We’ve put together some of our favorite quotes from famous actors on their craft. Read them. Reflect on them. And use these lessons to help get the best performance from your cast on your next film.

Acting and the Craft Quotes

Acting is illusion, as much illusion as magic is, and not so much a matter of being real.

Laurence Olivier

Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation.

Bette Davis

Acting is everybody’s favorite second job.

Jack Nicholson

The art of acting is not to act. Once you show them more, what you show them, in fact is bad acting.

Anthony Hopkins

Acting is a very personal process It has to do with expressing your own personality, and discovering the character you’re playing through your own experience – so we’re all different.

Iain McKellen

Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.

Meryl Streep

Acting touches nerves you have absolutely no control over.

Alan Rickman

Acting is not about dressing up. Acting is about stripping bare. The whole essence of learning lines is to forget them so you can make them sound like you thought of them that instant.

Glenda Jackson

Giving voice to characters that have no other voice – that’s the great worth of what we do.

Meryl Streep

Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life.

Bette Davis

Preparation and Building a Character

I do most of my preparation before the filming process starts. Your principal choices are done beforehand and then if you feel like you’ve nailed it, and you have adequate time, then you get to try something else. One of the biggest lessons I have learned as an actor is that it’s all just celluloid, it’s all disposable. They only use a little bit and you try to remind yourself of that so that you can take chances and burn film if you’ve got to. Make a fool of yourself. Do something that’s not right. And that’s the biggest risk and opportunity.

Michael Douglas

I’ve always remembered something Sanford Meisner, my acting teacher told us. When you create a character it’s like making a chair, except instead of making something out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actors craft, using yourself to create a character.

Robert Duvall

I love entrances and exits. I love doing all the work about, ‘well let’s backload about where my character’s coming from, and why, how he got here and where is he going.’ I love to finish scenes. Write it out! Just finish writing it. And I write a lot on scripts. I write way more than I ever actually say.

Matthew McConaughey

One of the things that I do in acting and movies is I assemble a very intricate backstory, the stuff that happens before the movie. I don’t tell anybody this. I don’t write it down. It’s not like I get together with the director or screenwriter and say “You know what this guy went through?” You don’t do that. But you put it together in your head so that every single movie moment that you are called upon to recreate, to make manifest on the set, has come from a specific place.

Tom Hanks

When I take on a role, I’m obsessed. I want to know everything.I want to know what my character’s favorite food is. I want to know the last time he took a shower. I want to know, is he right-handed, is he left-handed? What’s his middle name? Because you never know when it’s gonna pay off.

Jared Leto

What are the aspects of yourself that line up with the character? You magnify those, and the ones that don’t match up you kind of kick to the curb.

Jeff Bridges

The Vunerable Actor

The camera can capture my face, but until it captures my soul, you don’t have a movie.

Al Pacino

An actor is totally vulnerable. His total personality is exposed to critical judgment – his intellect, his bearing, his diction, his whole appearance. In short, his ego.

Alec Guinness

We think too much and feel too little.

Charlie Chaplin

I went though this realisation that acting at it’s heart, is the ability to manipulate your own emotions.

Scarlett Johansson

An actor is at most a poet and at least an entertainer.

Marlon Brando

Acting is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.

Jeanne Moreau

Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.

Rosalind Russell

An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease.

Michael Chekhov

The actor becomes an emotional athlete. The process is painful – my personal life suffers.

Al Pacino

To be an actor you have to have a certain amount of madness in you.

Nicole Kidman

If you really do want to be an actor who can satisfy himself and his audience, you need to be vulnerable.

Jack Lemmon

Acting Advice and Wisdom

Actors are there to entertain people. We’re not up there to feel anything, nobody’s interested. Peter O’Toole told me that when you get the script, you just perform as though you were late for a train. Don’t get caught ‘acting’.

