When Dustin Hoffman was on set for Marathon Man, one scene in particular called for his character to appear as if he suffered from extreme exhaustion. To simulate this, Hoffman stayed up for three days straight… to which costar Laurence Olivier responded, “My dear boy, have you tried acting?”
It may or may not be rooted in fact, but it’s an excellent anecdote nonetheless.
Of course, it was okay for Olivier to dispense such pithy advice – he was one of the greatest actors of our time – but it’s not always as easy for the rest of us (or, perhaps, Dustin Hoffman).
With the spirit of the late, great Laurence Olivier in mind, here’s the best acting advice you very rarely hear.
Know What the Hell is Going On
An actor’s job is to follow cues and give a strong performance as required by both the script and the director. That’s your base duty; you’re not going to gain any extra points or commendation for fulfilling this.
Want to become the apple in the eye of every director, cinematographer and camera guy you work with?
Know your technical stuff. All of it.
It’s one thing to hit all your marks every time and never fluff a line, but it’s another to be conscious (and conscientious) of everyone on set, the technical limitations they’re working with, and what they’re trying to achieve.
Know what lenses that guy is working with, and what that means for you in the frame. Know the lingo the director is yelling to the sound technician so he or she doesn’t have to take time out to relay it to you in simpler language. Be ready and able to converse with the writers, editors and producers at their level; be on the same page as everyone, rather than the lemon standing in the corner waiting for someone to shout ‘action’.
Getting this comfortable on set is a big undertaking and will almost certainly require a spell at film and acting school, but it’ll pay dividends. They’ll love you for it.
Take Music Lessons
What’s that? You don’t want to do musicals on Broadway?
It doesn’t matter.
Even if you have no intentions whatsoever of singing a single note, you should check in with a tutor. We’re not saying that you have to spend weeks studying the craft – even just a few rudimentary lessons will do – but being able to apply a knowledge of cadence and tonality can add an extra level to your ability to read lines.
Picking up a brand new creative skill in performance arts can also do wonders for your confidence, so consider finding a singing tutor or even taking some piano lessons and getting some musical theory under your belt.
Sad but true: the most talked about and ‘sellable’ people in the entertainment industry (both in music and film) are the ones who know how to cause speculation and/or outrage.
If you want to raise your profile and aren’t precious about your reputation, go full tilt on every performance you give.
Even if you don’t want to play it dangerous with your role (possibly if you sense the director won’t have any of it), that doesn’t mean you can’t be controversial elsewhere. Eccentric interviewees make for viral-worthy material, and outlandish sound bites make it easier for journalists and bloggers to write headlines about you.
Remember, however, that it’s a volatile game to play. There’s a big difference between fame and infamy.
Pretend to Be Confident
The majority, if not all, actors are human beings too. As such, performance anxiety or feelings of not being good enough are common.
The secret to overcoming such moments and gaining a confidence boost? Simply pretend to be confident – psychologically speaking there’s absolutely no difference between assumed confidence and genuine confidence, and an actor has all the skills they need to pretend.
Lastly, Enjoy the Ride
Most acting advice revolves around how to better your craft and, by extension, your career. Quite often, we forget to count our blessings.
Your acting career may not be quite where you want it, but nobody’s ever is. Conversely, there are an extraordinary amount of people who’d kill to be at your level and doing the things you do.
All the world’s a stage. Never forget this, and enjoy the ride.