The Great Acting Secret | How to Live a Character and Not Pretend

Living in character and not pretending
Living in character and not pretending (Image courtesy:www.geekgyaan.com)_
There is an often reported problem of that actor appear to be "acting" when they act. I have also noted this fact in my own case in the initial stages as an actor and in my student actors. I term this symptom as "not acting" instead of "truly living and to be an authentic human being as a character"
The trouble that many actors face is that, though they are told that they should look like they are "not acting" when they act, they are rarely given the ways to accomplish this. Unfortunately, In spite of spending a lot of time in acting schools, workshops and in front of a camera, many try to make it look like something is happening when nothing is happening.

So, what do you do?

There are specific ways to achieve this quality of "not acting" and be "that character".
Here, I recollect what I learnt and practiced with what Sanford Meisner called the "reality of doing", which simply means that when you do something:


  1. You do not pretend to do it.
  2. You do not fake doing it.
  3. You do not try to make it look like you are doing it.

My simple formula is:

  1. Visualize and be in that imagined scene
  2. Repeatedly, auto suggest to yourself that you are "that character"
  3. Remain focused on that scene and being in the character. Do not allow any other thing to distract you. If any distraction occurs, count 10 and come back to the scene and character. Or keep your focus on one point say- a table, lamp, glass or at some point near the camera.

And finally you

"Really do it"

These three most simple words will lead you to a complete investment of your mind, your heart and your soul. Of course, what I am leading you towards, has to do with bringing personal meaning to everything you do in front of a camera.

Let me give you an example of what happened with one of my students who was selected for a 2nd lead in a film and had few rehearsals. One day Avinash came to me and wanted advice for a role he was performing. This story will give you a clear understanding of what is meant by the "reality of doing".
The actor told me that he was having difficulty with a moment in a scene when he had to ask the actress in the scene to marry him. He said that the director wanted him to break down and cry in this moment and that he was having difficulty fulfilling the director's request in spite of his best efforts.
I just responded in this way, "If you want to fulfill the director's request in that moment, when you ask the actress to marry you, REALLY ASK HER."

You see? Sound simple? Yes, always simplify things. I did not say, "make it look like you want her to marry you," I did not suggest any of the so called "actor tricks" taught in acting schools. What I suggested was something completely human...
Avinash must now bring to this moment on a set. I told him about above points and practiced Sanford Meisner technique for the next 2 days.
This actor must find a true, personal "need" in himself to have this woman says "Yes". Now Avinash must hook into a true "desire" to have the woman spends the rest of her life with him. Now the actor must find in himself an actual passion and longing for this woman so that when she says "YES" his response will rush through him like a tidal wave. In this way an actor will appear to be a living, authentic human being because he is "really doing what he is doing" and "not acting" it.

Below is a simple explanation of Meisner's Technique as I practiced:

Sanford Meisner
Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner-The Reality of Doing
The Reality of Doing
(Listen and do)

The foundation of acting is the reality of doing. So you may be asking yourself what exactly does that mean? The reality of doing means to actually do something not "pretend" you’re doing it.
For example, if you are supposed to be listening really listen not pretend to listen. If you are supposed to drink out of a cup don't pretend to drink out of the cup really drink out of the cup! It's just that simple!
Well, it sounds easier than you think.
As actors we spend years being taught "How to act" and "How to become an actor" that we develop these "pre-developed or established actions" that are supposed to be what a good actor does. How many times have you seen a film and the actor who's more concerned about performing and entertaining the viewers, is using over exaggerated hand gestures and pre-rehearsed delivery of lines. They think that they are so good that the viewers can't tell but they can!
The foundation of acting is the reality of doing!!! When I learned that while studying the Meisner Technique it changed my life because it is so simple!
I remember performing in the play. I had a scene where I was supposed to drink tea from an empty cup and every day I did the same thing I pretended to drink out of the cup. On the last dress rehearsal one of the prop masters set the table and put water in the cup without me knowing. When I finally got to me scene and it came to the part where I was drinking out of the cup I was so surprised that there was water in the cup that I forgot my lines! The reality of doing was so foreign to me that it caught me off guard. I had been so programmed to "pretend" to drink that I had no clue how to really drink out of the cup even though that is what I do every day in my everyday life. Sanford Meisner said that we are supposed to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances and this is done by setting up the foundation of acting which is the reality of doing.

Word Repetition Game 

Those of you familiar with Meisner know very well the word repetition game. It is the basis of learning the Meisner technique, it was created to get actors out of their heads so they won't think but do. Sandy Meisner wanted to create the simplest task, so that actors would not have to think and could focus on doing. With word repetition you are to repeat accurately everything your partner says.

Repetition develops listening ability

On my first day of school, I was told to sit down across from my partner, they would make an observation about me, say it, and I was to repeat EXACTLY what they say word for word. My partner looked at me and said "You have a pretty smile" and I repeated "You have a pretty smile" we did this for about one minute and I got kudos because I simply knew how to listen! That's it knowing how to listen was getting me one step closer to becoming a better actor.

Repeating from your point of view 

The next day I got up again and this time we did the same thing, but now instead of saying it word for word I was to tell it from my point of view. "You have on a green shirt" and I said "I have on a green shirt" We did this several times going back and forth making an observation with each other. The next day I got up to play the word repetition game again, feeling pretty confident that I did well that past two days I was ready to get to work.
My Partner was told to make an observation of me and he said "You have big hair" and without me thinking I said “I have big hair?" The class broke out in laughter because I was clearly not happy about that comment! The teacher stopped us and asked me how I felt about that comment and I said it made me a little angry and that I thought it was an asshole thing to say and he told me "well tell him that"!

The pinch

That's when I was told the third most important thing I learned from the repetition game Listening, Point of view, and THE PINCH! That feeling I felt about the comment was the pinch the point in the repetition game that I could now say how I felt about the comment. "You have big hair" "I have big hair?" "You have big hair" "That's an asshole thing to say"...!!! Waiting for the pinch is confusing because it happens at different times for people.
The most important thing I learned is, no matter how long you do repetition waits for the pinch! Most people don't wait and make a change themselves and by doing that they are not reacting truthfully. I would do repetition sometimes for minutes until the change naturally happened. You know the feeling and by not waiting for the pinch you are doing yourself an in service because you are not acting truthfully. I don't care if you have to do repetition for hours WAIT for the pinch, let the change come naturally! Now of course it doesn't take that long, but you get my point. The actors who did the best in the class knew this was a key rule in mastering the Meisner Technique.

The word repetition game is the foundation of the Meisner technique. It is so simple because you don't have to think you just have to listen and do. The actors who did not listen to their partners were the ones who made the change themselves in order to make something happen. If they just simply listened to their partner the change will naturally come. Sanford Meisner said don't create change wait for a pinch, it's about your instinct. One of the most beneficial things I learned was to NOT BE POLITE! Being polite will get you nowhere with the Meisner Technique because it is expressing how you really feel.

Practice and Practice! 

My rule of thumb is practice three times a day if you can. Always practice at least once,  especially in the beginning of your training. Make repetition second nature to you; get it so ingrained in you that you don't think you just do. I use to practice three times daily it was hard, but if you want to be the best you have to work like the best. Actors have to train just like any other profession.
Based on source 

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photo of Top Acting Coach Top Acting Coach Kiran Pande
Best Actor Academy
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Mumbai , Maharastra , 400089 India
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