John Goodman

The modern film actor knows that real people in real life struggle NOT to show their feelings. It is more truthful, and more potent, to fight against the tears, only yielding after all those defense mechanisms are exhausted. The same is true of drunkenness. In real life, a drunk makes a huge effort to appear sober. A coarsely acted stage or film drunk reels all over the place to show you he’s drunk. It’s artificial. And eventually, that kind of acting puts up a barrier between the actor and the audience, so that nothing the character says or does will be believed.

Michael Caine

They say you’ve learned a foreign language when you start dreaming it. A film actor must be able to dream another person’s dreams before he can call that character his own.

Michael Caine

I just can’t fake acting. I know movies are an illusion, and maybe the first rule is to fake it, but not for me. I’m too curious. I want to deal with all the facts of the character, thin or fat.

Robert DeNiro

I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.

Meryl Streep

Don’t believe you can get the same performance every take, it’s physically impossible. So why bother? If you don’t do what is happening in that moment, then it’s not real. Then you’re holding something back.

Bill Murray

One of the things about acting is it allows you to live other people’s lives without having to pay the price.

Robert De Niro

All an actor has is their blind faith that they are who they say they are today, in any scene.

Meryl Streep

[an advise to young actors] You don’t need to be afraid to follow your instincts about what you think the character is doing. Just go with it, because if nothing else, the people watching you, the director, the casting people whatever, will be impressed by what you’ve done and they’ll take notice. You have to try and be courageous.

Robert DeNiro

It is only the actors who are prepared to make fools of themselves who are usually the ones who come to mean something to the audience.

Christian Bale

As an actor, all you have is what you know and what you see in other people. The more you know, and the more you’ve experienced, the more you’re able to communicate to other people.

Julianne Moore

If you get an impulse in a scene, no matter how wrong it seems, follow the impulse. It might be something and if it ain’t – take two!

Jack Nicholson

Be in the moment. Period. Just be there. Because if you get all like, “oh I got to do this big thing” it just never works. It just doesn’t work. You’ve just got to let go. If it happens it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Whatever you do is ok, just be truthful, honest, real, and that’s all you can ask for.

Robert DeNiro

[the only acting advice he would give] What is acting but lying and what is good lying but convincing lying?

Laurence Olivier

Acting is like lying. The art of lying well. I’m paid to tell elaborate lies.

Mel Gibson

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.

Marlon Brando

With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise, it’s just not acting. It’s lying.

Johnny Depp

Less is More

I don’t act . . . I react.

John Wayne

When I was in the theatre, I was inadvertently given some advice by a theatre producer. And he said to me, ‘What are you doing, Michael?’ And I said, “Nothing, sir.” He said, “What? What do you mean, nothing?” I said, “I haven’t got [any lines] to say.” He said, “What do you mean, you haven’t got anything to say?” He says, “Of course, you’ve got things to say. You’ve got wonderful things to say. But you sit there and listen, think of these extraordinary things to say, and then, decide not to say them. THAT’S what you’re doing!” And that is the greatest piece of advice I could give to someone who wants to act in movies, is: to LISTEN AND REACT.”

Michael Caine

I sometimes encounter actors who think they’re going to steal a scene by being big and bombastic. Those actors are using their bodies and voices instead of their brains. They don’t realize that in terms of voice and action, less is more.

Michael Caine

In movies, the microphone can always hear you, no matter how softly you speak, no matter where the scene is taking place. In movies, it is reaction that gives every moment its potency. That’s why listening in films is so important, as well as the use of the eyes in the close-up. You don’t have to shout and scream. You don’t ever have to do it big.

Michael Caine

If you want to play strong, don’t blink. If you want to play weak, blink.

Michael Caine

Keep it simple. Make a blank face and the music and the story will fill it in.

Ingrid Bergman [to daughter Isabella Rossellini, on acting]

It’s what I learn from the great actors that I work with. Stillness. That’s all and that’s the hardest thing.

Morgan Freeman

Whatever character you play, remember they are always doing something. They are not just talking.

Tom Hardy

Only bad actors try to cry. Good actors try not to. Only bad actors try to laugh. Good actors try not to. Only bad actors play drunk. Good actors play sober. How a character hides his feelings tells us who he is.

