One filmmaking textbook defines the close-up as “conveying to the audience a character’s emotions, reactions, and states of mind, thus creating between the audience and character a greater involvement by forcing the viewer to focus on the individual and nothing else.” Actors tend to take this to mean that they are responsible for conveying emotions, reactions, and states of mind to the audience, which often leads to unnatural reactions and facial exaggerations. On stage it is true that we must project our emotions outward through physicality and vocalization, but on film our only responsibility is to create the reality of our character in that moment, and it is up to the camera to see it.
When a director chooses to go to a close-up in the editing room it is because the very use of that close-up informs the audience that they should now see that moment in the story from that character’s point of view. Therefore, the director’s use of the close-up is what conveys an emotion, reaction, or state of mind to an audience – the actor does not convey a thing.
This is one of many instances in which actors find themselves responsible for accomplishing something emotional onscreen. What I enjoy most about running workshops at The Actors Safehouse is the opportunity to give actors the permission not to work so hard. And by doing so, I keep reminding myself not to work so hard as well.
See you on the set,