What Makes Interesting Acting?

Spending serious time away from acting has been something of a boon. I’ve come to realize how, when I was concerned primarily with my identity as an actor, I was caught up in issues of self-respect and a lot of feelings of inadequacy, both in relation to being a performer and even more so in relation to living in the so called “real world.”

I have gained a lot of new respect for actors ever since I stopped being one (impossible, but I hope you know what I mean), in part because it wasn’t until I let that go that I was able to get a real perspective on the actor’s contribution without it getting caught up in my own ego. And thereby I’ve been able to start differentiating between performance and acting.

It’s one thing to perform a monologue, it’s another thing to act it. I know, semantics, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that the purest acting is bereft of all performative elements except those necessitated by the medium (film, television, theater, particularities of sub-media).

I think what makes interesting acting turns out to be the same thing that makes interesting people. And most of that has to do with being interested. Aka, invested in the reality of the situation. Uta Hagen and a million others have said it better than me in terms of acting, but I just think of the example of a cat. What’s more interesting to watch, a person trying very hard to show you something you may or may not care about, or a cat that is intently stalking its prey? One thing is trying to pull interest out of you, the other is purely existing in the world.

What’s more compelling – watching someone recite Hamlet beautifully, or watching a son struggle over the death of his father?

I know, it’s obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me – I came to acting so young that I conflated performance and acting into the same boat, deeply in my gut. It’s taken a long time for me to really understand what lies beyond showmanship.

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