Martin Landau

Just let the wardrobe do the acting.

Jack Nicholson

If you judge the character, you can’t play it.

Alan Rickman

There is a kind of invisible thread between the actor and the audience, and when it’s there i’s stunning and there is nothing to match that.

Maggie Smith

When I arrive on set or in the rehearsal room, I just engage with other people and just try and play and be authentic and be this person. Let this character come into me and just do it, and not overthink it. Overthinking is the biggest crime in acting.

Alan Cumming

Don’t act! You don’t have to act. Stop acting. Don’t push! Let the camera do the work. Her general rule was, just keep it simple. Do less!

Anthony Hopkins [on advice Katherine Hepburn gave him]

The Career and the Work

Forget the career, do the work.

Al Pacino

The good parts are the people who don’t make do. They’re the interesting people. Lear doesn’t make do.

Peter O’Toole

If you get a chance to act in a room that somebody else has paid rent for, then you’re given a free chance to practice your craft.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It was only when I realised actors have the power to move people that I decided to pursue a career in acting.

Cate Blanchett

I am a great admirer of other actors, but I never compete with other actors. I always compete with what I did last, and I’m my own most vicious critic. So I’m always trying to do it better.

Michael Caine

Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money. It’s not worth it if you’re just in it for the money. You have to love it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The most exciting acting tends to happen in roles you never thought you could play.

John Lithgow

You know when you’ve found a part that you want to play. You know it because the part takes you over. It sits in the script waiting for you to play him.

Peter O’Toole

Method actors give you a photograph. Real actors give you an oil painting.

Charles Laughton

I would say that acting is one of the toughest jobs in the world to get. You have to be really focused on it, and you’ve got to do it for the right reasons. Not to be famous or rich, but because that’s what interests and moves you.

Harrison Ford

If you’re an actor, even a successful one, you’re still waiting for the phone to ring.

Kevin Bacon

There is no way you can get people to believe you on screen if they know who you really are through television.

Jack Nicholson

The actor’s job is finding work. The fringe benefit of our job is getting to act.

Samuel L Jackson

Don’t ever desire to be a star. Fame is a byproduct of what you do. It’s just an accident. What you do, you must do because you love it. Because you enjoy it. Because you’re good at it. Because people enjoy watching you.

Emma Thompson

You have to keep at it! You do. And if it is the thing you really believe you want to do with your life, you will get there. You just have to keep going and keep going and keep going. And keep yourself busy. You know? Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Fill your life in other areas because the more you enrich your life, the more enriched you’ll be as an actor and as a person and you’ll be able to bring much more to each role that you hopefully will get the chance to play.

Kate Winslet

My belief is that technique should change for every single film that you make.

Christian Bale

Finding Inpiration and Staying Motivated

If you say in your mind, ‘It can’t happen,’ you’re DONE! You’re training yourself to not even be able to imagine what you want! In your mind has to be the wildest, freest place where you have everything you’ve ever dreamed.

Will Smith

Failure is part of life. If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. If you don’t learn, you’ll never change.

Morgan Freeman

Wanting to be a good actor is not good enough. You must want to be a great actor. You just have to have that.

Gary Oldman

The only advice I have for any actor is, keep acting. Just keep working. And keep your mind on what you want. It’s bound to happen if you keep working.

Morgan Freeman

Respect your efforts and respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both under your belt, that’s the real power.

Clint Eastwood

If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.

Tom Hanks

My wife told me this great expression:To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you never did. Les Brown’s a motivational speaker. He made an analogy about this. He said: Imagine you’re on your deathbed. And standing around your deathbed are the ghosts, representing your unfulfilled potential, the ghosts of the ideas you never acted on, the ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you never did. And they’re standing around your bed angry, disappointed and upset. They say, ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life. And now we have to go to the grave together. So, I ask you today. How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?

Denzel Washington

What’s Your Favorite Acting Quote?

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