Work one-on-one with Ben Hopkin

Private Sessions

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Objectives and Internal Obstacles

One of the things that I love about acting is that it helps us to learn about human nature. Some of the things we learn are a little uncomfortable, at times, but they're always worthwhile.

Here's one of the things that's absolutely true: every time we open our mouths, we have a reason for doing so. We have an objective. We want something from the other person. And knowing what that want is tells us more about ourselves than any other piece of information. Same for any character we ever play.

Oh, here's the other thing. When we speak, we're always trying to convince someone of something. Every single time. If we tell a joke, we're trying to convince everyone that we're funny or interesting. If we give an answer in class, we're trying to convince the teacher that we're engaged or that we know what we're talking about.

A typical objective statement is, "I want..." But when we add the words "to convince" it becomes so much more specific. "I want to gain her love" is a great objective statement for a character, but "I want to convince her to love me" seems so much more direct to me. It allows us to really get behind the statement and PUSH for that objective.

Now, here's the part that we usually have no idea what to do about. We know exactly what to do while we're talking, but what in the WORLD do we do when it's not our line??!!?? Yeah, I know, we're told to listen, but that doesn't seem very active, now, does it? We end up losing the thread of connection during those moments, our attention drifting off to such pressing questions as, "What am I doing with my hands right now?" You know, really important stuff like that.

Here's where we need some humanity. I truly believe that one of the things that makes us beautifully human is our ability to doubt ourselves. We're pretty sure that 1+1=2, right? But if Stephen Hawking were to prove to us otherwise with all sorts of fancy algorithms and pretty formulas, wouldn't we at least start to question it? And if we can question that, we can question just about anything.

For every objective, there has to be an internal obstacle. Something that makes us doubt ourselves, at least a little bit. Because if there weren't, I'm pretty sure we'd never shut up. Why do we listen to the other person in an argument? Because we're not completely sure we're right, and we want to hear their points (at least to be able to fight against them). When someone is so sure of themselves that they stop listening completely, doesn't it kind of feel like they've lost part of their humanity?

Right now, I want to convince you that I know what I'm talking about. But I also have an internal obstacle, which could be the fear that I won't be able to explain myself well enough, or that I'm afraid I'm a fraud. That fear allows me to do something active if we're playing out a scene. Because we're good actors and we know what we're doing, we've clarified the conflict, so our objectives are exact opposites of one another. So while you're trying to convince me that I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm playing my internal obstacle that I'm afraid I'm just a fraud. Now I'm active in every moment.

The objective grounds us in the reality of the scene. The internal obstacle humanizes us. That's not all, but I think it's probably enough for the moment. Next week's podcast will explore this in greater detail. Hope this helps! Now, go out and act! :)


  1. This is very true and well stated. Love it.

  2. I can certainly identify with the internal fear of making a solecism, or, to put it more succinctly, putting all my feet in my (metaphorical) mouth. A good, observational blog :)

  3. I don't think preplanned internal movement makes sense to acting. Things should be organically created out of the moment. Listening does just that. Because the common advice to "listen" doesn't simplý mean to stand there and listen. You have to play with it. You can be just as physically active while not speaking as you are while speaking. The activity just simply has to arise out of you "listening" to your partners and the space around you.

    I often find those moments to be much more pleasurable than when I have to speak, because I get to really play and explore the space and the moment through the mask of the character. I'm simply being in the creative state without interruption. And people probably find that way more fascinating than the way you chose to say your line in this or that moment.

    Which is why I smirk with amusement when I hear actors complaining about having little lines. Its the tall tale of an unexperienced actor. They think they need lines to act. The lines don't give you the permission and freedom to act, you being in the scene does.

    ofcourse in screen acting, there's often limitations that get in the way of that pure acting state.

  4. @Talli

    Wow, that's a great perspective. I've been told that sometimes I can't NOT be Tom. And yet when I'm not acting, I have been told some of my most brilliant moments have happened when I am filling the space between my lines. I think your comment has helped me to see where I can have more fun and explore the newness of not being me when I speak...