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How to achieve realism in acting?

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Key tips to achieve realistic performance

As a human, we go through varieties of emotions every day. Everyone around us just gets to see a glimpse of our inner emotions until we reach an emotional boiling point where we burst out revealing our inner feelings. These hidden layers of inner emotions make us complex but real. Realistic acting is about living the life of a character on screen the way we live our lives subtly with layers of hidden emotions.

Following are the key tips to avoid overacting and to ensure a realistic performance.

Pre-determine the intensity of the required emotion.

Mark your scene in terms of which emotions you need to portray and what should be the intensity of those emotions. In one single scene, you may be required to portray 2-3 emotions either one after another or all simultaneously. You need to predetermine what should be the intensity of those emotions. For e.g. you may not need to be very angry in a particular scene and just a bit of displeasure is enough. Or no need to forcibly show love, rather a quick glance with your dilating pupils may be enough.

"Micro-expressions are the leakage of your true inner state"

You can not pretend micro-expressions.

The camera sees it all. The camera even notices the micro-expressions which most of the actors are unaware of. These are the quick movement of your facial muscles reflecting your true inner state. If you are not fully living the character, your micro-expressions will leak your true emotional state. For e.g. As a character, you are happy in a scene with a big visible smile but a partially open eyelid or slow winking may reveal that you are sad as a person inside. Unless you truly live the scene you will emotionally leak through micro-expressions.

What you feel inside, gets reflected outside.

As an actor, you may be doubtful that your inner feelings may not be visible outside. Hence you try to spoon-feed your audience through some visible expressions or movements making your performance pretentious. Be assured that your expressions, gestures and body, all are so well connected with your brain that your inner feelings, however, minor those may be, reflects through your body & face. Trust the god’s design & don’t force it. True feelings inside gets reflected outside by default.

Let your own emotions be the yardstick.

Your day to day real emotions is the only yardstick you could use to assess if you are overacting. For e.g., if your character is stressed in a scene, assess how you personally behave in such a situation in your real life. Maybe in your real life, you don’t shout or pull your hair when stressed, maybe you just sit down with horizontal wrinkles on your forehead and look around seeking help subconsciously. Your own emotions guide you as to what should be the intensity of emotion in a scene. Use them to avoid overacting.

"If you pretend, the camera shows you pretending. If you live the emotions, the camera shows you living it" Tanveer Ahmed

Act to express not to impress

Unburden yourself from the pressure or intent to impress your co-actor, director or audience. If you deviate from the objective of living the life of the given character to impressing the audience, you will end up over performing. Hence act to express your character's emotions and not to impress the audience.

All the above points are applicable to a character, script or director’s vision which needs realistic performance. In the business of entertainment, over performances and drama do sell as good as realism. Understanding & achieving realism in acting gives you the ability to regulate the intensity of your emotions which one can also use to overact in a scene consciously and believably if that’s what is required at times.


Tanveer Ahmed

Director at Creative Bites

Media Production & Training

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