Acting Quotes - A Compendium

"The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time. The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation." - Stella Adler


"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being." - Oscar Wilde


"I think I love and reverence all arts equally, only putting my own just above the others; because in it I recognize the union and culmination of my own. To me it seems as if when God conceived the world, that was Poetry; He formed it, and that was Sculpture; He colored it, and that was Painting; He peopled it with living beings, and that was the grand, divine, eternal Drama." - Charlotte Cushman


"Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money. Do plays. It's not worth it if you are just in it for the money. You have to love it." - Philip Seymour Hoffman


"Find in yourself those human things which are universal." - Sanford Meisner


"Acting represents all that human beings experience, and if you want it to be 'nice,' you will never be a serious communicator of the human experience." - Larry Moss


"The inner life of the [imagination], and not the personal and tiny experiential resources of the actor, should be elaborated on the stage and shown to the audience. This life is rich and revealing for the audience as well as for the actor himself." - Michael Chekhov


"Nothing so distinguishes great acting -- in any style, in any historical period -- than the feeling that the actor has the potential to 'go off' at any moment, and to unleash an explosion -- a flood of lava, that will be totally uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Great Acting always dances with danger!" - Robert Cohen


"Actor training should be broadly humanistic, involving the study not just of dramatic literature and theatre history, but of languages, literature, and history generally, and should be centered on acting in plays rather than just exercises, improvisations, monologues, or even scenes." - Richard Hornby


"Theatre, in which actors take on changing roles, has among its many functions the examination of identity. For the individual, theatre is a kind of identity laboratory in which social roles can be examined vicariously." - Richard Hornby


"If you really do want to be an actor who can satisfy himself and his audience, you need to be vulnerable. [You must] reach the emotional and intellectual level of ability where you can go out stark naked, emotionally, in front of an audience." - Jack Lemmon


"An actor is looking for conflict. Conflict is what creates drama. We are taught to avoid trouble [so] actors don't realize they must go looking for it. Plays are written about...the extraordinary, the unusual, the climaxes. The more conflict actors find, the more interesting the performance." - Michael Shurtleff


"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

"Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation." - Bette Davis


"Only a great actor finds the difficulties of the actor's art infinite." - Ellen Terry


"An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease." - Michael Chekhov


"You have to get beyond your own precious inner experiences. The actor cannot afford to look only to his own life for all his material nor pull strictly from his own experience to find his acting choices and feelings. The ideas of the great playwrights are almost always larger than the experiences of even the best actors." - Stella Adler


"Whatever you decide is your motivation in the scene, the opposite of that is also true and should be in the scene." - Michael Shurtleff


"Great acting is not easy; anyone who says it is is either shallow or a charlatan. And one of the hardest things about acting is admitting that it is hard." - Robert Cohen


"An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words." - Sanford Meisner


"One way we can enliven the imagination is to push it toward the illogical. We're not scientists. We don't always have to make the logical, reasonable leap." - Stella Adler


"We don't live for realities, but for the fantasies, the dreams of what might be. If we lived for reality, we'd be dead, every last one of us. Only dreams keep us going...When you are acting, don't settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your character's future." - Michael Shurtleff


"For most actors, success is achieved through study, struggle, preparation, infinite trial and error, training, discipline, experience and work!" - Robert Cohen


"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves." - Carl Gustav Jung


"Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation." - Bette Davis


"Work for the actor lies essentially in two areas: the ability to consistently create reality and the ability to express that reality." - Lee Strasberg


"Acting is a question of absorbing other people's personalities and adding some of your own experience." - Paul Newman


"Talent is an amalgam of high sensitivity; easy vulnerability; high sensory equipment (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting intensely); a vivid imagination as well as a grip on reality; the desire to communicate one's own experience and sensations, to make one's self heard and seen." - Uta Hagen


"Talent is as common as horseshit in a stable. The cultivation of it is extremely rare." - Eric Morris


"Honesty isn't enough for me. That becomes very boring. If you can convince people what you're doing is real and it's also bigger than life -- that's exciting." - Gene Hackman


"More than in any other performing arts the lack of respect for acting seems to spring from the fact that every layman considers himself a valid critic." - Uta Hagen


"If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet...maybe we could understand something." - Federico Fellini


“You're more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action. So act! Whatever it is you know you should do, do it.”


