The words come from the writer. They tell us the story, the given circumstances of what we the actors agree to perform. But how and when the words are spoken is up to the actor. Remember film and television are visual images, and reveal to the audience whether we are having an actual experience or pretending. Whether we are telling the truth or lying. Our eyes are programmed to give us factual information, “ seeing is believing.” Film actors are bound by the truth of the visual image.
Sanford Meisner always told us “you can’t say ouch until you are pinched.” To me that means we must have the experience, before we speak the words the writer has constructed. Most of the time actors are so concerned and in a hurry about getting the lines said, that we forget to have an experience first. We need to have the courage and patience to take the time to have an experience of the material and moment before we speak. The experience of the moment will give us the information we need, to know what we mean by the writers’ words, and how we feel like saying them.
Look the other actor and situation in the eye, make contact with them. Become one with the truth of how you feel about all of this, and lay the line out on that experience. Accept the premise of the material and your character as being the truth for yourself. Your real self, not what you think the character would do or feel, but what you honestly feel at that moment, and let that be expressed with the lines.
Discovering who, our real self is, and how that self feels is a life time project, and requires observation of our behavior, thoughts and feelings without judgment. Become aware of what you honestly think, believe, feel, want, dream, and imagine. Allow both the good and bad to be revealed to your (self). Remember, you are looking for your unique individual truth here, no one else’s. Find your truth, not your parents, or society’s, teachers’, lovers’, or friends, but only your truth. Be aware that any judgment on our part will shut us down, and keep us from looking at all the truth. It is very beneficial for the actor to discover and accept their truth, for expressing this truth is the gift we have to share. The old clichés of first know yourself, and to thine own self be true are fundamentals to the film actor.
A lot of television shows, particularly comedy shows, are very fast paced with dialog. So having an experience of the material before saying the line is a challenge, but if practiced to the point of acquiring the skill so that it is automatic, it still works best. Hell, if all the producers want are the words to be said and heard, they should use radio, and not the visual media.
In visual media, what happens in the time between the lines can be the most interesting and riveting, because the audience is interactive in discovery of what is intended by the actors and film maker. So have the strength and courage to have an experience with the material and other actors whenever you work, and you will receive the benefit of learning and growing from your own experience.