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The Essentials

Advice from actors on how you can impress a director, and why the relationship between director and actor is so important

Every production will have a director, and every director is tasked with bringing that production to life using their creative vision. Sometimes, the fact that an actor has worked with a certain director can be just as appealing to casting directors as having a certain skill, with the ‘director’ field being the most searched one in the credits section on Spotlight.

In order for the professional relationship to flourish, there needs to be a mutual level of respect and trust between an actor and the director. The actor should support the director’s artistic vision and direction, but also feel able to offer suggestions in a professional way if they disagree. Likewise, the director should respect the actor as an artist, and have confidence in the actor’s ability to listen and follow direction. It’s a delicate balance, but if you get it right, it will create a strong professional connection, leading to a great performance and potential roles in the director’s future projects.

At the Spotlight Prize, we asked actors Amit Shah (Happy ValleyCrashing), Tracy Ifeachor (The OriginalsTreason) and Rosalind Eleazar (The Personal History of David CopperfieldSlow Horses) for their advice for working with directors. Here’s what they shared:

1. Familiarise Yourself with the Director’s Work

Part of the challenge of working with a new director is not knowing what to expect. To overcome this, Tracy Ifeachor told us, “I like to watch [the director’s] work before I work with them […] a whole catalogue of it so I get a sense of who the director is.”

One of the director’s jobs will be to give you direction when it comes to acting your scenes, so being familiar with their style, preferences and approach to directing past productions will help prepare you for this. You might even impress them by anticipating what they’ll want from a scene and doing it straight away.

“The more work you can do outside of the rehearsal space, the more you have to offer and the more in tune you’ll be with [the director],” Tracy says. “Rather than turning up and going, ‘Okay, how do I work with this person?’ […] say, ‘What can I bring?’”

2. Be Open to Notes from the Director

Similarly to how you’d respond to a casting director’s feedback in an audition, it’s vital to be open to any notes the director may have for your acting choices in certain scenes. When they offer you feedback, don’t take it as a personal attack on your acting ability, the director has a vision in mind for the scene, and they want to work with you to achieve it.

Rosalind Eleazar says that, “The most important thing […] is to be open to what [the director is] offering.” The director will have been hired to work on this production for a reason, just like you, so hear them out, and even if you disagree with their notes, at least give them a try. You may be surprised with the result!

If you feel a director is offering you too many notes at one time, Tracy Ilfeachor advises, “I usually say, ‘Let’s just focus on one thing that you want to throw in, and then the next take we’ll work on something else.’”

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree with the Director’s Notes

Don’t be afraid to ask the director for clarification if anything is unclear or you strongly disagree with what they’re asking you to do.

Amit Shah reminds us that the actor-director relationship is about, “Trusting the person who is leading you or guiding you through that process, and having those conversations, and being bold with your choices and challenging moments as well. [It’s about] finding moments where you can say, ‘Maybe I don’t see it that way. Could we try it this way?’”

Communication is the solution to most of life’s problems, and a short conversation will help you understand where the director’s idea is coming from, or vice versa, and work towards it.

As Rosalind Eleazar points out, “You’re talking about something that’s quite creative and they will have their opinion and you’ll have your opinion.” She continues, “Have no fear in querying it. That’s perfectly okay, and I think most of the directors that I’ve worked with have really welcomed that.”

4. Prepare Yourself Before Arriving On-Set

Your time with a director should be spent focusing on your delivery and their vision of the scene. So if you turn up to set not knowing your lines or the text the production is based on, this could waste time and sour your relationship with the director.

Amit Shah says, “It’s very important to have a very good understanding of the text before I start rehearsals because I feel, for me specifically, it frees me up when I’m rehearsing and trying new things out in the rehearsal room.”

Having the confidence to try new things means you might give a performance that the director didn’t know they wanted until they saw you give it. An impressed director is one who is more likely to want to work with you again in the future.

Most importantly, Tracy Ifeachor recommends that you, “Know who you are going into the situation, and know who you’re working with, and whether you want to work with them or what you like about them, and bring that to the work.”

Thank you to Tracy Ifeachor, Rosalind Eleazar and Amit Shah for your excellent advice. Take a look at our other videos with tips and advice from casting directors, actors and agents.

Image credit: Joanna Nicole Photography