If I Can Tell You’re Acting, Then You’re Not Acting

If you think you don’t need a refresher acting class, you’re dead wrong.”

I was torn between titles for this article, so I decided to stick with my original thought which was “If I Can Tell You’re Acting, Then You’re Not Acting.”

(The other title was “How to Get Away with Acting” – a play on words for the ABC television series “How to Get Away with Murder” which was created by Peter Nowalk and and produced by Shonda Rhimes.)

I’m not here to tell you how to get away with acting. I’m here to share thoughts and ideas that will help you with your craft.

You want the audience to BELIEVE you. You want to create a character that will soak up the energy of the viewers. You want them to remember you and your characters 30 years later.


  • Take acting Lessons

This is a no brainer. You think you know everything because you went to conservatory? WRONG. You think you know everything because you’re a non-stop working actor? WRONG. You think you know everything because you’re Meryl Streep? Ok, I have to think about this one for a minute – WRONG.

New Yorkers, check out The Freeman Studio. Here you can take classes from greats such as Andrew Stewart-Jones who you may recognize from Season 1 of FOX’s Gotham and next season’s Beauty and the Beast.

  • Study your craft by watching others on the screen or in a play

You love going to the movies or watching your favorite shows on TV. Go back and watch again, but this time, instead of watching for enjoyment, watch to learn what makes those actors memorable. Which characters did you connect with the most and why? Which actors do you feel did NOT do a good job, and why? Can you tell they’re acting? What would you have done differently?


  • Trick your friends and family

By this, I don’t mean ask them to read a scene with you or run lines so they can lie to you and tell you what an amazing job you did. I mean really see if you can make them feel for you. This must be done in person or over video chat, not just voice, because you want to be able to see their reaction. When face-to-face, just start crying and if you can hold their attention for a couple of minutes, you have a great start to becoming a believable actor.

  • Use real life situations to build your character

You’re at Starbucks sipping your latte. What a wonderful chance to people watch. You see a guy over there with a limp. You see a mom freaking out because her kid spilled his drink all over. You see a woman in a wheelchair. Watch these people’s movements – perhaps the woman in the wheelchair is being distracted by the mom freaking out. What is the wheelchair woman’s reaction to this? Does the man with the limp have a look of disgust or sympathy on his face for the kid – or the mother? Use real life situations to make your character believable!

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions

The Director has a vision of how the actors should play a scene, but you’re not sure you understand. Or, perhaps you see it a different way. Just ask. There could be a reason the Director wants you to play it this way. Any information you can find out will help you create the atmosphere the Director is looking for. It’s also good to take notes!


We all know about the greats: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson and tons of others. They didn’t just become great; they studied their craft. That doesn’t necessarily mean every great actor went to acting school. Programs, classes, even watching how other actors perform on stage, television and film are great ways to learn your skills.

From News at Princeton on 12/1/2006, by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann: Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep told a crowd of 450 at Princeton on Nov. 30 that developing a capacity for empathy has given her the ability to “feel the exquisite living pleasure of transmitting (a character’s) feelings to an audience. It’s an actor’s singular joy.”

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