To be or not to be

Truthful work demands a strict adherence and discipline for an actor. Producing authentic life on stage must of course begin with an actor honoring their moment-to-moment reality. Often and when an actor disowns this truth because they feel it is misaligned to what they believe the material demands, they will begin a habit and pattern of “acting” or representing life rather than creating life. Functioning such a way interferes with and deters an actor’s ability to experience and achieve truthful work. Though the word Being is a term used in spiritual and artistic circles, Eric Morris concentrated on this state in No Acting Please. BEING is different than just ‘be in the moment;’ a vague saying sometimes thrown around to actors. While similar, they are two completely different notions.

In philosophical terms, being has been regarded as absolute existence in a complete or perfect state, lacking no essential characteristic; essence. (

“Being is a state you work to achieve. To BE, you must find out what you feel and express it totally. Let one impulse lead to another without intellectual editing, including all the life that is going on – the interruptions, interference and distractions. These elements should all be included in the behavior. Do no more or less than you feel. Being is the only place from which you can create organic reality.” – Eric Morris – No Acting Please

In the below interview, Marlon Brando is communicating a state that can be interpreted as a specific state of BEING in which – – if successfully achieved – – the actor is free to express how they truly feel on a moment-to-moment reality as opposed to functioning on top of what they feel underneath (as the interviewer has to do to survive in his environment). This would be “Acting” or appearing to feel something that isn’t being felt (distressed or uncomfortable, very angry) and must be stifled, controlled, and hidden. If an actor suppresses their impulses, it would then consequently restrict their instrument from expressing what is going on beneath and preventing the audience from seeing such life. Actors often short-circuit their impulses out of fear of vulnerability, fear of feeling hurt, exposed, judged, unwilling to take risk, or fear that what they are feeling is not appropriate for what they think they should be feeling.  There is a myriad of reasons that actors (and people in general) survive by “acting” through covering up or compensating with something entirely other than what they are truly feeling. In this circumstance: levity, likeness, zest, charisma. An actor’s instrument must be free to express, feel, and allow others to see all of that. If you short-circuit or suppress your impulses, you short-circuit the flow and rest of the natural expression.


Excerpt from: Marlon Brando on the Dick Cavett Show


“When the actor is functioning from a BEING state, all that he feels is included in the life being expressed, and then the resulting emotion contains all of his own personal truth and reality.” – Eric Morris – No Acting Please

“When I read No Acting Please, it put it all together for me.” – Johnny Depp – Inside the Actors Studio

Marlon Brando: “We couldn’t survive a second if we weren’t able to act. Acting is a survival mechanism. We act to save our lives everyday, people lie… constantly. Everyday, by not saying something they think, saying something that they don’t think, or showing something they don’t feel.”
Marlon Brando: “When you’re frightened or nervous in this chair, you’re distressed or uncomfortable, or you’re very angry, and you know that is not what is necessary of what cannot be shown here. You’re a highly controlled person. And you have to do that.”
Dick Cavett: “You say that’s acting, that’s not, I’m motivated at that moment to do that.
Marlon Brando: “I don’t think I could play some roles as well as you could play them. I don’t think I could play the role you play now.” (The Interviewer/Host)
Dick Cavett: “This is me. I let it all hang out.”

The real truth is that Cavett, as an actor would, has a job to do and he has chooses to filter his impulses, his embarrassment, control the interview, be concerned about time and doing his job well, etc…  Though, if Cavett were really expressing his moment-to-moment inner-life, we might see colors of frustration, impatience, agitation, feeling argumentative, offended or so on. He is functioning from a place other than what he is actually feeling for socially-acceptable or professional reasons. Brando tells Cavett he is “editing at an insane rate.” There is an inner-monologue running of thoughts and feelings but all of which only a small fraction is expressed. Actors can relate to this “insane rate of editing” being concerned with all sorts of insecurities that translate to certain impulses that are inappropriate to the scene and also choose to filter them. Often actors in adopt the notion that what they are experiencing during the scene is not appropriate or symmetrical to the material. Certain thoughts and feelings that actors edit can emanate from an insecurity of feeling; “I didn’t expect to feel this way. This isn’t how I planned the scene to go or sound. I’m not feeling how I decided I should feel at this juncture of the piece.” However, expressing these feelings allows the actor to truthfully navigate and arrive where they need to be. Otherwise, they may only compensate or impose a false level of life, or begin “acting.”

