How to hide an emotion on camera – a simple acting tip

How to hide an emotion on camera - a simple acting tip_550
Photo Credit: Adapted from Collin Mercer via cc
Sometimes in a script you will need to ‘cover’ or ‘hide’ an emotion or feeling and show another feeling altogether. This is very common in television scripts and is often that close-up moment which can either nail or break a casting.
Let’s say that you are playing a character who is in love with another character – that character starts to tell you how they are in love with someone else and you must play that you are happy for that character whilst in reality you are hurting deeply and feeling sadness and hurt. In this case there must be a hurt behind your eyes and a smile on your face!
Difficult, huh? Especially in close-up!
The most common mistake I find actors make in this situation is that they will overplay one emotion: either the ‘surface’ feeling – in this particular case that would be happiness – or the underlying emotion – in this case that is sadness. What will happen in your performance is that the overplaying will be confusing to the audience, especially in close-up.
So the only other option is to play both in equal measure? Well if you do that on camera then we end up seeing neither emotion as the surface emotion and the underlying feeling will end up cancelling each other out and we end up with nothing on display.
I find this exercise is terrific in situations like this, especially useful if you are overdoing it and your performance is becoming a little bit ‘obvious’. This exercise is best done as close to your actual performance as possible.
Play the scene focusing only on the underlying feeling. Do not make any attempt to cover it, let it out and perform only that feeling as you say the lines. It is a vital step that you really feel that underlying emotion so play it really strongly at least once.

Then get in front of the camera and shoot the scene playing only the surface feeling – truthfully hide the emotion which you have literally just been focusing on.
What ends up happening by doing this simple exercise is that you will end up feeling the real emotion by playing it fully just before shooting – then you will actually have to hide all of that in front of the camera just as you would in real life. Your performance becomes more nuanced and subtle – the underlying emotion will play behind your eyes but will appear hidden by the surface feeling – perfect!
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