• James Stranahan

Ben’s Advice for Shy Actors

You would think that being an actor in a movie would require you to be outgoing. To be sure, there are plenty of people in Hollywood that are extroverted and love the spotlight. That includes me. I actually love to act in front of people and to entertain, and my parents would attest that I don’t have a shy bone in my body. Whether I am playing the piano blind-folded or “fighting” another actor in a scene, I am totally at ease with the multitude of people around me.

There are just as many actors, however, who are painfully shy but who still love stepping into the shoes of a character completely different from their own. How did they get so far in Hollywood when their confidence seemingly evaporates as soon as the scene ends? Well, as is the case with most shy people, they have found what works for them and are able to excel in a profession that demands they be the center of attention pretty much all the time.

First, remember what all shy or outgoing actors must do.

Have you ever wondered how actors, regardless of their personalities, can walk past a camera without glancing at it or looking like they’re trying to avoid seeing it? That’s because they have developed the ability to wall themselves off from the small army of people filming their every move and to act naturally as they say their lines. In acting, we sometimes refer to that as the “fourth wall,” which is basically an imaginary wall that separates actors from the crew. A shy person will need that invisible wall to feel comfortable as they act in a scene.

Shy actors are experts at making the outside world disappear.

Building on the fourth wall idea, a shy actor has more tools at their disposal that can give them a safe space to become their character. I’ve talked to several actors who in public have trouble speaking, and I have asked them what the key has been to their success. Both told me that maintaining an illusion of privacy is critical for them to be able to deliver their lines.

Easier said than done, of course, but one thing they recommend is taking your lines to a public park, sitting down at a bench, and spending time just murmuring them. Get used to both the activity around you as you speak as well as the concentration it takes to tune it out. The more you can create the idea that you are alone even in a crowded place, the better able you’ll be to speak in front of people.

Shy actors, conversely, break their own stereotypes and challenge themselves to be in situations where they must be outgoing.

This is a bit of psychology. Think about what happens when you say, “I am shy.” You are essentially labeling yourself and saying that you don’t enjoy speaking around other people. Guess what? That’s exactly what’s going to happen when you are with a group. Your mind is going to tell you that you can’t speak in front of others, so when you open your mouth to talk, nothing may come out.

What can help quieter actors is to do improvisation with their peers. It’s a situation where they must confront their own fears and realize that they are, indeed, capable. It’s actually very empowering, and by the end of the session, the actor will have realized that “shy” does not necessarily define them anymore. It can lead to tremendous breakthroughs and new horizons for the actor.

There is plenty of room for shy actors in Hollywood.

Many of my peers whom I work with every day are quiet in public, yet their careers are thriving in an industry that demands that they be front and center each day. Their success should give you the confidence you need to cast aside your inhibitions and follow your own dreams in the film world.

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