because a self-cantered actress decide to make the scene all about her. If the writer
The writer needed the scene to culminate in an agreement. The waitress is not the focus, the two men and their conversation are.
- Never forget, as an actor you are always there to serve the story, not yourself. Sadly, most actors forget that little bit of truth when they act. And, their careers suffer as a result.
- Remember this when you get your next one line audition. Go in and deliver it with simplicity and subtlety and have a good time.
Based on article of Mark Atteberry is an award-winning actor, teacher, and photographer.