Why is this dangerous for an actor?

Denying and covering up what we are really feeling results in a restricted, stifled, and paralyzed state precluding us from honestly meeting the demands of the material. On set there is a cast, director, crew, producers, or an audience, all of whom an actor might feel obligated to please and be polite to. The material may demand rage, ugliness… If it is more important to be liked and accepted, the actor will never run the risk of meeting the expectations of the role out of fear of being unattractive through what the story and character are actually asking for. Explorations and experiences can be thrilling, entertaining, exciting and multi-dimensional. It takes a trained eye to have the ability to see and understand what others are experiencing and what they are not expressing, compensating or suppressing and where those re-directive behaviors stem from…

If real people “Act” in real-life, when is it appropriate for an actor to “act” and not reveal the authentic reality?

If the actor however was playing a character such as Dick Cavett, an interviewer feeling emotions not warranted for the moment, the actor would still have to create the impetus to cover up those feelings and the motivation to “act” in-authentically. So the creative process is the same; covering up and compensating still has to have an organic and deeper justification to ultimately promote the expressed behavior the audience takes in. For example: Perhaps Dick Cavett is in a play about a talk-show host who has unmatched charisma, wit and charm who gives audiences and families all over the nation joy and laughter. Families enjoy quality-time together in thanks to this Talk-Show Host. He has a larger than life personality. The tragedy is that each night he goes home feeling miserable and unfulfilled himself, alone and tired of his job. You begin to root for him to find happiness in a relationship and hope that he quits his job to have time for a family of his own. Only when the last scene of the film appears does the audience clearly see how difficult it is for this talk-show host hero to stifle his pain, hurt, unhappiness as he has a job to do. The audience feels for him so much that they hope he walks off the stage in the middle of that interview. These are the reasons that even if an actor must “act” instead of BE, the “acting” must come from a reason, a motivation or meaningful truth people can relate to. The actor playing this role cannot just act politely, funny or excitable for the sake of it saying so on the pages. You must read between the lines and find the subtext – – or that which is not written in the script – – by asking questions, even if you will never get the answers. Asking these questions will expand the artist’s realm for possibility, finding space in the discomfort of not knowing, all within the risk and fear that challenge the actor to always grow and evolve. Many times the answers will not come, but the journey and the act of asking is invaluable to inviting in a world of opportunity. More often than not, answers will present themselves and be discovered only after the director yells “CUT!” Then the actor who goes on the experience and lives the moment-to-moment life might then realize why Willy Lowman doesn’t live in the real world.  This sort of investigation and exploration can lead to a deeper understanding of the material or the character.


Excerpt from: I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale


These answers are never wrong, so pay attention to them even in their bizarre forms: flighty images in our mind’s eye, dreams, songs stuck in our heads, feeling nauseous, feeling giddy, cravings, etc… These discoveries are the answers we get from asking questions about the material so that we can have specific results and solid means to convey a very specific message of the story. The actors are to reveal something about the character and the story so that they can in turn reveal something about the audience who then sees themselves up on that stage or that screen. At this point, actors are making art and influencing the culture. During rehearsals or performance, an actor now has practical means to create the reality he/she needs to create on stage or on set; if only they can divert their attention from incessant nagging of themselves of whether they are fulfilling the material or evaluating their behavior as the scenes move along. The actor must develop their concentration and simply recreate the meaningful attributes. The actor can dress the stage or hide and disguise real, personal objects to affect his behavior and being, or they can even be dealt with backstage before entrance or “action.” Doing the work then becomes a happening just as real as in life, and all the actor has to do is be affected and get out of the way at this point. To honestly experience this kind of work at this caliber is incredibly thrilling and joyful and makes it nearly impossible to accept anything other than the truth in the future.


Excerpt from Charlie Rose ©
Used with permission. Special Thanks to Charlie Rose Inc.