8 Acting

Russell Sharman

It’s 1964 at the National Theatre in London. Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier are starring in what would become a legendary production of Shakespeare’s Othello. They’ve been at it for months. Each night, Olivier, one of the great stage and screen actors of the 20th century, tries something a little different, experimenting, tweaking, trying desperately to get it right.

Then, one night, all of the pieces fall into place and Olivier gives one of the all-time great performances in the history of theater. Maggie Smith, his co-star, rushes to his dressing room afterwards to congratulate him.

But when she enters, she finds Olivier alone, sobbing uncontrollably.

“Larry, what’s the matter?” She asks. “Why are you so upset? That was the most brilliant performance I’ve ever seen.”

Olivier looks up, still sobbing, and replies, “Yes, I know. And I don’t know how I did it!”[1]

Professional actors are in many ways like professional athletes.[2] They spend a lifetime training, perfecting their technique, and honing their bodies to be the perfect instrument of their craft. And yet, the perfect performance, on the field or on the screen, is still more than the sum of its parts, a mysterious alchemy of timing, like catching lightning in a bottle. The pros themselves don’t always understand how it all comes together.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t apply the same analytical approach we’ve used for mise-en-scene, cinematography, and editing to help us understand the role of the acting in the cinematic experience. At the very least we can try to distinguish “good” acting from “bad” acting. That one is pretty simple, actually. Good acting doesn’t look like acting at all. And it turns out, that is really hard to do. Fortunately, we can do much more than that. We can examine how performance styles have evolved along with the rest of cinematic language over the past century. We can look at various schools of acting, and how the technique is taught and applied from different perspectives. And we can look at how acting in cinema presents its own unique challenges, as well as a few advantages.


Acting, as a profession, has been around for a while. The Greeks were doing it as early as 534 BCE when Thespis, the world’s first “actor”, stepped onto a stage in Athens (it’s why we sometimes call actors thespians). By the time Alice Guy-Blaché was framing up that fairy in the baby patch for the world’s first narrative film in 1896, the profession had already been around for more than two thousand years. But all of that accumulated experience was centered around live performance, an actor on a stage in front of an audience. As soon as Alice started cranking film through her cinematographe, acting began a new evolutionary line of descent.

It was a rough start.

As with most of the formal elements of cinema that we’ve explored, acting for the camera has had to evolve along with cinematic language, gaining in nuance and complexity as the years progressed. Just as editors learned how to hide a shift in camera angle by cutting on action, or cinematographers learned how to move the camera in a way that drew audiences deeper into the story, actors had to learn how to replace their relationship with a live audience with a relationship with the camera, always there but rarely acknowledged. In their earliest incarnations, screen performances were a little different from those on the stage. And since actors were used to going big with their expressions and gestures to make sure the folks in the cheap seats could still read their performance, they did the same in front of the camera. The only problem was, the camera was capable of far greater intimacy than anyone expected or even really understood. At least at first.

It’s one reason why some folks today find it hard to connect with films of the silent era or even the Golden Age of Hollywood. The performances often have a theatrical quality to them, a tendency to indicate an emotion aimed at those cheap seats, rather than embodying an emotion with subtlety. But it is important to remember that the evolution of cinematic language implicates the filmmakers and the audience. That more theatrical style of acting on the screen worked for movie-goers at the time. It’s all they knew. Both actors and audiences needed time to fully grasp the powerful intimacy of the camera.

But there were exceptions.

One of the most powerful is Reneé Jeanne Falconetti’s performance in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dreyer’s original cut of the film was lost for decades until it was found in a janitor’s closet in Norway in the 1980s. And somehow that seems fitting since Falconetti’s performance feels like a cinematic time machine, as if a modern actor somehow traveled back to 1928 to give the performance of a lifetime. It helped that Dreyer understood where to put the camera to capture it all. Here’s a short scene:

It feels curiously modern in comparison to what we typically see in films from that period.

Here’s another exceptional performance from D. W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919):

That’s Lilian Gish in emotional agony as her abusive father terrorizes her with a hatchet. Her performance was so authentic in the moment that Griffith stopped the scene, convinced Gish was actually having a nervous breakdown. Of course, she was only acting. But that naturalistic style was so uncommon, it was hard to tell.

