#34 Inspiration vs Imitation

15 April 2021 - 10:39 BY Louw
Inspiration vs Imitation


When I see an actor do something incredible in a scene, I always think… “I wanted to be the one who did that. How did he do it??” 


I have had so many of these moments, watching an actor do something that made me leap off my chair. I get so excited, way too much energy, jump up and make weird uncontrollable noises - ask my fiance, she just shakes her head when this happens.  


We appreciate great work by actors and actresses we admire, like Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine or Heath Ledger (well, in everything he did) or Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea. We spot moments in performances that made us feel a certain way, sometimes even envious. 


A good friend of mine asked me an important question during the preparation phase for the NovieGuide – A Practical Introduction to Film Acting e-Class: How would you define the difference between Inspiration vs Imitation? 


I went back and found my reply to him via email and thought I would share it with you: 


“I have been inspired, for instance, by other performances but never tried to do EXACTLY the same. There is NO ONE like you on planet earth, why would you give a director or audience member a copy of what already exists - the director cast you for being your unique self, not a copy or clone of someone else. Therefore, draw from inspiration, but try and figure out WHY he/she made that specific choice instead of trying to DO their choice like they did. Their reason for the choice is more interesting and better to use than the manner/action itself.”


Tool to try:

- Identify a scene with one of your favourite actors in which inspired you. 

- Watch it a few times. 

- Notice the character’s scenes that lead up to this scene.

- Notice the emotion or the fight against it. Notice the physicality. Notice the use of voice. 

- Ask the question: WHY did this actress choose to do the scene the way she did? 

- YouTube or Google interviews where this actress speaks about her character and the film you watched. Study the way she talks about the character. See if she might share her performance choice on that specific scene that inspired you. 

- If you don’t find any interviews - Find the answer YOU think is true. Brainstorm reasons the actress would’ve made that choice. 

- Use the WHY in your scene you’d like to incorporate the inspired scene with not the HOW. 


When you have a deep belief, a WHY, you will have an inner energy that will translate through the lens onto the big screen. 



Inspiration triggers you externally that you implement internally (which will then reflect externally after processed and assimilated); Imitation is that which also triggers externally but you only use it for external purposes. One is where you use exactly what someone else did, and you copy that exact same performance by imitating them. You do not find your own unique truth. Inspiration is when you see someone do something unique and look for the reason they chose to do that, which inspires you to look within yourself and make that choice your own.


Somewhere in talking and rehearsing, there is a magical moment where actors catch a current, they’re on the right road. If they really catch it, then whatever they do from then on is correct and it all comes out of them from that point on.

David Lynch


How did you find the technique/tool/advice? 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 van der Walt 

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