“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” - Carl Jung

"Acting is not just doing! It is who you are being and what you are experiencing that causes you to do - to need to act. Then doing turns arounds and changes your being. But doing without being is lifeless." - Jason Bennett


"There can be no acting or doing of any kind till it be recognized that there is a thing to be done; the thing once recognized, doing in a thousand shapes becomes possible." - Thomas Carlyle


“Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life.” - Bette Davis


"The articulate, trained voice is more distracting than mere noise." - Seneca

"Every little moment has a meaning all its own." - Sanford Meisner

“Acting is half shame, half glory. Shame at exhibiting yourself, glory when you can forget yourself.” - John Gielgud


"Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way. You become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions." - Aristotle


"If you are to do justice to [the great roles], you must fly up to them -- rather than dragging them down to you -- by expanding your range of knowledge and strengthening your imagination. Your imagination must become as real to you as your memories and feelings. What you take into yourself about psychology, politics, sociology, history and so on, will allow you to reach places in yourself you didn't know existed. No line, no image, no thought can be left general. Each must be specific and personal. Your work is not complete until this is so." - Harold Guskin


"Actors should be overheard, not listened to, and the audience is 50 percent of the performance." - Shirley Booth


"The real actor has a direct line to the collective heart." - Sam Rayburn


"Competition is healthy. Competition is life. Yet most actors refuse to acknowledge this. They don't want to compete. They want to get along. And they are therefore not first-rate actors. The good actor is the one who competes, willingly, who enjoys competing. An actor must compete, or die...Peacefulness and the avoidance of trouble won't help in his acting. It is just the opposite he must seek." - Michael Shurtleff


"In every well-written play the battle rages between the primary powers of Good and Evil, and it is this battle which constitutes the life impulse of the play, its driving force, and is basic to all plot structures…In any true piece of art…the beginning and the end are, or should be, polar in principle. All the main qualities of the first section should transform themselves into their opposites in the last section." - Michael Chekhov


"When student-actors see people and the way they behave when together, see the color of the sky, hear the sounds in the air, feel the ground beneath them and the wind on their faces, they get a wider view of their personal world and development in the theater is quickened. The world provides the material for the theater and artistic growth develops hand-in-hand with one's recognition of it and one's self within it." - Viola Spolin


“When [actors] are talking, they are servants of the dramatist. It is what they can show the audience when they are not talking that reveals the fine actor.” - Cedric Hardwicke


"When you stand on the stage you must have a sense that you are addressing the whole world, and that what you say is so important the whole world must listen." - Stella Adler

"An actor is at his best a kind of unfrocked priest who, for an hour or two, can call on heaven and hell to mesmerize a group of innocents." - Alec Guinness


"The actor should not play a part. Like the Aeolian harps that used to be hung in the trees to be played only by the breeze, the actor should be an instrument played upon by the character he depicts." - Nazimova Alla


"With Othello, Shakespeare posed this problem of a black man in a white society in the role that he's playing. And Shakespeare gave Othello such dignity - he came not from - as he said - not from hate but from honor, from a sense of his own human dignity. And to me, to my mind, there could be no greater character played." - Paul Robeson

“Acting is a question of absorbing other people's personalities and adding some of your own experience." - Jean-Paul Sartre


"The audience is the most revered member of the theater. Without an audience, there is no theater. Everything done is ultimately for the enjoyment of the audience. They are our guests, fellow players, and the last spoke in the wheel which can then begin to roll. They make the performance meaningful." - Viola Spolin


"The basic essential of a great actor is that he loves himself in acting." - Charlie Chaplin

"To be an actor you have to be a child." - Paul Newman


"Acting is not being emotional, but being able to fully express emotion." - Kate Reid

"Feelings are like a timid animal -- if you approach them, they'll run away. Let them come to you." - Michael Howard


"It's not enough to have talent. You have to have a talent for your talent." - Stella Adler


"I do not regret one professional enemy I have made. Any actor who doesn't dare to make an enemy should get out of the business." - Bette Davis


"Unchosen tension is one of the actor's greatest enemies. It must be released. Tension is the physical manifestation of blocked impulses: emotions, thoughts, physical responses. And if you don't have access to your impulses, you're a zombie, not a master actor. And one day you might explode and kill a bunch of people, but you'll never be a master actor."