There were other exceptions, certainly, but it’s important to note that these early examples of naturalism in film acting were not necessarily better than the more common “theatrical” performances of the silent era and the Golden Age. They were just a different approach to the craft, and appropriate for the context and content of early cinema. And while modern audiences might prefer that style, that may only be because they align more closely with modern approaches to the craft. Just like those early audiences, it’s all we know. But less naturalistic performances can be just as “good” – emotionally resonant and consistent with the thematic intent of the story – in context.

Take this one, for example:

James Cagney and Mae Clarke in Public Enemy (1931). The clipped delivery of Cagney’s hardened gangster, and the plaintive cooing of Clarke’s long-suffering girlfriend, fall neatly into that category of Golden Age theatrical performances, not necessarily naturalistic, but certainly consistent with a moralistic tale of criminals getting their just deserts.

Or this one:

That’s Greta Garbo in The Grand Hotel (1932). It might feel a bit melodramatic by today’s standards, but Garbo’s “I want to be alone…” is as emotionally resonant as they come.


The evolution of performance in cinema hit an inflection point around the time the Golden Age gave way to New Hollywood in the 1960s. The young, energetic actors, writers, and directors who took over the cinema in the United States, at least until the blockbusters of JAWS (1975) and Star Wars (1977), brought with them a new naturalistic acting style, which curiously enough, actually started in the avant-garde theater of the 1930s and 40s. It was part of a whole new approach to performance, a new school of acting, called the Stanislavski Method, or just The Method for short.

But the Classical School of acting, with its emphasis on the text and the precision of performance, had been around at least since Thespis himself. It wasn’t going to simply fade away. Both have their own unique take on technique, and both ultimately have the same goal, to render a performance that moves the audience. Let’s take a look at each one.


As I mentioned above, the Classical School has been around for a while, likely since Thespis first took the stage, but the modern classical approach is rooted in the British tradition of Shakespearean performance. Then as now, the technique relies heavily on the text, the script itself, rather than the actor’s own emotional history. As such, a classically trained actor’s performance is action-oriented, caring more about what they are doing in the scene than what they are feeling, and precise, with little room for improvisation.

We most often associate classical acting with Shakespeare and the long tradition of treating the playwright’s text as something sacred and unchangeable. That same reverence is brought to the cinema with this technique. But that’s not to suggest that a classically trained actor can’t breathe emotional life into a role. Remember Laurence Olivier from the opening of this chapter? Here he is playing Hamlet in, you guessed it, Hamlet (1948):

His performance is true to the text, but not without emotion. It’s just that Olivier, like most classically trained actors, trusts the words to do the heavy lifting.

But maybe you want a more up-to-date example of the classical approach. How about this:

Morgan Freeman took on the role of Nelson Mandela for Invictus (2009) and approached it as a classically trained actor, trusting the script to convey what mattered most. In his own words, “The biggest challenge that I had was to sound like him. Everything else was kind of easy, to walk like him. I didn’t have any agenda as it were in playing the role. The agenda is incorporated into the script and all I had to do was learn my lines.”


In contrast to the Classical School of acting, the Stanislavski Method, or Method Acting as it is commonly known, is emotionally oriented, committed to an emotional realism, sometimes at the expense of whatever might be in the script. It began in Russia at the end of the 19th century with a theater director, Konstantin Stanislavski, upending centuries of classical technique by encouraging his actors to let go of their grip on the text and trust their own emotional experience to guide their performance. The result was a more inward-looking, internal, often improvisational approach to acting, not to mention a more naturalistic style, and it became a slow-moving revolution in stage and screen performance throughout the 20th century.

Stanislavski’s ideas were published in English for the first time in 1936 in the book, An Actor Prepares, and it quickly gained influence among young acting students and teachers, especially in New York in the 1940s and 50s. One of the strongest proponents of the new “method” was Lee Strasberg and his Group Theater, founded in the 1930s. He would go on to run the Actors Studio in the 1950s, working with the first crop of Stanislavski Method actors and directors to break into Hollywood. They included directors like Elia Kazan, as well as actors like Geraldine Page, Joanne Woodward, James Dean, Paul Newman, and Marlon Brando.

Brando was perhaps the most famous of these new method actors to hit the screen. He exploded into popular culture in 1951 as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. One of his first and most defining roles. He was tough, volatile, and sometimes brutal, but audiences had seen all of that before. It was his emotional vulnerability, his raw unpredictability that took everyone by surprise:

Brando went on to another landmark role in On the Waterfront in 1954 (which reunited him with director Elia Kazan and many of his other Actors Studio colleagues), along with dozens more including, eventually, New Hollywood films like The Godfather (1972) and Apocalypse Now (1979). His performances were marked by a riveting intensity as well as a tendency to mumble, even chew gum while delivering his lines. It was all in service of his pursuit of an emotional truth, an embodiment of character, that relied less and less on the actual words on the page and more and more on a commitment to naturalism. By the time of his death in 2004, the New York Times wrote, “Simply put, in film acting, there is before Brando, and there is after Brando. And they are like different worlds.”

