Being an actor sounds easy. Being paid to play and pretend to be someone you’re not, what could be more fun!
It is fun, immensely so. But it’s also not easy. The ease with which someone like Brando, Depp, Burton, Brett, Jacobi, or a whole host of other famous names seem to slip into and inhabit a role is proof of that. Because if it was easy, everyone would do it, and we wouldn’t think “Oh, Richard Burton, what a great actor!”, we’d just think he was an actor.
There are lots of things that can help you become someone else in a role, but prime among them, and something which all my favourite actors have, is that they’re ready. They’ve learnt their lines. They’ve practiced their craft. If they need an accent, they learn it, practice it, so that when the time comes, when the director shouts “Action!” – they’re ready.
One of the biggest eye-openers for me was when I took improv classes. I watched the man teaching the group, Lloydie, and was mesmorised by how ready he was for anything. Although improv comedy and rehearsed lines are very different skills, they both require you to be ready to react. When I saw Lloydie play scenes with the others in MissImp, I was hugely impressed by how they all seemed able to bounce things off each other and were ready to react. Some of the players, it seemed, had character models ready to slip into for a scene, so that when the suggestion was given or their partner gave them a line, they could go with it. They were ready, and the result was hilarious, and fantastic.
I’ve watched a lot of actors, on set and on the screen, and those that really live are ready when they turn up on set. That might mean having some characters ready to go. That might be having the accent down. Or being in shape. Time is money, and the actor’s time spent getting ready and being able to hit the ground running means stronger performances, and, as seen by the greats such as Marlon Brando or Robert Downey Jr., that means more work, and more money for the actor.