How to Act Emotional Scenes in a Close Up

  • Admin |
  • March 16, 2018 |
  • 2:41 p.m.

Raise the stakes.  

My least loved acting direction, but one we hear all the time.

Too often, an actor told to raise the stakes in his performance will start to push, or get "bigger" with the scene, neither of which is what the director is probably after.

So how do you raise the stakes in a scene, especially when you're shooting for film/TV?

In many scenes, the keys are holding still and using your most intimate voice.  Watch this short scene from a Hollywood blockbuster from back in the day, and notice how powerful and fully realized it is, despite the actors being very still and speaking in very low voices.  The stakes couldn't be higher, and you, as the viewer, see that very clearly.

Watching them, it seems very easy, doesn't it?  "They're hardly acting at all" someone in a class I taught said once.  


But as easy as it looks, it's actually very hard to be as still and as soft as they are while still delivering the goods (the stakes) in a way you've been trained to do on stage.  

Prove it to yourself.  Perform this scene, on camera, on a tight shot, and see how hard it is to hold still as much as Julia and Hugh do.  

Here's the script:

Interior Bookstore - Day (cont.) 


Anna. Look
I'm a fairly level-
headed bloke. Not often in and out of
love. But...
 He can't really express what he feels.  


... can I just say 'no' to your kind 
request and leave it at that? 


... Yes, that's fine.  Of course.  I... 
you know... of course... I'll just... 
be getting along then... nice to see 


The truth is... 
He feels he must explain. 


 ... with you, I'm in real danger.  It 
took like a perfect situation, apart 
from that foul temper of yours -- but my 
relatively inexperienced heart would, 
I fear, not recover if I was once again 
... cast aside, which I would 
absolutely expect to be.  There are too 
many pictures of you everywhere, too 
many films.  You'd go and I'd be... 
well, buggered, basically. 


I see. 
That reality is a real 'no,' isn't it? 


I live in Notting Hill.  You live in 
Beverly Hills.  Everyone in the world 
knows who you are.  My mother has
trouble remembering my name.


Okay.  Fine.  Fine.  Good decision. 

ANNA  The fame thing isn't really real, you 
know.  Don't forget -- I'm also just a 
girl.  Standing in front of a boy. 
Asking him to love her. 
She kisses him on the cheek. 


Then turns and leaves.  Leaving him.   
And, by the way, wipe that tear off your cheek.....