In the ensuing years, the new Method attracted wave after wave of young actors entranced by the naturalism of actors like Brando. Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Sally Field, Anne Bancroft, and Dustin Hoffman are just a few of the actors who passed through Strasberg’s Actors Studio. And that was just one of many studios, theaters, and acting schools dedicated to Stanislavksi’s method.

As more and more of these younger method actors entered the ranks of Hollywood cinema, they inevitably collided with the more classically trained actors that still dominated the industry. Neither had much patience for the other. One of Dustin Hoffman’s early film roles was in the 1976 thriller Marathon Man. His co-star was Laurence Olivier. Yeah, that guy. In one scene, Hoffman’s character hadn’t slept for three days. So, true to the Stanislavski method, Hoffman stayed up three nights in a row so he could really feel what it was like to be sleep deprived. When he bragged about this achievement to Olivier on set, Olivier smiled and said, “Why don’t you just try acting?”

Stanislavski’s method continued to gain popularity among American acting schools in the 20th century and remains a popular approach to training and performance. Today there are several variations on the technique, promoted by acting gurus in the tradition of Lee Strasberg and Stanislavski himself. Sanford Meisner is probably the most famous example. The Meisner Technique employs the same commitment to naturalism, but adds a new emphasis on being in the moment, acting and reacting instead of thinking. (In that sense, the Meisner Technique is a hybrid between the Classical School and the Method.) And contemporary actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchette, Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix are all examples of actors who, in one form or another, pursue the goals established by Stanislavski. Some of them, of course, famously take that pursuit to the extreme, losing an unhealthy amount of weight for a role, or never breaking character on or off the set during production. Not all of them call themselves “method” actors, the term has become almost self-satirizing. Some of them would even consider themselves “classically” trained. And in some ways, that’s the greatest influence of Stanislavski. His method pushed all actors, regardless of their training, toward greater realism, toward naturalism in performance that doesn’t simply represent the ideas of a writer but embodies a character’s emotional truth:



Any of the above approaches to acting, and many more besides, can apply to any form of performance, whether on the stage or on a screen. But what makes acting specifically for cinema unique? For one thing, as an instrument of mass media, cinema is wildly more accessible than live theater. And that means the profession will invariably intersect with popular culture in a much more obvious way, blurring the line between becoming a character and simply becoming a celebrity. But there are also the peculiar challenges of cinema production that theater actors never have to confront, as well as the distinct advantages of production, such as an actor’s relationship to the camera, and maybe just as important, the actor’s relationship with the editor.


If you’ve learned anything about cinema in these chapters so far, hopefully, it’s that cinema requires dozens if not hundreds of professionals all working together to create the finished product. Production designers, sound technicians, editors, screenwriters, not to mention grips, gaffers, caterers, hair stylists, make-up artists, carpenters, truck drivers, the list goes on and on. But how many production designers can you name? Editors? What about screenwriters? Of all those talented individuals who work behind the camera, you might be able to name a few directors, but that’s about it.

Now, how about actors? How many of those can you name?

Exactly. That’s by design, of course. The entertainment industry has long understood the value of “stardom” and the power of celebrity to sell tickets. The early fan magazines were all controlled by the studios, creating and sustaining a culture of devotion to the movie stars that populated their films, and eventually, their television shows. Audiences flocked to movies like Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep  (1946), and Key Largo (1948) to see Humphrey Bogart, not Rick Blaine, Philip Marlow, or Frank McCloud (his characters in each one).

And that tradition has continued. How many of you rushed to see Shutter Island (2010) because of Teddy Daniels? Or The Revenant (2015) because of Hugh Glass? Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) because of Rick Dalton? Chances are you saw those films because Leonardo DiCaprio played each of those characters. Okay, it helped that they were directed by Martin Scorsese, Alejandro Iñárritu and Quentin Tarantino, but seeing Leo on the marquee didn’t hurt. And no matter how hard he tries to lose himself in each role, we still see Leo up there on the screen. It’s why we paid the price of admission. He is a movie star after all.

