#14 Inspiration vs Imitation: How to Incorporate Great Scenes Into Your Work

25 October 2020 - 08:35 BY Louw
Inspiration vs Imitation: How to Incorporate Great Scenes Into Your Work

You know that scene in the film, Manchester By The Sea, where Casey Affleck’s character tries to shoot himself in the police station? Ok, ok I hear you… a bit of a depressing start but if you’re an actor and you saw this film you’ll find this far from depressing… 

What an exceptional performance by Casey Affleck in that scene, and the film in whole. But that scene inspires me as an actor. It makes me want to do the same. I also want to have scenes THAT good. Or scenes like Heath Ledger in the last scene in the trailer in Brokeback Mountain, or Adam Driver in the scene where himself and Scarlett Johansson’s character try and speak without the attorneys in his small apartment, or Tom Cruise (yes, you just heard that name, don’t judge go watch Magnolia first you rookie!) in Magnolia at his father’s death bed, or Edward Norton when he walks onto the stage rehearsing lines with Michael Keaton in the film Birdman and so much more… I just get inspired and want to do what the did. 

How do I use these scenes or inspirations and not copy & paste their choices into my performance? A good friend of mine asked me to help him understand the difference between Inspiration vs Imitation when it comes to acting. I went back and got my reply via email so I thought I’d share what I said back then: 

“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 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 she/he made that specific choice instead of trying to make their choice like they did. Their reason for the choice is more interesting and better to use than the manner/action itself.” 

Inspiration is what triggers us externally that you implement internally and will be reflected in your choice of performance. Process it, assimilate and then take action. Use that trigger or impulse but let your own body decide how it will allow that impulse to respond. 

Imitation is that which allows triggers externally but you only use it for external purposes. No process or assimilation just copy-paste. 

One is where you use precisely what someone else did, and you copy that same “performance/action” by imitating them. This will not be your own unique truth. Inspiration is when you see someone do something unique and you look for the reason they chose to do that, which inspires you to look within yourself and make that choice your own. 

Tool: watch one of your favourite films. Find that performance choice that inspires you or amazes you and spend time on the WHY. Why did that actor choose that performance? See if you can find a Why. I have done this a few times and the more you do it, the better you get at basically guessing WHY they chose that performance choice, but it helps you creatively find ways to think deeper and make more interesting performance choices yourself. 

I don’t know, as long as I get to evolve and grow as an actor and as a person, that’s the stuff I’m after.

Heath Ledger

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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