reviewed by Devon McMorrow
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” said legendary acting coach, Sanford Meisner. That sounds easy enough, right? You just… Well, wait. How do you do that?
I am not an actor, but I face a similar question as a ballroom dancer. I spend hours every week practicing steps and memorizing routines. But dancing is much more than footwork. My coaches tell me to “feel the music.” I need to emote so the audience has a connection with me. You Can Act! by D.W. Brown not only appeals to actors, but helped me with my dancing skills as well.
Brown breaks down the steps to a successful performance in easy-to-assimilate instructions. In this complete guide, Brown leads actors through discovering the deep dark secrets of their characters. He employs classic films to emphasize his techniques. The well-known movies cross genres, and include Patton, The Ring, Blue Velvet, and Die Hard.
“With any role, you’re extending yourself and acting out things that never happened to you,” said Tom Hiddleston, best-known for playing Loki in The Avengers movies. The audience needs to believe what they’re watching is real, at least while they sit in the popcorn-scented darkness of the movie theater. Yet what is “real” could be taking place on a nuclear sub, on an imaginary planet, thousands of years in the past, on top of Everest. Actors have to draw on emotions that transcend the time and space continuum.
“You’re like an architect who’s been given a set of constraints…” Brown explains, “before you start buying lumber and hammering nails, it’s nice to have some idea of what the hell you’re doing.”
We’re back to the “how.” How does one pretend to be something they’re not? Actors must release themselves. In the section “Principles for the Actor,” Brown discusses how to use the inner self to bring a performance to life. Brown explains that the best work happens when actors are free from society’s constraints. Actors constantly battle this. Bette Davis said, “Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.”
You Can Act! is full of inspiring advice to improve acting chops and polish skills. Brown prepares up-and-coming actors with tips he’s learned through working with stars such as Keanu Reeves, Robin Wright, and Leslie Mann.
In “Acting Tips,” Brown emphasizes that actors must be constantly aware of their surroundings. This section covers how to move, where to look, and what to do with props while filming.
Robert De Niro said, “One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people’s lives without having to pay the price.” Actors needs to make these lives seem as realistic as possible. In the section “Character Addictions,” Brown talks how to become comfortable with some of the more uncomfortable parts of the human condition. Characters who experience pain must look a certain way. Headaches, gunshots, stabbing, broken limbs, infection, poisoning, and burns all require a different set of techniques. In order for the audience to be empathetic, the actor must be convincing.
Of course, there are many faces actors have to wear, even off screen. Making a living as an actor can be challenging. Brown provides tips and tricks to conquer interviews in the section, “How to Get a Job.”
Brown concludes by saying, “If you have the courage, if you put in the work, if you allow for the mystery and embrace disappointment and victory both, you just may find: You can act!” (And, in my case, you can dance!)