"The play's the thing, Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." - William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


"Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action. If one lets fear or hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains."


"Our everyday self is a narrow construct...Our total self is far broader, ultimately infinite. Actors who seem to be playing themselves are actually playing roles they have become so skillful at that they seem pure and natural...Much bad Acting is the result of being too close to the Actor's everyday self, confining him in its rigid mold." - Richard Hornby


"It is highly possible that what is called 'talented behavior' is simply a greater individual capacity for experiencing. From this point of view, it is in the increasing of the individual capacity for experiencing that the untold potentiality of a personality can be evoked." - Viola Spolin


"Acting is a spiritual quest to touch human beings." - Larry Moss


"Theatre exists only because it is overwhelming, because its acting is astonishing. Where a theatre and its acting are merely 'good,' merely 'correct,' merely 'in the proper style,' theatre dies a slow death." - Robert Cohen


“Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation." - Bette Davis


"When [actors] are talking, they are servants of the dramatist. It is what they can show the audience when they are not talking that reveals the very fine actor." - Cedric Hardwicke


"In 'real life' the mother begging for her child's life, the criminal begging for a pardon, the atoning lover pleading for one last chance -- these people give no attention whatever to their own state, and all attention to the state of that person from whom they require their object. This outward-directedness brings the actor in 'real life' to a state of magnificent responsiveness and makes his/her progress thrilling to watch. On the stage, similarly, it is the progress of the outward-directed Actor, who behaves with no regards to his/her personal state, but with all regard for the responses of his antagonists, which thrills the viewers." - David Mamet


"Emotional release by itself, no matter how "real," "honest," etc. the emotion may be, is never enough to create a character...such release has no artistic form." - Richard Hornby

"Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life." - Bette Davis


"Consistency is the death of good acting." - Michael Shurtleff


“An actor is never so great as when he reminds you of an animal - falling like a cat, lying like a dog, moving like a fox.” - Francois Truffaut


"Man is a make-believe animal: he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part." - William Hazlitt


"In civilized life, where the happiness, and indeed almost the existence, of man depends so much upon the opinion of his fellow men, he is constantly acting a studied part." - Washington Irving


"When an acting teacher tells a student 'that wasn't honest work' or 'that didn't seem real,' what does this mean? In life, we are rarely 'truthful' or 'honest' or 'real'. And characters in plays are almost never 'truthful' or 'honest' or 'real'. What exactly do teachers even mean by these words? A more useful question is: What is the story the actor was telling in their work? An actor is always telling a story. We all are telling stories, all the time. Story: that is what it is all about."


"The actor has to develop his body. The actor has to work on his voice. But the most important thing the actor has to work on is his mind." - Stella Adler


"Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself." - Rodney Dangerfield


"We talk and act a bit differently in bed than at work, or at a bar, or at a cocktail party, or at a PTA meeting. The idea of 'just being yourself' is a total abstraction, for we are many selves and we wear many masks." - Robert Cohen


"The problems of acting do not require that actors stop thinking, but that they find out what to think about." - Robert Cohen


"An actor must make his needs (goals, wants, objectives) so strong that he is willing to interfere with the other actor in order to get what he needs. Interfering means getting in their way so that what you want is stronger than what they want." - Michael Shurtleff

"Acting provides the fulfillment of never being fulfilled. You're never as good as you'd like to be. So there's always something to hope for." - Washington Irving


"Robert Cohen says, 'all people, and all characters in plays, think about their situation more than about their own personality or character.' This is almost always true about people, and is certainly the way actors should think during a performance. But actors, off the stage, must think about their own personality and character. If you do not know who you are, if your instrument is not limber and under your control for the most part, you will never be a great actor. Master actors cultivate effortless and automatic control of their instruments."

