If that’s what you came here for don’t bother reading any further: surround yourself, and your career, with great writing. Audition with great texts, work on great scenes, pick projects with great writing, and you will always be a better actor for it. There’s a reason no one on Home and Away has ever won an acting award, and it isn’t because they are bad actors, in fact many great actors have worked on the show, it’s because the writing is pitiful.
Of course you can’t completely avoid bad writing in your career, but knowing how important it is can help guide you when deciding on projects. By great writing I don’t mean everything has to be Shakespeare. In truth, many actors find Shakespeare difficult and unnatural, and it won’t serve them. By great writing I mean writing what resonates with you. The kind that feels natural and exciting when you speak it. If it feels clunky and unnatural, then your acting will probably be the same.
Side note: some writing is difficult because it’s complex and archaic, like Shakespeare. I urge actors to learn more about acting Shakespeare and push through, but if a soap script feels difficult, it’s probably just bad writing.
There is not an actor in the world who doesn’t honour the well written word. It is the key to great acting. I read this piece of advice in Bryan Cranston’s recent book “A Life in Parts” and I think he puts it perfectly: always follow the well written word. That is the adage that guided his career and the reason he was so drawn to Breaking Bad (and look how that turned out.)
I recently did an audition for a Shakespeare company. The monologue was from Richard II, his famous monologue as he’s being deposed. It was complex, rich and yet it was a great audition. I was working on some of the best text ever written. I felt like I could act. That afternoon I headed to a commercial casting. I said one line about selling a foot-long sandwich, and I sucked. I was a bad actor. It wasn’t because of my acting, or the product, or the casting director, it was because there was no text to rely on and trust in. How can saying one line be harder than saying a Shakespeare monologue? Bad writing. Bad writing makes you look and feel like a bad actor.
Words are an actors bedrock. And you should always seek them out. Even in times of unemployment seek them out in novels, short stories, poems, plays, films and essays. Flood your mind with words and always try to learn more about language. As actors we are bastions of language. We have to communicate dialogue in a way that is honest, clear and connected. The more you read and explore language the more capacity you have to perform great works.
Great writing is the key to great acting. Fall in love with words and language and you will be a better actor for it.