One of the actor’s greatest fears is forgetting their lines. But learning lines is an easy thing to do, as it’s a simple procedure to study the lines and cram them in until you have no trouble remembering just what your character says. However, merely learning the lines is not enough, for if that is all you do, you will respond only to cues when the right words are delivered to you; and consequently your dialogue will lack meaning, impact and depth. If, during a scene, you retreat inside your head searching for the right words you will automatically disengage from the other actor. There’s no point thinking, “Oh no, was that an if, an and, or a but?” Who cares? Because it really doesn’t matter, as once you’ve learned the lines and you are really listening to the other actor – listening with all of your senses – then whatever you say will be close enough to the written lines anyway and you will be responding truthfully and thus engaging with the other actor.
Remember, the words are not important – it is what makes the words happen that has meaning.
To successfully learn and play convincing dialogue, the screen actors must connect with the stimulus that causes a verbal response. If the actor is aware of the real significance of the stimulus, and responds to the implied consequences, then the proper verbal response will be inevitable. There will be little danger of forgetting the lines if you have learned through all of your senses the connective pattern between the stimuli and the responses they generate.
To be a good actor, you must condition yourself to respond to stimuli instead of cues. You will be more receptive to what the other actor is doing as well as saying; you will be more responsive to the inflections and intonations of the other person’s lines, and you will be more aware of subtle physicalisations that will reveal what he or she really means by those words.
Instead of simply learning the lines, you should instead learn the role: The lines are connected to the role, and that includes the whole person; the stimuli they respond to, the significance of the stimuli and, of course, the lines themselves. If you merely concentrate on remembering your lines, then you will shut yourself off from the stimuli and your performance will be flat and unconvincing because you are only thinking about the words, and not the impact they have on you. If you are open to all of the stimuli that you receive at any given moment, then you will absorb the stimuli and it will affect you and you will respond accordingly. Your verbal responses will then come easily to you. There will be little worry about forgetting your lines if you have learned the role and you listen and respond truthfully to the stimuli around you. You will then be able to fully engage with the other actor and the things that you do and say will have real meaning. They will be truthful responses, not just empty, meaningless words.
It is what a person means when they talk to us that is important, not the actual words they speak. For example, if someone looks deep into your eyes and says, “I love you” certain feelings are generated. Your feelings about those words will not be the same if the person doesn’t make eye contact with you when saying them or if they are gazing off into the distance when speaking to you: The words are exactly the same but the meaning has now changed because of the way the person delivered the words to you. When a person speaks to us the inflection and intonation of the words also informs us as to what that person really means. It is the meaning behind the words that is of prime importance, not the words themselves.
Remember to learn the role, not just the lines: Then by listening and reacting truthfully to the stimuli you will have little trouble remembering what to say – and most importantly, why you are saying it!