"You are the spokesman for your character, you put on his case. Are you going to win or lose? There'll be no drama if you look like a loser at the outset." - Clive Swift


"Great acting is virtually always heroic and confident. It seems spiritual, easy and profoundly connected. Great actors seem like they are channeling the Gods."

"Theater, film and television stories are always discussions between performers and audiences on many levels. The cast and crew craft a story they hope will entertain and even influence an audience. They do this while influencing and challenging audiences too! Great theater is a powerful persuasive tool in all societies and has been throughout human history. You will have some of that power if you ascend up the ladder to fame. What will your statement be? Give some thought as to what you artistic vision is."


“Actors ought to be larger than life. You come across quite enough ordinary, nondescript people in daily life and I don't see why you should be subjected to them on the stage too." -Ninon de Lenclos


"All stories make arguments, either overtly or subtly. Even stories which are 'fluffy entertainment' are making arguments throughout the story and serving an important purpose in society. Actors would do well to think about these stories, and the ideas of the play, more often. It is all about the story you are telling."


"In life, as on the stage, it's not who I am but what I do that's the measure of my worth and the secret of my success. All the rest is showiness, arrogance and conceit." - Stella Adler

"Acting is simple, joyous, care-free fun! Acting is child's play. And yet acting must be a matter of life and death, too, all at once."


"It is much more work to not be interesting, than it is to be interesting on-stage."

"An expression of feeling isn't worth anything unless it interferes with what the other actor in the scene wants." - Michael Shurtleff


"One of the things I like about my profession, and that I find healthy, is that one constantly has to break oneself to pieces." - Liv Ullmann


"An actor is never so great as when he reminds you of an animal - falling like a cat, lying like a dog, moving like a fox." - Francois Truffaut


"Energy exchanges between people are far more impacting and meaningful than word exchanges. Words often do not even matter. It is not what you say that matters, it is who in you is saying it -- which self, or subpersonality. You can ask 'What time is it?' in 10,000 different ways, with 10,000 different faces, tones, gestures, etc. You can ask it from love or from hate, from detached distraction or from murderous impulse. Increasing your awareness of who in you is communicating throughout your day, what energy you are putting out there, is part of becoming a great actor. This is a step on the journey towards acting with effortless specificity."


"Acting doesn't have anything to do with listening to the words. We never really listen, in general conversation, to what the other person is saying. We listen to what they mean. And what they mean is often quite apart from the words. When you see a scene between two actors that goes really well you can be sure they're not listening to each other -- they're feeling what the other person is trying to get at. Know what I mean?" - Jack Lemon


"An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so he must be willing to accept all experiences that life can offer." - Marlon Brando


"I love acting. It is so much more real than life." - Oscar Wilde


"For fast acting relief, try slowing down." - Lily Tomlin


"Acting is happy agony." - Jean-Paul Sartre


"Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made." - George Buns


"Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life." - Norman Cousins


"Acting is nothing more or less than playing. The idea is to humanize life." - George Eliot


"Part of an actor's job is to actually adopt the world-view of the character she is playing and to tell the story from that vantage point. If an actor represses large aspects of their personality, they will have a severely limited range and castability. Great actors cultivate effortless access to their subpersonalities. Many acting teachers call this 'freeing your instrument."


"Goethe said, 'Talent is developed in privacy,' you know? And it's really true. There is a need for aloneness which I don't think most people realize for an actor. It's almost having certain kinds of secrets for yourself that you'll let the whole world in on only for a moment, when you're acting." - Marilyn Monroe


"You must have a twinkle in your eye, a naughtiness -- and the audience must realize your mind is working faster than your words." - Jeremy Brett

"True power is an individual's ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." - Winston Churchill


"Acting is a sport. On stage you must be ready to move like a tennis player on his toes. Your concentration must be keen, your reflexes sharp; your body and mind are in top gear, the chase is on. Acting is energy. In the theatre people pay to see energy." - Clive Swift


"The [Great] Actor is able to approach in himself a cosmic dread as large as life. He is able to go from his dread to a joy so sweet that it is without limit. Only then will the actor have direct access to the life that moves in him, which is as free as his breathing. And like his breathing, he doesn't cause it to happen. He doesn't contain it, and it doesn't contain him." - Joseph Chaikin