Acting is a very useful skill for filmmakers to learn. Not only can it help them understand the people in front of the camera, but it can help them communicate what they need from them in the scene.
The art of acting is something you will continually study. The great actors know this, and they focus on it as they build their careers. There's something special about that. Some sort of living performance art that connects people through performing. There is inherent importance in acting. And it starts with learning the drama basics and going from there.
Actors make films and TV shows come alive. Without them, we have no heartbeat. No living representation of our imagination.
Today, we're going to go over some basics of the art of acting. We'll offer acting advice and acting tips and look at some strategies for beginning actors to use to hone their craft. How does an actor prepare for a performance? By diving into the character!
Let's get in on the action!
'The Devil Wears Prada'Credit: 20th Century Studios
Acting Tips and the Basics of Acting for Beginners
If you want to put together how to learn acting and develop acting skills, you're at the right place. Each header below will offer you useful tools to take you on your journey.
So let's get down to the basics.
What Makes a Good Actor?
To become an actor, you need a particular set of skills. You need to be a great listener and a great communicator.
Actors are often asked to be empaths. They have to feel the emotion in the scene and be willing to be empathetic to the story and what their character feels, even if it's unlike their actual real-life persona. To be an empath, you have to listen to what the story or director is trying to tell you. And you should be able to effectively communicate with them, internalizing their needs and wants and then delivering them through your performance.
Acting Basics and Techniques
To act, you need to get into character. Most of your journey is going to be about how well you embody other people. It might be people from fiction or someone from reality you can mimic, but the onus is on you to become that person.
To do this, you need to go through your script and answer the biggest question in every scene...
'Malcolm X'Credit: Warner Bros.
What Does My Character Want?
When you know what your character wants, you can behave like them trying to get it. You find motivation in each scene. What your character wants will dictate the way you say lines, the way you hit your marks, and the way you behave in each scene.
A technique to help with this is called "Verbing"—it means exploring the script/lines through action words (e.g. I fight, I honor, I lure, I support). You can act those specific emotions and actions, and then bring them forward in the performance.
Read the Whole Script
Even if you're only playing a minor part, read the entire script they send you. Your character is going through an emotional arc. You want to see the arc in its entirety, then break it down to how you are changing in every scene you appear. If you don't understand these motives and storylines, you should talk with the director or writer.
Make sure you have this stuff nailed down before they roll the cameras.
A technique you can do once the whole script is read is to create a character’s sketch—write down things to describe your character and their personality. Once you understand them totally, you can become them.
'When Harry Met Sally'Credit: Warner Bros.
Watch Other Performances
There will be times when you're not in a scene, but you are on set. To learn, watch how other actors do it. See how people interact in the scene with one another. See how they become a person. Take notes and study the choices they make. Not only can you meet friends and mentors, but maybe they can help get you work in the future.
A technique you can do here is to mimic what you see. Perfect your version of them performing. Try to add layers based on what you see in reality. This is an acting exercise that can deepen your understanding of the choices other actors make.
Find Your Community
Making it in Hollywood is hard. If you have friends who are actors, you can suffer together. They can give you advice based on what they're going through and they can read lines with you to prepare for new roles. They also will help sharpen your skills. Maybe you want to all do a short film together or a play.
They're the people who can help you do your showcases and also carry you through the rejections and failures that come with the territory. It can be a long time before acting becomes your main profession.
Join an acting class or a troupe. Get as much experience acting as you can. It does not matter the size of the project, just that you're willing to do it and to be great in it.
What Makes You Unique?
Many actors cite an inability to get ahead in Hollywood until they figure out what truly made them unique. Sure, there are many beautiful people who look good on camera, but what sets you apart?
Is there a specific look or point of view you bring to the role? Is there a different way you can play things that feels wholly you and impossible for someone else to do?
Don't be afraid to take chances and establish your true spirit inside any role. Self-confidence will make you stand out more than you know.
Acting Advice—How to Practice Acting at Home
How do actors practice? Well, most people practice by doing.
That means joining as many plays, short films, auditions, and troupes as possible. But is there a way you can practice outside this, like at home? Sure.
We all have cameras in our pockets on smartphones. Set that up and then perform a scene. Work on a monologue or work with a scene partner. You can improve just by trying new verb readings of popular characters or by doing exercises like pulling famous historical people out of a hat and then working to embody them. After you tape all this, get some critiques. Send it to your friends and see what they can pick apart. Post it online and read the comments.
