How to Learn Acting by Studying Your Favorite Actors

ActorWe all have our favorite actors – from the captivating smile of Julia Roberts to Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish charm – but looks aside, there’s plenty that goes into sustaining a successful career as an actor amid a sea of driven competitors. If you’re a budding actor, dreaming about moving to LA for your big silver screen break, spending Friday night in watching reruns of your favorite movies may not be as couch-potato-ish as it sounds. In fact, studying the performances of your favorite actor is a great springboard for how to hone your own acting chops. In this article we’ll discuss how to learn acting by paying attention to the on- and off-screen actions of those talented stars we love.

A great way to start is by checking out the IMDb profiles of two or three of your all-time favorite actors. IMDb is a comprehensive resource that lists almost the entire professional history of all accredited actors. Because you’ll want to take this study to a micro level, it’s best to keep your favorite actors list short for the purpose of this exercise. Here we go:

Step 1
Start by viewing the filmography of your actor – it will probably contain many films you’re already familiar with, but take some time to watch the trailers of those you may not have heard of. You’re also going to want to open up a website that will allow you to search and stream video at the same time. Try something like DirecTV’s Genie to help you search via actor and stream clips as well.

Step 2
Create a list of about five to eight movies to watch. Try to pick movies in which your actor plays roles he/she is not usually cast as.

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Step 3
Keep a pen and some paper handy to take notes while watching these movies. You may want to note the scenes during which you felt most engaged or captivated by your actor’s character.

Step 4
When the movie is over, go back to those scenes and deconstruct why you think you felt most engaged by them.  Was it a convincing slow cry, a nose-flaring display of rage, or perhaps an inhalation of courage? Pay attention to the following:

  • Distinctive character traits
  • Body language and movement
  • Emotive eyes – energy and direction
  • Voice and enunciation

Step 5
Repeat Step 4 but now with the sound off. Really pay attention to the small gestures – remember that when your face is zoomed-in to look like the size of a house, the control of micro facial muscles becomes imperative – all of this comes together to make up the actor’s technique.

Step 6
With the information gathered in Steps 4 and 5, select a few of your favorite scenes and begin to imitate your actor in front of a mirror. Feel their movements, facial expressions, breathing, gestures, accent, and so on. This is a great exercise in how to learn acting from someone who is very experienced in front of the camera. Of course, the end goal is for you to create your own style and method of expression, but there’s still so much you can gain by learning from example.

Behind the Character

After you’ve examined a few characters successfully played by your favorite actor, try delving deeper into the real life habits and professional techniques adopted by him or her.

Perhaps spend some time online researching the methods they may have used while preparing for specific roles – particularly the ones that may not have come naturally to them. While this might come as a surprise, many top international actors work regularly with acting coaches. As with any artistic craft, there’s always room to grow and express something deeper. If you’re an aspiring actor this would be a good discipline to introduce right away.

While working with a professional acting coach, you’ll dive into how to learn acting just like your idol does. One-on-one lessons with an experienced teacher will not only enhance your skills development and confidence but also give you the opportunity to receive tailored advice around everything from character investigation, auditioning, and even finding an agent.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of networking. It usually comes without exception that the road to success as an actor is paved with talent, hard work, and deliberately cultivated relationships with other industry professionals. So after spending all Friday night on your couch, be sure to get out on Saturday and make something happen!


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Photo by Vancouver Film School

3 replies
    • Suzy S.
      Suzy S. says:

      Hi Jay! Have you checked out our acting teachers in your area? Start here — /performing-arts/acting-lessons — and enter your zip code, and you’ll be able to browse teacher profiles, read reviews, and more. Or, feel free to give us a call at 877-231-8505 and we’ll be happy to help!


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