Something came up in class last night when an actor asked how you handle a scene with a deep, complicated relationship when a reader isn't giving you anything. Kind of a long answer to that, but it made me think of actors who are very controlling about how they want a scene to go, and what they need to get it there. They will not be satisfied until they get it absolutely right, because they've put a lot of work into both the preparation of and approach to the material. In a sense, they will dictate how the scene should be played - the pace, the arc, the pivotal moments, the movement, tone, even the shot. They will even define the relationship, and show us through their work exactly what that dynamic is between those two people. These actors are what I call good control freaks. Your inner control freak can be your friend, trust me.
Anyone see Tiger Woods' post-Masters interview? After a five month layoff, complete with a full-blown sex scandal, he shot the best first round of his career and came in tied for fourth. You'd never know it because as well as he played, he didn't play exactly the way he'd played it out in his mind. All he could talk about was what didn't go according to plan. Forgive the sports analogy, but golf is a damn good one. Golfers must tune everything out and focus in repeated pressure situations. Like a basketball star who wants the ball with ten seconds left on the clock, certain athletes have the bizarre ability to perform better as pressure gets more intense. Camera acting is no different in that you must make pressure your friend. A lot of that is preparation, of course, but another side of it is knowing exactly how you want it to go and allowing yourself to be a good control freak about getting there.
There will always be random distractions. Vibrating cell phones, noise in the lobby, the producer in the corner texting, or worse, a reader with a fourth grade understanding of acting. What can you control and what is beyond your control? You can't stop and tell the casting director to get their nose out of the sides, or at least I wouldn't recommend it. But more often than not, they will follow you if you are controlling about how the scene plays. That means yes, you should ask if you're not 100% certain whether they will skip a section or not. That means, yes, if you need a beat to be honored before a certain line, ask for it ahead of time. Medical terminology, geographical locations, foreign words - yes, it matters if you pronounce them correctly. Some people may not like it, but this is your work and you're there to get it right.
So what is within your control? Pace, first of all. Pace should always be dictated by your read. Character, movement, points of focus, and framing - all within your control. Most of this should be fairly obvious stuff, but you'd be surprised how few actors are specific in putting it all together. Some scenes are very clear about what the dynamic is between characters - others not at all. You have to know that the more latitude you have with making interesting choices about characters' relationship, the more of an opportunity you have to take control of that scene and put your own stamp on it. Directors love actors who put a lot of thought into their work, and that manifests itself in strong choices and (consequently) strong auditions.
Either way, you always want to remain an actor who can think quickly and adjust, but the less your brain is processing that crap - the more it can focus on what you came to do. Pressure works against you because it gives your brain more to process, ultimately dividing your focus. In the same way that an athlete visualizes how they will perform, an actor has to set up a construct to prevent the brain from taking over. That is all about giving yourself as much specificity and framework as possible, so the scene plays itself. Some would argue that this locks you into something inorganic, but I see it the other way round. You only become organic when you have set up the framework correctly, when you have taken control of how the scene should go. That's a hell of a lot better than just being in the moment and having that moment be about you being distracted by an anemic reader.
Thanks for tuning in again, and thanks for the emails. If you, or someone you know would be interested in my class - drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org