Vulnerable Acting

by Bill Howey

Male actor

We all put up walls, but it's vital for actors to break down these barriers to create undeniable characters.


Vulnerability happens. Convincing actors we want them to bring their vulnerability to their characters is not always an easy task. Not one says they can't or won't. They just don't. I know that this reluctance is just the actor trying to protect themselves from the discomfort of revealing their vulnerability.

Their unwillingness is natural because vulnerability always appears after a screw-up or getting caught doing something you shouldn't have done and is usually painful.

In spite of the consequence, it's vital for actors to understand how valuable uncovering this personal acting ingredient is to creating undeniable characters.

Not all vulnerability is stressful. You are often being vulnerable without realizing. For example, speaking is being vulnerable because when you speak you reveal your feelings, ideas and thoughts. Along with these words come the attitudes, emotions and sub-text that are also self-revealing. Your actions define who you are.

In computer security vulnerability refers to a weakness in the system that allows an attacker to violate the availability and confidentiality of the system. In this high tech world there is an ongoing battle to prevent these inhuman systems from being exposed.

Likewise, people also take actions to prevent their personal system from being violated. They cover their personal foibles, quirks and strange habits from being laid bare and chance having to experience the resulting distress.

But characters in a script must be vulnerable and reveal their most personal qualities.

It's natural to react vulnerably to an event or some news but in doing so you might show a short temper, quickness to cry or the truth of how you really feel. Natural or not, your reactions speak volumes about you. Consequently, to actors afraid of being vulnerable, speaking and reacting can seem dangerous.

Yet all these actions and reactions are what great characters do: they expose their vulnerability for all to see.

The reason they do this is that their vulnerability makes them, the character, human and affecting to other humans, such as the audience. It is this vulnerability that is part of human sub-text.

Vulnerability is a vital and necessary ingredient for any actor who wants to create strong characters that really affect an audience.

Read back over the previous paragraphs and you will read some uncomfortable words: expose, laid-bare, violated and weakness. You will sense the consequence of vulnerability. But these are positive results if they are part of a character.

Risk, and the associated action, is also scary for some actors. To lessen the strain of taking a risk, many actors become risk-averse. That means, when faced with two different degrees of risk, they choose the one with the lesser consequence. If you recoil from taking any degree of risk, it's going to be hard for you to be vulnerable.

Computer security would be a disaster if those running it risked leaving a path open into the heart of the system. But actors who risk opening a path to their vulnerability are stronger, more successful actors.

Take an honest examination of what you don't want to reveal. Then, as uncomfortable as it may be, put one or two of these qualities into your next character re-invention.

Acting isn't about finding yourself; it's about re-inventing yourself with vulnerability.
Bill Howey has taught acting since 1980. He's also written, directed, and produced three independent movies. His books include, "The Actor's Menu: A Character Preparation Handbook" www.actorsmenu.com. Visit his website www.billhowey.com for more information.

Copyright © Bill Howey. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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