Actor Fitness

What does it mean to be a “fit” actor? To me, it means you are ready to work – Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready to fill a role. Different actors will need different kinds of fitness for success and each role needs its own kind of preparation.

Life teaches so many lessons. Sometimes, life needs to be lived a little to prepare us for exceedingly challenging roles. And by challenging, I am talking about emotional depth. Now, perhaps, you don’t have to have experienced the kind of loss and betrayal Hamlet did in order to play the role, but you do, I believe, need to have something to draw from (life experience), personally, to go through that journey and play that part well. Now, life experience does not grow on trees and you can’t go to the gym to earn more of it, but, with time, we all grow, learn, change, grieve, and rejoice. These experiences make actors more able to portray rich characters with real emotional depth. Characters who go through great challenges and achieve great heights.

An actor’s body is an important tool. Since we are selling a product – our talent (to be crass) – has to be attractively packaged. Now, this does not mean that men must look like Ryan Gosling and women must look like Halle Berry, but the body has to be ready to perform the tasks which will be asked of it. In order to keep the body ready for work, a few things should be tended to. Below are a few things that have worked for me:

  • A routine.
  • 8+ hours of sleep per night.
  • Massage.
  • Working out at a gym.
  • Working out at home (P90X).
  • Daily walking (3+ miles per day).
  • Stretching.
  • Yoga.
  • Dancing.
  • Attempting new physical things – snowboarding, dancing, ice skating, shooting, etc.
An actor’s mind and imagination are also vital to his work. Without the ability to maintain attention, memorize lines and blocking, and invest emotionally, an actor is lost. There are exercises you can do which will help memorization (a topic covered in previous post), and supplements on the market which claim to maintain and enhance mental focus, but creating an emotional reality and living in someone else’s shoes is possibly the hardest and most mystical part of the “job.” Without going into great detail, there are more than a few ways to emotionally prepare for a role, which might include Method Acting or the Meisner Technique. Perhaps, Stella Adler might be more up your alley or maybe Uta Hagen. Maybe you have your own way of getting into the skin of another human and sensitizing yourself to your partner and the given circumstances. For me, emotional preparation and tuning into my targets/environments (sensitizing) is the most challenging part of the job. I have timing, comic chops, the ability to think on my feet, and a lot of experience which has given me a ton of tools, but emotional prep will always be where I need to invest yeoman’s work. To keep the mind sharp, you might also need to meditate, hike more, drink less alcohol, read more, etc.
For stage work, the voice is a vital tool which needs to be developed and sustained. If you have done classical work, you are probably familiar with Berry’s Voice and the Actor and Linklater’s Freeing the Natural Voice. They are certainly worth a read if you are not familiar, especially if you are tacking the classics. Now, certainly, you don’t need to be an acolyte of the RSC to perform Mamet. Performing Mamet requires a different kind of approach. An approach that is more naturalistic, but also stylized. And, we have not even touched on the idea of accents. In film, TV, and for the stage, you might be asked to perform (or audition) for characters who are from a different place and perhaps from a different time. This means…Research! And, perhaps, hiring a dialect or accent coach.
The path of the actor is treacherous, emotionally and spiritually. To stay the course you need strength, support, finances, and a good spirit. In order to prevail in the face of many obstacles, and to succeed in an incredibly competitive field, an actor needs to take care of his spirit. For me, this means:
  • Having a life outside of the biz.
  • Being socially active.
  • Having non-actor friends and pursuits.
  • Spending time with family.
  • Living in the now.
  • Hanging out with dogs.


10 thoughts on “Actor Fitness

  1. I’m absolutely enjoying reading your blogs- mostly because it reinforces my feeling that I’m on the right path. It seemed so much easier when I was younger to explore the emotional side of acting. It came naturally because what I felt was how I acted- no holding back. As I grew up in college and left acting behind, I became molded to what was a different persona, and now coming back to my roots, finding that emotion that is reacting rather than acting, truly feeling rather than emoting- those are my known issues that I am ready to conquer. I have made strides due to film versus theatre since with my current director I can critique everything I do along the way. I have learned a lot from watching myself and changing what I think is just ACTING to BEING. I have to stop being afraid that someone will see that is really how I feel- because ultimately, I want people to THINK that is how I feel and that I AM that person I am portraying. I used to be able to do that as a high schooler- I feel like the more life experience I’ve had, the less I’ve shown emotion. Now to tap into that deeply hidden emotion becomes a challenge. But it’s a challenge I welcome.

    • I think as we grow up, we drift further from our imagination. Imagination + Action = Emotional Response. ‎”We cannot express emotion. Ever. Emotion, however, expresses itself in us whether we like it or not. We cannot ‘do’ an emotion. We cannot ‘make’ an emotion. We cannot ‘show’ an emotion. Our emotions express themselves only through what we do.” – Declan Donnellan, The Actor and the Target.

  2. David-
    First off, it’s always interesting to read a blog like this written by someone who hasn’t even been alive as long as I’ve been acting professionally. And it’s important that I read them because styles, tastes, trends are always changing and those changes are made and decided by the next generation. I’m currently on tour with productions of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ as Lord Capulet and ‘Macbeth’ as King Duncan, a Murderer and Seward. It’s a High School tour and we have Q & A’s after each show and I wanted to share 3 things we get asked about after almost every performance that fits with this post;
    1. Mental Discipline-how do we remember all those lines and even different characters? Education. Studying and testing your mind is exercising it, training it to learn and retain necessary information.
    2. Training-which style or Acting Teacher do you study? All of them. Disregard no one but treat no single individual or approach as gospel either. Life doesn’t happen according to any one person’s rules-neither should your performance.
    3. Experience-how do you perform characters in places or times you’ve never been? READ! Everything you can lay your hands on! Plays, novels (particularly historical fiction) and foreign novels, particularly English, Irish and Scottish. You’d be surprised how much you’ll learn about a people by reading their own literature. You’ll pick up their rhythms, tastes, etc. Research is necessary and important but it can also be dry and lifeless. nothing brings a time or place to life like a good novel.
    I look forward to your next post.

    • You can’t be that darn old!

      I love your feedback here, especially points 2 and 3.

      Historical and character research is very important to building a life on stage or in front of the camera. And, I think actors should always dig deep and do as much study with as much breadth as possible to determine which technique (or lack thereof) works best for them.

  3. LOVE this Post!!!! So great to have someone break down the things we think we know and do. But life happens when you are making plans, a death in the family, rainy Seattle keeps you on the couch watching TV, your friend was dumped and needs to cry on your shoulder, you don’t get 5 gigs in a row, someone hits your car and doesn’t have insurance… Life often keeps us from the most important thing… ourselves. It is easy to get down on yourself, get lazy, just except that this is the best things will get. WRONG! Things can always get better, if you put in the work, mind, body and soul, they can only improve.

    And I LOVE me some P90X ;D

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