Acting Advice from Famous Actors | Tips and Tricks from Industry Greats

Acting Advice from Famous Actors

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Leonardo DiCaprio talks a lot about how he was inspired from a very young age by some of the great actors of his time. When he was around 14 years old, he spent months watching all of the classics and deciding that he wanted to, some day, give a performance that was close to what he was watching those actors give. Safe to say he has probably achieved that ambition. So today, let’s take some acting advice from famous actors and learn from the best in the biz.

You can learn an awful lot just by watching and listening famous actors. Many of us have the immense privilege today of living in a world where almost everything is documented and archived on the internet, including acting advice from famous actors—both living and dead.

For today’s article, let’s defer to them for some timeless advice that you can add to your acting toolkit. We’ve included some choice quotes, along with some clips of their work for inspiration!

Matthew McConaughey

“[You] Don’t try to remember all the lines. You look at what’s on the text. First you read it, you try to understand it. You read it again. Me? I read it after a run when my endorphins are flying, I read it late Saturday night when I’ve got a good buzz going, I read it right after Church, when I’m feeling very forgiving, I’ll read it when I’m mad, sad, glad, tired, excited, happy … that means I’ll have a different look at the same scenes because I’m in a different place. I’ll gather all of that for weeks if not months before I start locking in decisions on what my character would or wouldn’t do.”

The essence of what Mr McConaughey is saying is here is that you should be less concerned with learning the words of a script and more concerned with learning what the text is about. The more you go over a script, the more you learn about what is actually happening in a scene: what your character is trying to get (their objective), what’s stopping them from getting it and how they’re going to change tact to try and get it (the action).

Check out the source of this advice HERE.

Sir Michael Caine

In this interview, Sir Michael Caine talks about choosing and looking at one eye of the person opposite you in a close up:

“Don’t go from eye to eye… If you want to play strong, don’t blink; if you want to play weak… don’t deliberately blink but you can break it… Never change eyes. Only actors do that, real people don’t do that.”

He also talks about acting drunk. The advice first came from a producer, who saw fit to school a young Sir Michael on an early performance:

“The producer stopped [the take] and said what are you doing? And I said I’m drunk in this scene. He said I know you’re drunk but you’re not a drunk, you’re an actor trying to be drunk. I said I don’t know what you mean. He said well you’re an actor who’s trying to walk crooked and talk slurred; a drunk is a man who is trying to walk straight and talk properly. Go out and do it again!”

He gives more advice on crying on camera that follows a similar logic.

“You must fight the tears. And if you fight the tears, the audience will cry for you.”

The brilliance of Sir Michael’s acting is his subtlety and complexity. In this advice, he proposes that playing against your expectation of what someone might do. Never “show” the audience what a character is, but play to the truth of the scene.  Humans often fight against all of the uncomfortable things they’re thinking and feeling, so why wouldn’t actors do the same with their characters?

Kate Winslet

“There are challenges in every single day, the biggest one to be honest I think is being able to stay focused. Because you can rehearse and you can plan everything and you can think you have a framework that you want to stick with or a few ideas … and sometimes the craziness of an onset environment can be so intense that you can find yourself forgetting all of those things that you planned. So staying really, really focused and knowing it’s okay to take yourself off to a quiet corner and reminding yourself what it is that you set out to do.”

“It’s a funny thing because actors can’t really help other actors and I find that quite frustrating because I wish I could …”

“I think what I would honestly say to people starting out: it is difficult. It is definitely a hard job to do and you do have to keep working at it. You do have to keep practicing things, you have to allow yourself to make mistakes; make them, rehearse in your bedroom, try not to look in the mirror too much because then you rehearse a scene in front of a mirror and you like the way you’ve said something or done something and all you will do is keep picturing yourself doing it the way you liked rather than being completely present in the moment…”

“You have to keep at it, you do. And if it is the thing that you really believe you want to do with your life, you will get there, you just have to keep going and keep going and keep going. Keep yourself busy, don’t wait for the phone to ring. Fill your life in other areas because the more you enrich your life, the more enriched you’ll be as an actor.”

Ms Winslet is really talking about focus in both of these excellent pieces of advice. Whether it is on set or in your bedroom, there is a level of focus demanded of actors that it unique to the career. If you can keep your mind and your intention clear through the highs and lows, then you’ll be just fine.

Check out the source of this advice HERE.

Denzel Washington

“Dreams without goals are just dreams and they ultimately fuel disappointment. Goals on the road to achievement can not be achieved without disciple and consistency.”

Short, sweet and a crucial reminder to the actor that in order to have a sustainable and fulfilling career, you need to set goals that are tangible and achievable. Make plans and stick to them, rather than staying forever stuck in your dreams of winning an Oscar one day, somehow. Thank you, Mr Washington.

Don Cheadle

“People think that you have to have a job to work on acting. Which you don’t. You can read plays, you can work on monologues, you can always work on script analysis, you can very often read scenes with people that you don’t have to be performing to … that’s all working. That’s all doing acting work.”

“If you think [being in a film or a television show] that’s the only way acting happens, one of two things are gonna happen: You’re never gonna get that shot or you’re gonna get that shot and very quickly they’re gonna see that you’ve got nothing to bring to the game.”

Mr Cheadle reminds us that you don’t need to have been cast in a movie or a play to be working on your craft. You can develop a very strong personal practice that you can do anywhere, any time. This will ensure you’re able to give the very best performance when you do get your shot.

Check out the source of this advice HERE.

Hugh Jackman

“When I first began, to get over my nerves of auditioning I used to always go into an audition as though it was a first rehearsal. So I would always ask the director or casting agent, whoever it was, questions. If they said I think you should sit, I’d say I think the character would stand. It was just my way of trying to redress the balance so it wasn’t just you’ve got all the power and I’m trying to please rather we’re trying to work together.”

Ah, the dreaded audition room. Mr Jackman gives us a way to reframe the audition for ourselves to address nerves and think about the audition as already being on the job.

Check out the source of this advice HERE.

Bryan Cranston

“I tell actors all the time: get your personal life in order. If you really want to be an actor, you have to get your personal life in order so that you don’t flake out.”

There are many actors, particularly young actors, who seem to think that part of being an artist is to be a little (or a lot) unhinged. The age of the diva has left us all with a strange impression of what having an artistic career is. But this attitude has proven time and time again to be a very unsustainable way of being in this career. The first thing to focus on when embarking on the journey of an artist is yourself. So, take a leaf out of Mr Cranston’s book and get yourself together, damn it!

Conclusion

So there you have it: a wellspring of inspiring and helpful acting advice from famous actors of (and before) our time. I often find when I’m feeling confused or jaded about the industry, a remedy that works for me is to search for some words of wisdom from those who have tread a similar path to my own. You never have to go it alone. 

See you around the traps!

About the Author

Frazer Shepherdson

Frazer (he/him) is a writer, actor and director. He has worked professionally in film, television and theatre since 2016 and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor in Acting in 2021.

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