Actors and Subconscious Automatizations

There are different acting methods which relate to different ways of dealing with subconscious automatizations.

Some actors try to get into their character’s mindset and immerse themselves in the part. They’re trying to adjust a bunch of automatizations and intuitions so they actually become more like the character. Then they undo those changes later to become more like themselves again.

Other actors do their acting with a lot more conscious control. And many actors do a mix.

Both approaches (focusing more on conscious or subconscious acting) are reasonable because acting parts are temporary and don’t build towards later knowledge. It isn’t knowledge to be built on to reach more advanced knowledge. It isn’t a step as part of ongoing, unbounded progress. It’s the end goal itself, not a building block.

Some acting skills, which are generic acting techniques you can use for many different parts, should be automatized.

An acting part can build towards something else in the sense that it makes it easier to get another acting job later. But the later job mostly won’t use the same character-specific automatizations. Sometimes actors do a bunch of similar parts, and if you could predict that then it’d be more convenient and efficient to play those parts pretty intuitively. However, being able to get similar parts in the future often isn’t predictable. And if you do the first part with a lot of conscious control, and then get hired for a new part by people who want more of the same, you should probably keep doing what you were doing, not change your approach.

Acting with a bunch of conscious effort is a lot of work but that can be OK. If you want to be an actor and are happy to succeed at the job, it can be worth a lot of work.

Being a successful actor is hard and uncommon. It makes sense to succeed with whatever acting method you can – prioritize success rather than be picky about your acting method. Even if you’d prefer a great acting career that heavily uses your subconscious, a great acting career based on conscious effort is also a great result that you should be happy with too.

And acting based on more intuitions and subconscious automatizations is hard work too, not necessarily a way to save effort. Creating those intuitions, getting rid of them after, and repeating for every new part is a lot of work. That could be similar or more work compared to acting more consciously. If you are one of the very few actors who does the same role for many years in a row, and you made it intuitive at the start, then it will save you some effort. But that’s a rare, unpredictable case, so it’s not worth choosing your acting method for that potential effort savings.

If you were acting in a small show that you control, as a hobby that doesn’t have to make money, then you might be able to predict it’d last long term. You might want to do a different show or make changes to your character after a while, but perhaps not. In this case, you might want to choose a more subconscious-based approach to acting, on purpose, because you think it’ll pay off as you play the same role long term.

Sometimes you have to act in different ways even if you’re playing the same character. Characters can get into a new situation, e.g. become divorced. Lots of TV is unrealistic, makes major plot changes to keep things fresh (particularly for each new season), and swings to different extremes to try to stand out more or to be funny. That can result in an actor needing to make a lot of adjustments while still playing the same character. Also, TV can do flashbacks, dreams, or hypothetical scenario cutaways, which often require acting differently than your character usually does. So all actors need substantial skill at consciously-controlled acting so they can be flexible.