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  • James Stranahan

What Really Makes an Actor Good?

I remember attending a small-town play a while back and having the good fortune to watch one of the best actors I’ve ever encountered. She was playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It, and she was wonderfully compelling. As soon as she walked on stage, she commanded everyone’s attention and held it to the end of every scene she was in. She easily made me believe that she was a woman fleeing to the forest to find safety from her uncle’s persecution, and she had my full sympathy as she fell in love with Orlando. When the curtain came down, I was applauding as loudly as everyone else in the audience.


What, exactly, is it that makes an actor so incredible? How are they able to step into the shoes of their character and make you feel every emotion they have? A good part of it, I believe, is charisma: they have that certain something that is so attractive that you can’t look away from them. Daniel Day Lewis is one actor who as soon as he walks onto the screen, he keeps your eyes on you. Robin Wright is another. She has a magnetic quality that helps her to draw your eyes to her as she acts. The really great actors are frequently charismatic people and give outstanding performances.


Confidence is another crucial asset for an excellent actor. They must have it in order to not get rattled when the camera zooms onto their face, capturing every expression they make. They must believe in themselves to pull out the depths of a character that is often very different from them. When Natalie Portman played Nina Sayers in Black Swan, her role was physically and emotionally challenging. She was able to handle its complexities and deliver an incredible performance, however, because she had the confidence to take it on. Unlike her character, she didn’t doubt herself, and the result was her Academy Award.


An excellent actor is well-informed and intelligent. They are frequently asked to play characters who will either experience events that are based on real-life or whose circumstances or personalities are very different from their own. With that in mind, good actors like to keep up with current events and read widely so that they can have a wider base of knowledge that allows them to tap into what their characters feel and do.


It goes without saying that hard work is behind any mesmerizing performance. The best actors make it look effortless even though there are countless hours of preparation that go into each role. Daniel Day Lewis is famous for the extremes he goes to in order to immerse himself into his roles, including My Left Foot. For The Joker, Heath Ledger reportedly locked himself in a London hotel room for about a month so that he could experiment with the voice he would use in his breakout performance. To prepare for Monster, Charlize Theron underwent a pretty extreme physical transformation so that she could portray a serial killer. The willingness of these actors to devote themselves to their roles paid off in acclaimed performances.


As great as so many of Hollywood’s A-Listers are, I am still pleasantly surprised when I come across someone just as good in a community theater. It reminds me that the world is a big place and that there are only so many roles in Tinseltown. The actors we see on the big screen are there for a reason, but I like it when I am treated to a superb performance by an actor who more than likely will never make it big in LA. The world, quite simply, is full of gifted actors, and it’s a pleasure to watch them when I find them, no matter where they are.



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