Watch a feature film with the sound off. This will change your film acting forever. As you look at the film, notice the way the lead actors move versus the way the day players move. You will almost always find that the most famous and successful actors in a film move the least.
This is referred to as “stillness” or “minimum movement.”
Actors feel like they have to entertain. That is a noble desire. But stop feeling like you have to do something.
I’m not saying you will never do anything in a film performance. But trust me, do more nothing. There is a lot to nothing.
The audience might not know it but they want an actors blank face, too. Your inner monologue can be racing away, but try to not move a muscle to indicate those intentions.
Let us as filmmakers take your neutral expression and slam it next to a dramatic image in a montage. This will allow the audience to create their own meaning from the collision of these two ideas. It will make them active viewers rather than passive. They will become part of your performance by creating their own assumptions about it.
The second you start contorting your face or flailing about, you are insisting on what the audience is meant to believe about your performance. More is less, every time. Let the audience discover their own truth about a moment.
Just as you would speak clearly, move clearly. Use props precisely. Do nothing extraneous. Avoid disrupting the basic communications of the scene with even minute distractions. Keep your eyes available to the camera as often as humanly possible. Reduce every move you make down to only the most essential components.
And when it is time for the emotional work, filter the power of your feelings through this very containment method. Emotional work looks best on camera when the feeling is played as an obstacle, and minimum movement can help tremendously in this effort.
Actors who can deliver deep emotion are common. However, an actor who has perfected minimum movement and can hold a frame like a pro while experiencing intense emotion are major contenders every time they are seen at an audition. This breed is much more rare.
It takes a lot of practice to deploy minimum movement. Like sports, acting is something that must be practiced. Minimum movement must be experienced during fully committed performances. Reconciling your minimum movement with your emotional work is best done in class during scene study. You will want to focus on developing this movement habit for several months.
Most movie stars spend years watching dailies and perfecting their minimum movement before they are ever at the top of their game. The good news is you can develop this practice right now. And when you do master minimum movement, casting directors will view you as a seasoned pro, DPs will love to work with you, and directors will feel comfortable putting you in scenes with the A-list talent.
Get this under your belt fast. Attempt to work like this in your very next acting class. Then go watch another movie with the sound off. Just see the way the successful actors move.
Then begin the journey of replicating this star-making practice in your own work!