#22 The Dustin Hoffman Tool

08 December 2020 - 17:25 BY Louw
Dustin Hoffman Tool: Question Yourself

I once saw an interview with Dustin Hoffman where he shared some acting advice: “Don’t get too comfortable with your performance choice, change it up”.
How can you find new performance choices or perspectives within a scene? Dustin Hoffman answers “Ask yourself new questions and create doubt.” He explained that it’s great to find your Bottom-Line, your character’s main objective and know WHY she reacts the way she does but one the day, in the moment, after the first take… ask yourself a question that will change your whole approach to getting what you want. 
Let’s say your character’s bottom-line is to convince your boyfriend to get a dog together. A new addition to the family. We all know how this goes – a few months later you’ll be convinced to get another pet. I’ve got some experience ;) Anyway, you want to convince your boyfriend to get a puppy. That’s pretty straightforward, right? You do the scene and it works. It’s nice. It’s natural. But you don’t want nice and natural, you want raw and honest and give a memorable performance. 

Here’s a tool that you can use to do just that:

They finished the wide-shots. Now it’s your close up. What if he doesn’t give you butterflies anymore and deep down inside you hope that by getting a puppy will bring back the flame, or shall I say the butterflies. Now that performance got layered and complex. You can still play with the same energy; happy, excited, quirky etc. But when we see your eyes we’ll see there is much more depth to WHY your character wants this puppy. As the crew changes the setup from the wide to the close-up, let your mind go, ask questions and find another layer to your character’s WHY. “What if I’m too boring for him…? A puppy will create excitement, he LOVES dogs” or “Maybe she is testing him? I want to see if he can take care of a puppy because if I’m having his children he should be willing to play his part and help me take care of the children.” Whatever questions pop up. See which one strikes an interesting connection to your bottom-line and add that depth to it. 
I tried this Dustin Hoffman tool for the first time in a series I did two years ago. I had to do a scene where my character had to convince a mother to take her daughter off of life support and basically let her die. Hectic. My senior lawyer tried to convince her but was struggling to find the words. After I found the clear Bottom-Line for my character, to convince the mother to shut down the machines, I played it on the wide shot. Between setups, I asked myself questions to doubt the WHY or reason for trying to convince her. I thought of a question that shook me and scared me and that’s when I knew I should try it: “What if, I’m disagreeing with every word I’m uttering and basically want to say the opposite, ‘I’m so sorry for doing this”, as I convince her to shut down the machines, just to impress my senior lawyer?”  
I stuck to my Bottom-Line but added a layer. This was a major discovery for me and luckily the director liked the take, not because it was great acting, but perhaps, it felt more natural since we all tend to do and say contradictory things; people pleasing, not knowing ourselves well enough etc. 

It felt as if I discovered a magic trick. I felt “in the scene” because this was a new impulse that was generated on the day of shooting, not a performance choice made during my preparation. 
By asking yourself questions you can add complexity to your performance. Keep on asking questions and create doubt… in a good way!

"Acting is the least mysterious of all crafts. Whenever we want something from somebody or when we want to hide something or pretend, we're acting. Most people do it all day long."


How did you find the technique/tool? Did it work for you? What was different this time? Share with the tribe and let’s keep on creating beautiful, honest and memorable performances. Let’s execute our best selves! 

Kind regards,
Edwin and NovieGuide

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