The other day, I had a private coaching session with an actor who was auditioning for a film. The character that the actor was portraying was very emotionally upset because their young child was missing. They were meeting with a police detective who responded to the missing person call.

When we started talking about the scene, the actor told me that they envisioned the character pacing back and forth to show the character’s anxiety and upset.  Yes, the character might pace, but the pacing should come from an overload of anxiety and fear causing adrenaline to spew that the parent is feeling after finding out their child is missing. For an actor to direct their own movement and preplan pacing is “showing” by directing themselves, and not realistically “being” the character. There are tools and techniques the actor can use which will achieve a very realistic performance, but directing their own physical movements will not garner a realistic performance. It will fall flat and not give the spark of reality that is so necessary for the scene to be believable.

If a parent is pacing because of their child’s disappearance, it is a physical manifestation of inner thoughts (inner dialogue). The parent of a missing child will feel frightened that the child is in danger and there might be dire results. On a scale of one to ten (ten being the most frightened), the parent’s fear would be at a ten. If you have ever been truly frightened there is a “fight or flight” response that will be extreme. The parent can additionally feel frustration that things aren’t happening fast enough to get the child out of danger, along with feelings of despair, grief and anger. All of these emotions would cause a myriad of chemicals to be released in the body that would have the parent feeling like they were jumping out of their skin. These released chemicals might cause pacing, hyperventilating screaming, crying, wringing of hands, vomiting, and many other possibilities.

I took the actor through an affective sense memory, but a “what if” would also work (what if I had a child and they were missing?). I had the actor during the sense memory think back to a time they felt fear, frustration, and love for someone they lost. This sense memory released chemicals in their body to duplicate what the parent would be feeling in this scenario. I also had the actor run in place for 2 minutes to bring up their heart rate, and release adrenalin, which would also present itself in the “fight or flight” response.  By using the techniques of affective sense memory, “what if,” and physical exertion, the actor got into a state that would bring physical action through a truthful urge of movement and not merely a preplanned “show” of movement, like pacing. The actor who is really feeling what the character is feeling would have no recollection of their physical movements while portraying their character in the scene. It is through leading the actor to the character’s emotional state that physical action will realistically happen without preplanning.