How to be natural in front of the camera
review by N J Howell
Online Acting Class
Featured Acting Resource: Michael Caine: An Actor's Take on Moviemaking
If ever there were an actor who displays a natural air in front of the camera, it's Michael Caine. He seems as at home as if he were at home, in intimate conversation with friends, in every scene. His style is so understated as to be elegant.
Note from Neva: It feels like the hardest thing in the world. You are called in on an audition for a role in a film. You're only given sides (the part of script they want you to read for your character) and don't know the whole film. Sometimes the sides don't give you much to go on either. In the south, we still mostly get one or two-line roles. Not much to go on.
There was a very funny episode of Hot in Cleveland that demonstrated this. Victoria had gotten a side which read only "people like us...." (I've often had sides with one line, too) and she anguished over how to read that line, where to put the emphasis, what it could mean, etc.
"People" like us
People "like" us
People like "us"
So there's the struggle with having incomplete information. Then, there's getting ready, driving to the studio, finding a place to park, stressing over the gas it cost to get there. When I was living in Los Angeles, it sometimes took 20 minutes just to find somewhere to park. If you are in the south, you may have driven as much as 9 hours for the one-line opportunity. Oh, and then, there's the audition itself.
At the audition, finally, you either walk in a room with the casting director or, if a callback, sometimes a room full of strangers. In the space of a few minutes, you have to enliven whatever words were on those sides with something more interesting that the others who are auditioning for that same one-line role. It's no wonder to me that actors struggle with being natural in front of the camera because nothing about the audition process or the filming process is natural to real life.
Something that helped me a lot when I started going out for on-camera auditions was to literally meet the camera. As I entered the audition space, I'd look directly at the elephant in the room (the camera) and say hello (not out loud, of course, unless the role was for a crazy person). By looking directly at the camera and connecting with it consciously as a friend, as a tool there to capture my talent, I felt more comfortable with it when the audition started. Also, casually noticing where the mark is on entering helps avoid looking for it when asked to begin. Go to it and be on it.
Another thing I learned over the years is that they just want something solid. They are not looking for an award-winning performance on a one-line role. They are looking for someone who can deliver the line in a credible manner, as support for the leading actors. I wouldn't try to pack everything you learned in acting school into that one line. Just deliver it, solid.
Always, always, always create the moment before and the moment after. Even if the sides don't tell you what the moment before was (often they do, in the stage directions) come from something. Don't start with the line. And end toward something. You have a next moment. Life doesn't stop with the line. Let your character continue internally into the next moment.