This is the dilemma of the movie star in the entertainment ecosystem. The one thing that keeps them employed and well-paid as an actor, their celebrity, is the very thing that consistently undermines all of the hard work that goes into building a believable character. It also makes formal analysis of performance a somewhat fraught process. How does one disentangle the charisma and magnetism of a “star” from the character they are playing on screen? Sometimes that means evaluating a performance not on its own merits, but by just how much we forget who they are in real life.

Of course, given all of the discussion above about technique, the last thing a professional actor wants is for anyone to remember they are, in fact, an actor while they are on screen. But there are plenty of professionals who avoid this problem by building careers that avoid the spotlight, playing secondary, often eccentric characters that we remember far more readily than we do the actors who play them. We often refer to them as character actors, which is a kind of backward compliment. Shouldn’t all actors be “character” actors? Still, unburdened by fame, character actors can truly lose themselves in a role, bringing authenticity to the narrative by supporting the “star” at its center. Even if all we can say about them is, “Oh yeah, he’s that guy from that thing…”

This distinction between movie stars and character actors may seem somewhat arbitrary. Aren’t “character actors” just actors who aren’t famous (yet)? And aren’t “movie stars” just actors trying to do their job despite their celebrity? I mean, it’s not their fault they’re famous. I think both are true, but it points to one of the unique challenges of acting for cinema. Unlike acting for the theater, cinema is part of a larger, capital-intensive, highly technical medium. One performance can be seen by billions of people for a potentially limitless number of times. And that social/economic reality impacts both the way actors approach the work and the way we approach their performances.

But that’s just one of the ways acting for cinema presents its own unique set of challenges for actors. The basic realities of production are an endless series of obstacles actors have to overcome to give a consistent, believably human performance.


Let’s start with the most basic obstacle that everyone on a film set must confront and somehow overcome: time. There usually isn’t very much of it. Not only does it take a long time to set up, execute and dismantle every shot for every scene and sequence, the overall schedule is hemmed in by the competing schedules of other productions running long or needing to start on time tying up the cast and crew. The most immediate impact this time crunch has on actors is an extremely limited time for rehearsals. In live theater, actors might have 4 to 6 weeks to rehearse their roles. In the cinema, they’re lucky if they get a day or two. Often that means “rehearsals” are really just the first few takes of every shot, working out how to deliver the lines, how to move in the space (known as blocking), and how to play off the other actors.

And if the lack of rehearsal time weren’t bad enough, most films are shot out of sequence. That is, the scenes shot each day do not follow the linear narrative of the script. There are lots of reasons for this. For one, scenes that must be shot at night must be grouped together so the cast and crew can get enough rest between each “day”. And sometimes the production only has access to a particular location for a limited time, so all of the scenes set in that location must be grouped together as well. Or maybe a particular actor can only be on set for a limited time because of other obligations (see above regarding time), so all of the scenes with that actor must be grouped together. The net result is that from day to day (or night to night) actors must constantly re-orient themselves to where they are in the story. In theater, actors play the narrative all at once, allowing their journey as a character to play out in real-time. In cinema, actors bounce around the script playing bits and pieces of that journey, hoping the editor can find something consistent to cut together in the end.

And if shooting out of sequence weren’t bad enough, think about the near-constant interruptions between each shot. On stage, once the curtain goes up, the actors are on their own, carrying the story through to the end with no interruptions except maybe an intermission (or a noisy cell phone). In cinema, each shot is a complex, collaborative choreography of set design, lighting, sound recording, and cinematography. To shoot one simple scene using the master shot and coverage technique requires at least three set-ups, often many more. And each setup requires adjustments to lighting, set decoration, and camera placement, all of which can sometimes take hours. Not to mention how often a take is interrupted or unusable because of an issue with the sound, or the cinematographer making small adjustments. Somehow, through all of that, the actors are supposed to deliver a consistent performance from shot to shot all while pretending they are not on a film set with a giant camera a few inches from their face.

One of the best examples of just how difficult this process can be is in Tom DiCillo’s indie masterpiece about indie filmmaking, Living in Oblivion (1995):

So, you’ve got limited rehearsal time, shooting out of sequence, and interruptions between each setup and shot. All of which makes acting for cinema hard enough. But on top of all of that, with every new setup, the scene must be performed and shot over and over again until everyone is happy. A single 5-minute scene in a finished film may have taken hours if not days to complete with the actors repeating the scene dozens if not 100s of times, over and over, bringing the same intensity and emotional vulnerability every single time.

