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the basics of body language for actors

The Basics of Body Language for Actors

Acting goes beyond memorizing and delivering lines. Non-verbal communication is very vital in becoming an effective actor. Perfect delivery of the script is useless if the actor’s face and body stay still. Actors body language can help them keep the audience engaged. Showing physical expressions can help provide an idea of what the character is thinking, feeling, and how confident they are. 

Every acting lesson has a guide on body language for actors. They guide how you can use your eyes, hand gestures, your posture, and your walk to convey your character’s message. Here are some useful tips on body language acting exercises that you can use for yourself. 

BODY LANGUAGE ACTING BASICS

As an actor, your body is the product you’re selling. But don’t be conceited: use your appearance to your advantage by using the parts of your body that have proven helpful when it comes to showing actors body language:

  • Eyes – The eyes truly are the windows to one’s soul. If your gaze is too shifty, you’re not exactly looking confident or convincing enough that you know your character well. But if your gaze is too intense, it might intimidate the other actors around you. Use eye contact to your advantage, but make sure you practice, or else you might go overboard.

  • Posture – Your posture will say a lot about your presence. If you have a good one, your chest will open up and allow you to have a greater command of your voice. But on the contrary, you can use your posture to portray a character in distress. Slouching will give you shallow breathing and help your voice sound weak.

  • Arms – Have you ever noticed how public speakers use their arms to gesture while talking to an audience? Some people are visual learners, and their attention stays focused when they see gesturing arms.  In addition, your arms can help you show confidence. You may use these poses to perform power poses.

  • Hands –  When it comes to communicating, the hands are the second most important thing after your mouth. A firm handshake can convey a lot of information at the first meeting. Moreover, your hands can show how open or defensive you are when speaking. 


Now that we have the basics, let’s dive deeper into
body language exercises that you can do. 

BODY LANGUAGE ACTING EXERCISES

Think of how powerful you can be if your audience can understand your character without even saying a word. All the best actors tap into the audience’s subconscious just by using a look or a gesture. These are some of the exercises that you can use to gain the same skill. You’ll be more in touch with the physical aspects of acting, and you can help understand your character better. 

Keep in mind, though — every performer has their methods. You can take these tips as a guide, and add your own twist. You don’t even have to spend money to do these things, just a large mirror in front of you or your camera phone so you can observe your performance.

Here are some exercises that can help improve actors body language.

1. Gait exercises

Actors such as Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne have iconic walks. They’ve mastered how they walk, and it has made them recognizable. They even used their walks to draw the audience in. An actor’s body language usually gets conveyed initially with the gait. 

Your gait can showcase a myriad of emotions such as happiness, dread, excitement, confidence, and even defeat. Try out a variety of walking styles to show off how your character is feeling. Read the script, and determine how your character might walk in a particular scene. 

You can try walking with longer or shorter strides. Don’t be afraid to use your hips as well — this is particularly important with women, especially those who are coveting a more daring role. Find an actor you admire and take notice of how they walk depending on their role. It’s also best to watch some shows or movies that have similar characters to the role that you want. 

2. Seven micro-expressions

Place yourself in front of a mirror and practice these facial expressions: fear, anger, contempt, disgust, sadness, happiness, and surprise. Think of how you can showcase these involuntary reactions without uttering a sound. These seven expressions are used in many acting roles and can be your secret weapon for holding the audience’s attention.

3. Good listener and bad listener  

This is a bit more complex, as you’re going to need a partner to execute this. Ask them to tell you any story that they know by heart. Your role is to listen attentively and carefully. Use your body language to show them how interested you are in the story. 

Once their story is done, you have to switch to being a terrible listener. Do the same thing and use your body language and gestures to show your disinterest. 

At the end of the practice, ask them if you were convincing enough as being a good listener and a bad listener. Additionally, ask them for anything that you may need to improve on. 

4. Words vs. Actions

Act out a scene where you say one thing, but your body language will say another. For example, you can say lines about how happy you are over some news, but your body will showcase someone who’s crest-fallen or sad about it.

There are different variations that you can do with this exercise. Another good suggestion for this is saying how sorry you are about someone’s misfortune, but your body shows that you’re excited about it. 

5. Write it all down

This isn’t exactly a physical exercise, but it can help you immensely when preparing for a role. Always make sure you write notes on everything. Don’t hesitate to write in the margins of your script, especially when you’re plotting out how you’re going to do your gestures and postures. Eventually, you’ll find yourself making mental notes while reading the script, and executing everything perfectly. 

6. Understand the space around you

Have you ever seen a character that just walked into a room, but already owns it? You can achieve that same level of gait if you familiarize yourself with your allotted space on stage or in front of the camera. Take some time before show time to roam around, and memorize where the spikes are on stage. The spikes, or the X tape marks on stages, can help you own the room during the scene. 

7. Know your body

It’s hard to quantify “good” body language, as it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and say about your character. However, here are a few general tips and tricks to help you become one with your body and whatever it’s trying to communicate.

It’s impossible to say who has good body language and who doesn’t. But there are certain ways in which people tend to fail at it, and the only remedy for that is to practice until you get it right.

8. Use your eyes

Action Step: Use purposeful gazing and eye contact to your advantage. When you enter the audition room, keep your head up and look in front of you. After you plant yourself in your Launch Stance, look at who you’re introducing yourself to. Don’t shift your eyes too much and never look at the floor.

Use gazing to your advantage. Make sure you look people in the eyes when you’re speaking, and while they’re speaking. This shows that you’re very engaging and that you’re willing to hear what they have to say. 

Understandably, some people may feel uncomfortable about looking into someone’s eyes, but this can be an advantage if you master it. You can learn how to smile with your eyes, get mad with your eyes, or even get embarrassed with just a gaze. Your eyes will help you communicate and show that you’re confident in what you’re doing. 

BODY LANGUAGE FOR ACTORS

Before you begin your body language acting exercises, always ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of voice and posture does the character need?

  • What preparations do I need to do to put my voice and body in top shape for the audition?

  • How do I deliver myself in a normal setting?

  • How do I deliver myself when I do a certain type of character?

  • What roles were similar to the one I’m auditioning for?

If you do a self-diagnosis before stepping onto the audition floor, you’re bound to do a better performance and better chances of getting the role.  

I hope you all love this collection of body language exercises and find them helpful in your acting endeavors. If there’s one thing I want to impress upon you, it is that there’s no quick fix for gaining the ability to read others. 

The techniques I have outlined here are tools that have worked for me and have allowed me to hone in the most important aspect of good character acting: nonverbal communication. There’s a lot you will learn working with professional acting coaches, but these are skills that I think you should know as a working actor; they will serve you as well as they did me. So give them a try!

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