Michael Caine’s 15 Rules and Guidelines for Acting – Part 2

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

Welcome back to the second part of Michael’s rules and guidelines to becoming a great actor. Last week we mentioned the first 7 rules which to recap included: 

  1. Remember you’re always auditioning 
  2. Create your image 
  3. Be lucky – labour under correct knowledge 
  4. If you’re going through hell – keep going 
  5. Use the difficulty 
  6. Keep learning 
  7. Always give 100 per cent 

 and now here are the following eight:

No. 8 – Learn your craft – 

You have to put in the hours to learn everything you’re going to need, starting with the basics. Learn from classes if you can but if you can’t afford it, just like Michael couldn’t when he started, then learn on the job or on the bus. Learn voice and movement and character from watching how people behave. On the job Michael enacted lesson of technique that he used throughout his career and still draws on every day he’s on set. 

No. 9 – Be real – 

If you want to be acting in film or in fact to anyone, wanting to make a good impression is to be real. Don’t act. Don’t perform. Performing works in the theatre, where everything has to be big and broad and you have to project your voice to reach the back row even in the quiet scenes. But in film where the camera pics up every blink and twitch, acting or performing will blow your cover and spoil the illusion. You’ll look like someone being paid to say their lines rather than a real person thinking real thoughts and living their real life. You have lost your believability. In film everything has to be small and natural. 

To be real in front of the camera you have to be in tune with the life of your character that you’re thinking his or her thoughts. You are not you pretending to be him or her. Or you are, at some level. That’s unavoidable. But at another level you just are him or her. 

Deep empathy will also help you to be real. As an actor you have to understand who your character is and what they do from inside their heads. 

no. 10 – The art of listening – 

When Michael was acting in his repertory days the director stopped him during a scene and asked him what he was doing? 

Michael replied with nothing since he didn’t have anything to say. The director replied back with ‘that is where you’re wrong. Of course you have something to say. You are listening to what is being said and thinking of a thousand wonderful things to say. And you are deciding not to say them. Half of acting is listening and the other half is reacting. Listening and reacting not nothing, is what you are doing in this scene.’ 

That’s what every good actor should do. Listen and react. Not just stand there and think about your next line. Really listen to what the other person is saying. Really tune in to what they’re doing. And then give a truthful reaction.

Les is more. In movie acting, as in life, you don’t have to be saying a lot to be effective. In film acting as in real life, the real value is not in how you say your own lines but in how you listen and react truthfully in the moment to what other people are saying to you. 

No. 11 – Don’t listen to critics 

One of the roles of an actor is to know who to listen to, and when and who to ignore. A lot of advice is not worth hearing. Most people will give you advice at the drop of a hat, not to mention the critics. And most of them will be wrong that Michael would advise taking criticism from your trusted circle and from yourself – be your own most severe critic and ignore the rest. 

Most of the advice he received in his first thirty years of his acting career can be quickly summarised as ‘Give up.’ So he formed a habit of ignoring any advice that came his way and followed his path. Now he would recommend searching out for a small group of people you can trust to be honest, know you well and have your interest at heart. Listen to them and look to them for advice. And tune out everyone else – especially the critics. 

No. 12 – Know your surroundings/environment – 

Always be prepared and turn up on time is Michael’s first rule in life. But it is also critically important that actors understand the technical requirements of the camera operator, the sound engineer, the lighting technician, the continuity person and so on so that they can prepare their own contribution with those in mind. 

For example if you’re sitting down for a close up and have to stand you have to do it slowly and on cue so you can give the camera the chance to follow you and for the camera operator to do his job properly. In close up any sudden movements and you’re out of the frame. 

Let the sound technician know in advance if you’re planning on switching from a whisper to a roar. Even when an actor you are performing opposite isn’t giving you what you want, try to act as though they do. Aim to put in your own best possible performance and act and react as if you’re getting the ideal performance back. Critiquing your colleagues or interfering with their performance does not count as teamwork. 

No. 13 – Compete with yourself – 

Never put yourself against other actors, in other words don’t be envious. Your competition is always with yourself. Michael has always tried to be the best he could possibly be without reference to being better than anyone else. How can you find a role that stretches you further? How can you make this role better than the last role? How can you make this film better than the last film? How can you make this take better than the last take? 

It’s about besting yourself not another actor. There will always be someone better than you, cleverer than you, better looking than you, luckier than you. So forget competing with other people, it will just make you bitter, self pitying and unhappy. 

Chase the dream, not the competition. 

No. 14 – Relax and have some fun –

With intense focus and concentration on your role there also needs to have some relaxation. It is this combination that will allow you to give your best performance. Some actors work out of tension rather than relaxation. It may be okay for them but it can put a strain on everyone around them and can get everyone wound up and upset. 

Michael’s tip for dealing with nerves? Preparation of course. Experience helps too. But usually relaxation exercises before difficult scenes can help as well. Take a deep breath in, then bend over with your arms dangling loose and your legs a little bit bent and enjoy the blood rushing to your head. Straighten up slowly while you breath out. Take three deep breaths. You should feel more relaxed, more focused and more in control. 

Michael does like to laugh. When working with Roger Moore years ago, Roger told him ‘Cheer up. You’d better have a good time because this is not a rehearsal, this is life – this is the show.’ 

Taking work seriously doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. Quite the opposite. Don’t be that curmudgeon actor that’s always complaining or what Michael likes to call ‘losing the light’ actor that if the script is bad, or the director isn’t good or the other actors have been miscast or the lighting is all wrong or they don’t have enough lines. Come at it from another angle – a school of fun – where you’re going in to get more done. To be invigorated and entertained by the challenges that each day brings. To take pleasure in either moving the inevitable stumbling blocks out of the way, or finding a way to dodge around them. Be privileged to be part of the game. Because life is a game after all. 

Also, be sure to laugh at yourself. Take your work seriously, yes, but don’t, whatever you do, get all pompous and start taking yourself too seriously. 

And No. 15 – Michael’s final piece of advice 

Find what you love, and do it as well as you can. Pursue your dream and, even if you never catch it, you’ll enjoy the chase. The rest comes down to luck, timing and God: even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you. And when all of that runs out, use the difficulty. 

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