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The Importance of Being Observant

To be observant is a key requisite for any actor. 

To play a character, using accents and physical mannerisms comes from being critically observant.

I was listening to Dean Carey from the Actors Studio the other day and he was saying that he doesn’t believe that actors have to come from a path of experience to be a good actor. They have to understand what it is to be human. Understand the feelings of being in any given situation.

This to me means that you need to be observant and thereby understand the sensitivities and the emotional journeys we as humans travel on.

How do you do that? By being genuinely interested in the human spirit.

When I was an actor, I never was one that wanted to be up on stage saying ‘look at me! Look at me!’ as most people think actors are. I was quite the opposite. I would prefer to blend into the background and hope that nobody noticed me. This way, I could sit back and watch. I found people watching the most satisfying thing to do as a kid and young adult. I could watch people for hours not being bored but being totally entertained.

Little did I understand then that I was preparing for my long term career.

I also learned at an early age that being observant makes you more attuned to your surroundings and doesn’t just stop with the eyes.

Are you one to instinctively look at your phone when you find yourself waiting at the bus stop or when you have some spare minutes alone?

Next time you find yourself in that situation, this afternoon, this morning – try putting that phone away and try a little mindfulness. Soak in your surroundings, taking in the light, the smells, the sounds.

Check out the guy sitting opposite you as to the way he sits or stands. Is he sitting straight or slouched? Has he had a long day and is tired/ is he young or old? Same goes for the woman next to you. The colours of her clothes, her shoes. Is she nervously combing her fingers through her hair? Is there eye contact or avoidance? Again, this tells you so much about the character.

As you all possibly know by now, I am a big one for shoes. Shoes help inform my character. One of the first things I look at are the shoes. Are they expensive looking? But maybe a little scuffed? In other words they have money, but they don’t care too much about appearance? Are they highly polished? Thongs maybe? This is just one small thing that can greatly inform your character.

I have a thing about shoes. Not like a shoeaholic thing – far from it. But I have the great belief that shoes inform your characters walk, comfort, stance etc. Next time your observing someone check out their shoes first then work your way up form there.

When I’m reading from a script – on stage or on set, I feel like I’m not there. I would imagine most of you feel the same way? I am another person. I am putting on other peoples mannerisms, thoughts, feelings, walk etc. To prepare, I search for someone who encapsulates my character and I study them. I’m not copying, I am learning how to be them, so I can go back and create a version of myself in them.

I believe being a good performer is about being a keen observer.

I don’t believe everyone needs drama school, though it can certainly help in having techniques to fall back on, but I think the most important thing for an actor is to understand emotion, thought and human behavior. And how can you possibly do that if you are not a keen observer?

If you watch, listen and pay attention to people you will understand them. And to understand people is to be able to create compelling characters that people want to watch and go on the journey with you.

Surely this is our objective as actors!