The idea of acting being “physical” is a popular one. Actors live in fear of being “in their heads”, and hope that their acting is physical and not intellectual.
Well and good. But riddle me this: if acting is or should be physical, in what physical part of the body does it happen? In the face? In the chest, in close proximity to the heart?
If you like the idea of acting being not only physical but “visceral”, then you want acting to take place in the actor’s gut, in the pit of his stomach. That’s what visceral means: gut-level.
But so much of acting and film and television happens in close-up. So what of the gut, in that case? The face, the neck, perhaps the chest: that’s where the action is. Acting has to happen there, or not at all, if it is to show up on camera, right?
No. Not right.
What is happening viscerally, at the gut level, shows up in the face and in the eyes. And if nothing is happening viscerally, that shows up too.
Sometimes actors fall into thinking they have to “act” only with what is visible in the camera frame, and while they know better than to mug and indicate, they still end up with overactive faces, because they feel like the face has to do all the work.
When the acting is good, we see through your face. We see into you. Acting is an exercise in laying yourself bare. This means that generally speaking, the face should not be too active. This allows whatever is happening viscerally, at the gut level, to be visible. But if the face is too active, then what is happening viscerally is masked. Again, this is a rule of thumb, not a recommendation to keep a blank facial expression at all times. There are times when an active face is appropriate and called for.
The gut is where it’s at.
“You must realize that the center of the universe is in the pit of your stomach.”–Zen Master Harada-roshi