When I ask my younger students how many of them hate their siblings, most of their hands go up. I then ask how they would feel if something bad happened to their sister or brother. The general consensus is they would feel sad. “So you really love your sibling even though you say you hate him?” Both can be true. We can hate and love at the same time.
One of the biggest criticisms I have, especially with teenage actors, is that they are missing the love in their scene. It is easy to be nasty and bitchy, but if they can’t find even an ounce of love, they are unlikeable. Many teenage female characters written for television are sarcastic and acerbic. The challenge is to find the character’s likable qualities as well, avoiding obvious, trite, and stereotypical choices. If you think the character has no redeeming qualities, that is a choice you are making and it is not a very interesting one.
To quote Michael Shurtleff in his book, “Audition”: “To find the deepest emotional content in a scene, you must ask, ‘Where is the love?’ It’s not important if you’re right or wrong: What is important is your commitment to whatever feeling you choose.” You may hate your dad at this moment because he won’t give you the car but you can also love him, can’t you?
Find what is true and know the opposite is also true. I recently worked on an audition scene with a few young actors. In the film, the father had deceived the entire family by faking his own death. Once the girl discovers this, she is obviously angry and in the scene tries to get revenge by hurting him emotionally. All of the actors played the anger beautifully but forgot one very important thing – they loved their dad and were truly grateful he was, in fact, alive. By not discovering the love, their performances were callous, calculating, and frankly uninteresting.
What about the villains who upend expectations? It is fascinating to find the genuine vulnerability in the conniving, back-stabbing cheerleader or the murderous, trashy mother who is often unexpectedly smart and caring.
I always tell my students, “Say what you mean but don’t always say it mean.” Your audition scene is about your boyfriend cheating on you with your best friend. Stop yelling. I understand that you are mad. How many times can you confront him by playing mean? Are you sad and hurt? Do you still love him even though he did something so egregious? Again, I love what Mr. Shurtleff has to say, “The actress has to know more than the character knows.”
Remember that love is more than sexuality and libidinal energy. It is the life instinct driving all humanity. Find it, play it and see what new levels you can find in your acting!