5 Qualities Directors Want in Actors

Every role has its own special demands. For instance, playing the leads in “Creed” and “Ex Machina” called for extraordinary physical skills, while those in “Son of Saul” and “Beasts of No Nation” required connecting emotionally with the darkest parts of humanity. However, there are some common attributes that create a successful performance and get directors wanting to work with you again. Here are five of those key qualities you want to demonstrate:


  1. You need to be believable. D.W. interviewed several directors in his new book “You Can Act: On Camera” and when asked what makes for an effective performance for the camera, many led with “believability.” They look for that very basic aspect of a relaxed presence and then whether the character seems to be actually going through the circumstances of the imaginative scenario, or if there isn’t some kind of undercutting, fronting, or outright cheating happening. There is also a section in D.W.’s book on charisma, and basically, what it comes down to is that charisma is largely synonymous with authenticity.
  2. You need to be vulnerable. In order for an audience to get their money’s worth, they have to feel the performer is being played upon by all the events as they are unfolding, and being affected by their full value. There is a law of nature: dare or dwindle. And, as viewers, we are most interested in watching characters seeking objectives which they are at risk of not getting. Interestingly, we usually feel it was worthwhile watching even if they fail to get their objectives, as long as they really took a shot. You mustn’t think of vulnerability as synonymous with frailty. A massive tiger in pursuit of a tiny deer is still vulnerable to getting kicked in the eye or missing out on the delight of sinking its teeth into that warm little body.
  3. You must understand your role. You may be disappointed—heartbroken even—if you see the final product at a screening or on TV and discover you’re barely on screen at all with all that wonderful, idiosyncratic behaviour that you performed cut out. It seemed, when shooting, you were at least 50 percent of the scene, but what you didn’t realize was you weren’t the lead of the show and that the need of the scene was to set up the situation for the lead. So, all that stuff you were doing to make yourself look special ended up being a distraction that had to be cut. Your best bet for being on screen more would have been to play those qualities most needed from your part. Also, when people see you have the humility to get that, they’re more inclined to hire you again.
  4. You need to be collaborative. While it’s true that understanding what the show most needs from your portrayal is being collaborative, it also, crucially, includes your off-camera behaviour as well. Are you trustworthy, generous, and overall upbeat? Would you want to work with you in stressful situations? Basic, political life skills should be consistently put into practice. Make people feel important. Overlook perceived injuries. Hide your fear and irritation, but share your joy and courage. Additionally, not only should you not undermine a project by causing trouble, you don’t even want to be around trouble. If someone is complaining, physically get away from them. If there’s a problem of any kind and you can avoid being associated with the bad luck of that thing having happened, don’t bring it up.
  5. You should be surprising. In storytelling, it’s an achievement to have resolutions that seem both inevitable and are yet surprising. So it is with the moments of an acting performance. This is a very special dynamic to possess and exceptionally hard to come by, because if you try to be surprising by itself, all you do is become less organically truthful and appear either arbitrary or like every other clever person trying to be interesting. The only way to achieve this quality is to be so pure, so hell-bent on getting as intimate as possible with universal truth and the actuality of the moment that the specifics of your particular, unique instrument begin to express themselves on their own. The good news is you’ll do just fine as long as you’re strong in the other four qualities, and it’s probably best to let this one take care of itself.