Check out this scene from David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010):

It’s a 5-minute scene. By my count, there are 5 setups, one master, two medium shots, and two close-ups. Fincher cheated a bit by using two cameras which cut down on the number of times they needed to move the camera, but they still took 2 days to shoot that scene in 99 takes. That means Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara did the whole scene 99 times in a row over two days to get it right. Exhausting!

Oh, and those close-ups where you only see one actor? Sometimes that actor is performing their side of the scene on an empty chair. Maybe their scene partner had another obligation. Maybe they had to reshoot that side of the scene weeks later and the other actor wasn’t available. Or maybe they just got bored and left. We’ll never know, but acting one side of a scene to no one, though relatively rare even in cinema, would never happen on stage.

These issues have all been part of cinema and the challenges of production for actors from the very beginning. After all, cinema relies as much on technology as it does on art, so it should be no surprise (especially if you’ve read this far) that the process is incredibly complex with many moving parts. And each new innovation in the technology of cinema has required a certain amount of adaptation, both for the crew and for the cast.

Take the introduction of sound in 1927, for example. Not only did production facilities and theaters have to adapt to the new technology, including the birth of a whole new department on the crew, but actors had to add an entirely new dimension to their performance. Yes, they were used to speaking on the stage, that part wasn’t necessarily new. But the introduction of recording equipment, often fastened to their costume and tethered to a sound recordist, was a new obstacle to overcome in the pursuit of an authentic, “natural” performance. Just when they were getting used to the camera in their face, they had to remember where the microphone was hiding:

The influence of new technology on an actor’s job has never really slowed down. Sometimes it has made the actor’s job easier, such as smaller microphones and wireless technology, and sometimes it has made it a lot more complicated. The increase in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) in the past few decades has meant actors are often on a soundstage surrounded by bright green walls acting a scene that will eventually take place in outer space or on another planet or even just a faraway location the production couldn’t afford to travel to. To make matters even more complicated, new motion capture technology enables productions to not only transform the setting but also the actor’s own body. Check out what Benedict Cumberbatch had to go through to play Smaug, a talking dragon in The Hobbit trilogy:

Okay, so those are all of the challenges actors face when working in cinema. What about some of the advantages?


It’s one of the more famous final lines in cinema history. Sunset Boulevard, 1950, Norma Desmond, once a great silent actor, now a delusional recluse, is about to be arrested for murdering a screenwriter. She turns to the press, thinking they are the camera crew on the set of a new Cecile B. DeMille picture, and utters, “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Okay, so that’s super creepy. But, Norma’s no fool. The close-up is a powerful thing. And it’s one of the most important not-so-secret weapons for an actor in cinema. You see, great actors understand that the most important relationship in a scene is not between them and the other actors, it’s between them and the camera. The camera is the audience, that’s who they’re playing to. And unlike theater, where your intimacy with the actors is dictated by how much you were willing to pay – the rich folks get front row center and the rest of us end up in the balcony staring at the top of the actors’ heads – in cinema, our intimacy with the actors is dictated by how close the camera can get. Take another look at the clips I shared at the beginning of this chapter. Lilian Gish and her emotional breakdown in the closet as her father hacks his way in to kill her. Or even more devastating, Falconetti as Joan of Arc is cross-examined by the priests. Shoot those scenes wide and you’ve still got compelling cinema. Cut to the close-up, and you’ve got something that transcends the medium. You’ve got a human connection.

Let’s look at one more example of the power of the close-up. It’s from Birth, a 2004 thriller starring Nicole Kidman. The basic plot, as strange as it sounds, is that Kidman’s character lost the love of her life, her husband, years earlier. Then one day, a young boy shows up at her apartment claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. He knows much more than he should about their life together and it shakes her to the core. Soon after this revelation, she goes to the opera. The director, Jonathan Glazer, chose to shoot the scene as one long take, starting with a wide shot that moves into a close-up. There is no dialogue. Just two solid minutes on Kidman’s face as she processes this impossible news:

For those two minutes, you see a thousand different reactions play across her infinitely expressive face. Every twitch of her eye, every tear held back. It is a masterclass in subtlety and emotional vulnerability. Now, imagine seeing this on a stage from 100 feet away, much less on the balcony. It just doesn’t work. This is where actors can shine on screen in a way they never could on stage.


