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An actor's toolbox: 5 tips on becoming a better actor

Tuesday on TODAY, Lisa Hildebrand of the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute offered some acting tips.
/ Source: TODAY

Savannah Guthrie, Willie Geist and Natalie Morales all took a turn acting on Tuesday, and now it's your turn!

Aaron Schroeder, Creative Consultant for the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and Geoffrey Horne, Senior Method Acting Faculty, offered some acting tips for those looking to brush up their skills. Below, she outlines the top five most important elements of great acting technique, and explains how you can stay in touch with your inner actor by practicing with some "homework."

Acting is relaxed

Relaxation is a foundational tenant in all great acting and a relaxed mind and body should be the starting point of all acting work. It is important to have control over all of your muscles and eliminate the types of physical and emotional habits you have been conditioned into, in order to allow for full emotional and physical expression. Remember, the character may be tense, but the actor stays relaxed.

Acting is all you

Just like a painter's toolbox contains brushes and paint, an actor’s toolbox contains his emotional and physical life. Fill that toolbox with experience. Watch movies, visit museums, listen to music, indulge in great art, read books, immerse yourselves in other cultures and observe the world around you. Log how these things make you feel and what they inspire within you. Become attuned to the emotional complexities of your own life. Awaken all five of your senses and notice how they individually incite different emotions or activate different memories. These things are to be the palette from which you draw and "paint" your work. Your unique life is your greatest asset as an actor.

Acting is responding

From a craft point of view, acting is responding to imaginary stimuli with the same truth and behavior one would in real life — as though you were, in fact, the character. In life, our behavior comes in response to external stimulation, and the craft of acting is the ability to recreate these stimuli imaginatively with the same potency we experience them in life, in order to stimulate that same behavior (physical or emotional) called for by the circumstances of the script.

Acting is personal

When preparing for a role, the first question to ask is, "How am I both like and unlike the character?" Make a list. The ways you are like the character you should trust will be present when performing a role. The ways you are different is your homework. Those differences may require physical work, or they may require you to search inside yourself to find moments in your life when you behaved like the character.

Acting is needy

All people, particularly those around which we write plays or make movies, want something. That's the psychological fuel that propels the story forward. Identify that "need" or "want" and make it personal.


The revolution of The Method was that it articulated a conscious process to reach the unconscious and ignite the actor's inspiration. Training is therefore about unlocking in a conscious way that inspiration, awakening the actor's impulses to respond, and, consequently, the actor's creativity. Here is a small sense exercise to begin exploring that process:

Close your eyes and walk into your childhood home. Remember in your mind’s eye all the things you can see, smell, hear, taste and touch. Explore that space in your imagination...the smells of your mother's cooking, the feel of the carpet on your feet, the color of the walls, the hardness of the couch, the sound of your father's voice, etc. Allow yourself to explore all the aspects of that home. Pick up objects and explore them with your senses. Take some time going into the various rooms and exploring what you remember. Be patient. It's not about creating a floor plan of the house, but about experiencing once again being in that house in your imagination. Allow yourself to be surprised.

When you're done, take note of the things you remembered that you forgot. Take note of what surprised you or perhaps what triggered some type of emotional response — happy, sad or otherwise.