Work to hone your craft any way you can.
'Crazy Rich Asians'Credit: Warner Bros.
Acting Advice—How to Get Better at Acting
Truly, the only way to get better at acting is just to act. Take roles that challenge you. Volunteer for student films, go out for commercials, and take part in local theater. Do whatever you can to just get more and more experience. You cannot be a great actor without performing a lot.
The most important acting technique to practice at home is performing monologues. With that in mind, let's look at some ways you can work this stuff out on your own.
5 Great Monologues for Beginners
When it comes to practicing acting at home, you might want to try to do some monologues. You want something short and active. Something that showcases your range and your emotions.
I picked out five popular ones you can do.
These are excellent acting roles to practice. Don't worry about gender—sometimes people even appreciate it when you mix it up. Just choose something that feels personal and shows what you can do best. These active scripts for beginners will keep casting directors on the edge of their seats.
'Shakespeare in Love'Credit: Miramax
1. The Tempest by William Shakespeare: Act 2, Scene 2
This is Trinculo’s speech in The Tempest—it comes with a ton of character and emotion. If you need inspiration, just watch other people doing it on YouTube.
Here’s neither bush nor shrub, to bear off
any weather at all, and another storm brewing;
I hear it sing i’ the wind: yond same black
cloud, yond huge one, looks like a foul
bombard that would shed his liquor. If it
should thunder as it did before, I know not
where to hide my head: yond same cloud cannot
choose but fall by pailfuls. What have we
here? a man or a fish? dead or alive? A fish:
he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-
like smell; a kind of not of the newest Poor-
John. A strange fish! Were I in England now,
as once I was, and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece
of silver: there would this monster make a
man; any strange beast there makes a man:
when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame
beggar, they will lazy out ten to see a dead
Indian. Legged like a man and his fins like
arms! Warm o’ my troth! I do now let loose
my opinion; hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander, that hath lately suffered by a
Alas, the storm is come again! my best way is to
creep under his gaberdine; there is no other
shelter hereabouts: misery acquaints a man with
strange bed-fellows. I will here shroud till the
dregs of the storm be past.
2. The Seagull by Anton Chekhov—Konstantin’s mother monologue
Chekhov is one of the most popular playwrights because of his intense character-building.
She loves me, she loves me not; she loves me, she loves me not; she loves me, she loves me not. You see? My mother doesn't love me. Of course not! She wants to live, to love, to wear bright dresses, and here I am, twenty-five years old, a constant reminder that she is no longer young. When I’m not there, she’s only thirty-two, but when I am, she's forty-three—and for that, she hates me. Besides, she knows I don’t accept the theater. She loves the theater, she thinks she is serving humanity and the sacred cause of art, while in my opinion, the theater of today is hidebound and conventional. When the curtain goes up, and, in a room with three walls and artificial light, those great geniuses, those priests of holy art, show me how people eat, drink, love, walk about, and wear their jackets; when from those banal scenes and phrases they try to fish out a moral—some little moral that is easily grasped and suitable for domestic use; when, in a thousand variations, I am served the same thing over and over and over again—then I flee, as Maupassant fled from the Eiffel Tower, which made his brain reel with vulgarity.
3. The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney
This funnier monologue gives you some activity to do while covering a range of emotions.
Which do you want? Gin or Vodka? (Looking at bottles) Well, there’s more gin, so it’s less chance they’ll notice. But the reason there’s more gin is that I put water in it last week. Tell you what. We’ll mix in a little of both. Whenever they’re home, my father insists that we all eat in the dining room at seven o’clock. (Hands Helen her drink) Here. Gin and vodka and Fresca. The boys are bringing the pot. We have to lug things out, and lug things back, and nobody can begin till everything’s cold, and we’re supposed to carry on a decent conversation, and everyone has to finish before anyone can get up, and it sucks, if you want to know. It sucks out loud. My parents said they tried eating in the kitchen when I went to boarding school. But when I got kicked out, they moved back in here. It’s supposed to give me some sense of stability. It just makes me nervous. They take the telephone off the hook so no one can call, and my brother gets itchy about his homework, and when my sister had anorexia, she still had to sit here and watch, for God’s sake, and my parents spend most of the meal bitching, and the whole thing bites, Helen. It really bites. It bites the big one. Want another?