We often think of the actor’s role as singular, solitary. From Action! to Cut! the actor is the only one in complete control of their performance. But that performance is only one part of a much larger artistic and technical endeavor, one that requires collaboration between and among everyone involved. Take the actor’s relationship with a director, for example. In a productive collaboration, an actor relies on their director to understand the shape of the completed narrative, how every piece will contribute to a unified aesthetic, as well as how the various technical requirements will be accomplished and added to the story. That enables them to focus on the scene in front of them, trusting that any input from the director is part of that larger design. When an actor doesn’t trust their director, the results can be disastrous. But when they do, they can take risks and make choices at the moment that add up to something greater than any one individual performance.

Take a look at how the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray can use something as simple as eye contact in The Big City (1963) to build up a narrative arc for his characters:

From scene to scene, Ray no doubt directed his actors in the specific timing of their eye contact, knowing he wanted to use that as a thematic element. It might not have made perfect sense at the moment to an actor in a given scene, but they trusted their director to have a larger narrative purpose in mind.

Sometimes a director’s larger narrative purpose can extend beyond any single film. In the same way, they may favor a certain framing or camera movement to express some unifying aesthetic of their work, they may direct their actors toward a particular way of interacting with each other or the environment. For example, Jane Campion tends to isolate and feature human touch throughout her films and tv series:

The relationship between the actor and director is, or should be, collaborative. That is, both have agency in the process.  (Though there are some truly terrifying developments in technology that would remove that agency from the actor entirely.) But when the cameras stop rolling and the sets are dismantled, the actor’s job is done. And it’s the editor that must sift through those 99 takes of that one scene and make some sense of it. It’s the editor that can shape and mold a performance over the running time of a film or tv episode, selecting the take that best dramatizes theme and narrative intent and works with what came before and what comes next.

It’s a fascinating process, and it can radically alter the raw performances in any given scene:

Of course, this is all done in concert with the director, but that’s the point. A motion picture is a collaboration, the result of a thousand moving parts built and maintained by a thousand different artists and technicians all applying the tools and techniques that have taken a century to evolve into the cinematic language we all share, as filmmakers and audiences. And will likely keep on evolving, changing, and adapting for centuries to come.

So now that we know how cinema works, maybe we should take a look at what it’s trying to say…



Video and Image Attributions:

The Passion of Joan of Arc – Has God Made You Promises? by criterioncollection. Standard YouTube License.

Lillian Gish in BROKEN BLOSSOMS — The Closet Scene by veiledchamber. Standard YouTube License.

James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face by astique333. Standard YouTube License.

garbo: “i want to be alone!” by agoraphobicsuperstar. Standard YouTube License.

Olivier’s Hamlet film (1948): To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy by karldallas. Standard YouTube License.

Invictus #3 Movie CLIP – This is the Time to Build Our Nation (2009) HD by Movieclips. Standard YouTube License.

Marlon Brando ~ ‘Hey Stella!’~ A Streetcar Named Desire by tristansladyhawk. Standard YouTube License.

How Stanislavski Reinvented the Craft of Acting by Lux. Standard YouTube License.

Character Actors Have A Message For Hollywood | Entertainment Weekly by Entertainment Weekly. Standard YouTube License.

Living In Oblivion (1995) – Shooting the Ellen and Mom Scene by Somewhere Else for Something Else. Standard YouTube License.

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network (2010) by ohsorrycharlie. Standard YouTube License.

Singin’ in the Rain (3/8) Movie CLIP – The Sound Barrier (1952) HD by Movieclips. Standard YouTube License.

Hobbit – Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug acting! – Benedict Cumberbatch atuando como Smaug by Bülent İlan. Standard YouTube License.

“Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” – Sunset Boulevard by Laura Nyhuis. Standard YouTube License.

Nicole Kidman by Gianni Centonze. Standard YouTube License.

Learning to Look: eye contact in Satyajit Ray’s The Big City (video essay) by Lost In The Movies. Standard YouTube License.

Jane Campion – Haptic Visuality by Giorgia Console. Standard YouTube License.

9 Film Editing Tips to Shape an Actor’s Performance by This Guy Edits. Standard YouTube License.


  1. This story has been told many times over the years, most recently by actor Brian Dennehy: https://www.npr.org/2020/04/24/843918935/remembering-tony-award-winning-character-actor-brian-dennehy
  2. Throughout this chapter I use the term "actor" to refer to both male and female actors. The term "actress" while still in use, most notably by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, strikes me as anachronistic, especially given the history of gender discrimination in the industry. See Chapter Nine for more on that.


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