“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” ---James A. Garfield
Being truthful is an action. Truth demands unscrupulous authenticity, and unfortunately that can come at a steep price. When you tell the truth, something is lost. Consider the times you have had to tell the truth ... I’m sure it wasn’t fun. The truth is risky, it can hurt others, it can make you vulnerable, it throws relationships into tumult and turns facts on their heads. Without a doubt, in the face of truth something is lost, but ultimately a greater freedom is gained.
Although the word “miserable” doesn’t exactly come to mind, acting is essentially uncomfortable. Oftentimes, it requires that you assume circumstances that are unpleasant and experience emotions that you would otherwise avoid. But, it is the character’s truthful experience, and, therefore, it is you duty to honor it by taking it on as your own, and this process will cost you. It will demand your energy, time, and vulnerability. When you tell the truth in your acting, you must take a deep plunge into the imagination to release your more pleasant life circumstances and slip into those craggier experiences of your character.
I have struggled my entire acting life with assuming this responsibility. As a creature of comfort and physiologically well trained to avoid pain, I will do anything to procrastinate and resist this work. I often feel like I am attempting to jump on a wild horse that could buck me off and hurt me, so I cling to the ropes in protection. Instead, I’ll merely memorize lines or ascribe actions and objectives. But, until I imaginatively engage with these tools, they will remain technical, not artful. Once I summon up the will, I begin by Daydreaming.
“Truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ---Oscar Wilde
Daydreaming is familiar because we all did it as children at play, and we do a version of it every night! Daydreaming is the act of living out experiences through the imagination with great detail and absorption. The actor can daydream real and fabricated experiences from his own life, as well as those of the character. Daydreaming puts the actor in direct contact with his character's experience so that he never has to force any feeling, opinion or perspective. However, the imagined circumstance must resonate with authenticity, or, in other words, there must be real-life logic, reason and plausibility. The actor has to believe that it could actually happen, for our emotional and physiological senses only respond to stimuli they believe to be true.
It’s a remarkable fact that the mind simply cannot decipher truth from falsity, so long as it seems true. Reality and fantasy alike bring us to emotional life. Consider when you have thought you saw someone following you. Your body likely jolted with fear, your heart leapt into your throat and your breath seized up. You were simply responding to perceived stimulation. Our faith in fantasy, albeit fleeting, can be quite strong. However, the rules must add up, and you, the actor, must not settle for sloppily assembled, hole-ridden circumstances, because your sense of truth and emotional connection will evade you. You must set the stage for reality within the circumstances.
Still, there is another hurdle: you must surrender yourself to the daydream. The act of belief is one of abandon. This is another painful aspect of truth. Children are wonderful at accepting new and imaginary circumstances, but as adults we’ve grown stubbornly wedded to our own. Our identities are tied up in it, and, therefore, it can be difficult to let them go. Nothing will prepare you for the leap, no amount of froyo or phone calls to Mom. You simply must ALLOW yourself to go there. This takes lots of practice, tremendous courage, and the will of an ox.
The misery that truth incurs is no understatement, but the freedom the process will grant you cannot be overstated. The actor who knows how to genuinely give over to his character has the audience in the palm of his hands. Once you enter the imaginative room of your character, there is a whole world to explore and invest deeper in. Demand of yourself to “go there” in your work. Engage with your imagination, surrender to the circumstances, and transform into something profoundly personal. When you are in it, you should feel ease, not tension, as you will be living truthfully to the imaginary circumstances, and your body will respond naturally and in accordance to the stimuli. The entry fee may be high, but the truth is well worth it.