The key to dynamic and engaging listening will ultimately rest in your understanding and the executing of microexpressions. Microexpressions are quick flashes of strong feeling that you consciously or unconsciously try to suppress. In acting terms we can also call microexpressions “emotional leakage”.
Emotional leakage is the result of trying to manage a strong feeling. It’s important to note, you can't manage what you aren't feeling. In other words, you have to create a strong enough emotional life first.
In my book, Acting: Face to Face, I challenged the belief “just thinking the thought” will lead you to an expression. I proposed “a thought not connected to a strong enough idea or opinion will never result in a facial expression. However, a facial expression without a thought is an acting lie”. (Click link to Tweet)
Listening and reacting authentically and truthfully requires you to have a strong opinion to what you're hearing. What you have to keep in mind is, no opinion — no truthful reaction. Too many opinions and your face becomes too busy. In other words you must have selection and connection. You must carefully select what you choose to react to, build a history that supports why you are reacting to it and connect to that history, bringing it as close to you as it is to your character. Doing this ensures that you’re reacting with the same level of intensity as your character. It’s what makes you a more dynamic and engaging storyteller.
Here’s what you need to think about. Unlike life, where we have very little control over what we feel and what we reveal, as an on-camera actor you are the artist. You are creating the emotional experience. This means, you have to make the conscious choice to let what you’re feeling leak out when appropriate to do so. It’s what gives the viewer deeper and greater insight to your character and moves the story along.
Like I often say to my actors, you can't manage what you haven't created thereby you can’t leak what you don’t feel. (Click link to Tweet)
I saw this video and thought what a great example of listening with a strong opinion. Check this video out and see how John Boehner leaks his strong opinions about President Obama and what the President is saying. Watch for leakage of contempt, disgust and irritation. Pay especially close attention to the timing of Boehner’s reactions and how he tries to manage his real feelings with a lot of tongue wagging and cheek rubbing. I think it is simply hysterical and a great learning tool. Can you read his mind?
Let me hear your thoughts. What’s your most memorable scene where you are captivated by the way an actor is listening?
Author, Coach, Speaker
John is known to actors around the world as the Go-To Emotion Specialist.