Want the best performances you can get out of your actors?
Sure! Of course. We all do. But if you’re not getting it, then it’s time to have a look at how you’re giving direction. Here are three things you should never say to an actor.
“I need more from you.”
More what? If you can’t put a finer point on what you’re looking for, all you do is leave the actor wondering — which means they’re stuck in their head and not the reality of the moment. That’s a horrible place to put your actors. Instead be clear, be specific. But! Don’t say…
“More/less [insert adjective here].”
Be more angry! Be less sexy. Be sadder… Be happier. Do it with more fear, but less bravery. These are all variations on the same theme — the adjective theme. Here’s the problem. Adjectives aren’t playable. They’re results. They might be what you’re looking for, but they’re useless to an actor at best, and harmful at worst.
Look at it this way. What happens when your actor doesn’t feel sad or happy or whatever other modifier you’ve thrown at them? They try to fake it, and that leads to… acting, usually overacting. Hardly the authentic response you should be looking for.
Try instead to give the actor a verb that might achieve the result you want, i.e., make him cry, make him laugh, make him want to run away from you.
I think the character is like…
Just as before, this kind of discussion (and others like it) is too general to give your actor anything playable or doable. Here you’ve taken the same result-oriented ideas that stem from using adjectives but instead of applying it to a specific line, you’ve made it worse by applying to the whole character.
Try facts about the character’s behavior instead, either ones from the script or ones you invent. Some examples: he always makes his bed, she once poured a gallon of paint on an ex’s car, he went to school to be a doctor, but dropped out, etc.