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Actors are often told to make “strong choices” to elevate their performances. But what exactly does that mean? Award-winning acting coach Kimberly Jentzen, founder of The Jentzen Technique based in Los Angeles and author of the book “Acting with Impact,” offers five tips to guide actors in their pursuit of making strong choices: 

The creative choice you make must be consistent with the script

If the script says the character was born and raised in Alabama, then making the creative choice to speak with an Australian accent would not match the material at hand. Jentzen explains, “You get as much information as you can about the character; you try to get the information from the script itself, not from your imagination actually. You’re writing down facts like the character’s name and what they do and what’s their attitude in life. You’re going to be charting an idea just from the basis of the script—who your character is and the story. What’s the scenario?”

The choice that scares you is often the best option

Jentzen believes that a level of fear is beneficial when it comes to making strong creative choices. “Somehow fear tunes you to a peak activity to make you feel a little more alive,” she asserts. “And so having a little fear in the work and going after a choice that’s really scary is sometimes the best thing you can do.”

Come up with more than one creative approach

Even after an actor has settled on an interesting choice for the character, it’s time to keep brainstorming. Jentzen explains, “Find another strong, bold choice just so you have another choice, because you have to have more than one—especially if they say, ‘Do it again, different’ —so that you keep your mind open, keep the door open. And then they might direct you, and the door has to be open for that. And if they do direct you, that means they like you, so embrace the direction and run with it. And sometimes they want you to keep what you did and then run with the new direction on top of it. And that’s when you straddle your choice and their choice together.”

A vulnerable performance is most compelling

People tend not to be motivated to visit the movie theater to watch a safe, ordinary performance. Audiences like to see an actor emotionally commit to the role. Jentzen cautions, “If you walk a row in the middle, it really is going to be boring.” So, she urges actors to take risks: “When you take a risk in acting, you’re going to be vulnerable … So to make a strong, bold choice is usually to let your vulnerability come through. That’s the strongest choice.” Even the most hardened, stoic of characters is vulnerable. Jentzen insists, “Every character has a hunger within them that feels like something is missing or they have an appetite to have.” 

Go with your gut and explore your emotional range

Jentzen encourages actors to tune into their instincts and understand that gut feelings don’t need to be explained or articulated. But instincts do motivate the character’s actions. “We start with a sensory experience which is taste, touch, smell, see, hear … These experiences, these urges we feel are instincts from inside that come from a thought that moves to feeling that moves to an action … The feelings within us start with a sensory experience with an image—it might not be visual in our mind but it might be a sense in our body that moves to a feeling that moves to an action,” she explains. “The beauty of exploring these different widespread choices you have is you can actually, when you allow yourself to explore your emotional range or your emotional life on the page, when you allow yourself to, you’ll find layers. And those layers— every casting director I know has said they love actors that have layers.”