4. Before Sunrise by Richard Linklater
Maybe you want to do something romantic that shows vulnerability. Try Jesse's monologue from the movie.
You know, despite all the bullshit that comes along with it—I remember my childhood as this, you know, this magical time. I do. I remember when, uh, my mother first told me about death. My great-grandmother had just died and my whole family had just visited them in Florida. I was about three, three and a half years old. Anyway, I was in the backyard playing, and my sister had just taught me how to take the garden hose, and do it in such a way that, uh, you could spray it into the sun. And you could make a rainbow. And so I was doing that, and through the mist I could see my grandmother. And she was just standing there, smiling at me. And, uh, then I held it there, for a long time, and I looked at her. And then finally, I let go of the nozzle, you know, and then I dropped the hose, and she disappeared. And so I went back inside and I tell my parents, you know. And they, uh, sit me down and give me this big rap on how when people die you never see them again, and how I’d imagined it. But I knew what I’d seen. And I was just glad that I saw that. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that since. But, I don’t know, it just kind of let me know how ambiguous everything was, you know, even death.
5. Fences by August Wilson
In this monologue, the character of Ruth questions what's been going on in her life.
I been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me? Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? You not the only one who’s got wants and needs. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams... and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom. But I held on to you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you. And upstairs in that room... with the darkness falling in on me... I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn’t the finest man in the world, and wherever you was going... I wanted to be there with you. ’Cause you was my husband. ’Cause that’s the only way I was gonna survive as your wife. You always talking about what you give... and what you don’t have to give. But you take too. You take... and don’t even know nobody’s giving!
How to Learn Acting Without Classes
Some people do not do well in a class environment, and that is understandable. To learn acting, I would suggest that you get over that and put yourself out there. But if you are intent on learning acting without classes, then you need to step into the doing part.
Try to star in as many things as possible. You need practice, and classes will give you a lot of that. If you are skipping out on classes, then find other ways to get in front of the audience or the camera. Study the craft as often as you can.
'There Will Be Blood'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Acting Advice from Actors
Sometimes, the best advice comes from those who have done it before. So we looked at a series of actors who have given their all across all mediums to see what advice they have for you.
How can you take rejection? "Grow a thick skin so that the things people say about you just bounce off," David Morrissey told Spotlight. "But you also have to keep yourself very open, emotionally. And sometimes those two things can fight each other. So you just have to take the rough with the smooth."
Of course, much of acting is auditioning, which can be so hard and frustrating. Michela Watkins told Backstage, “[Auditioning is] like dating boys when you’re a teenager. You spend so much time wondering what they’re thinking. They’re not thinking about anything! They’re not thinking about you.”
Preparation is key. When it comes time for Marion Cotillard to become a new role, she does a ton of prep. Cotillard told Backstage, “I wrote her life before. I wrote scenes I would use later when I needed some support to be able to burst into tears out of nowhere. I needed to build a structure of stories that I could use when I needed to reach this or that emotion.”
What about when nerves take over? They can be crippling for any actor, but Lupita Nyong’o said you better get used to just failing and starting again.
"As actors, you become an expert at starting over,” Nyong’o told Backstage. “Every single role brings with it an ignorance and an insecurity, and so you have to approach it with the same curiosity and humility. I’m always nervous. Doesn’t matter how many times I do this. But I remind myself it’s because I care. Steve (McQueen) would say, ‘Fail and then fail better!’ And that environment was so liberating. It’s not about getting it right. It’s about getting it truthful.”
Sam Rockwell emphasizes the importance of having a setting like an acting class, to fail and to have a safe environment to experiment.
"That's what's great about an acting class," he told the Off Camera Show. "It's a safe environment to do something like that. You should feel safe to be able to explore those kind of things."
'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'Credit: Columbia Pictures
Summing Up Acting Tips and Basics for Beginners
Hopefully, this has given you new insight into the craft of acting. If you want to go deeper, check out our post on method acting, which can take you to the next level.
Or join the debate about which movie has the best acting in it. Acting is a very special craft that most people cannot master. If you are on your acting journey and have tips and tricks for the readers, please let us know in the comments.
Now stop reading and go get acting!