How Do You Feel When You Watch Your Own Work?

June 9, 2012

So you landed a commercial or a choice TV role, and you’ve alerted your friends and family to look out for you on the TV screen. You pop yourself a big bowl of popcorn, crack open a beer or even a bottle of champagne; you huddle up with your closest friend, and then…it’s on!

There you are in full HD color. You’re prepared to behold your acting skills and the latest notch in your rising career. But, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by an out of body experience! It’s just plain weird seeing your own self in the flesh onscreen. Jennifer Aniston has said, “It’s always weird to see yourself on screen or in a magazine. It’s almost as if the image I see is another person and not the real me I know.”

By watching yourself you may notice things about your appearance for the first time. Maybe it’s how gorgeous you are! But it can also be, “So my left side really is better than my right,” “My hair is starting to thin a little at the crown,” or “Do I have a lazy eye?!” Perhaps the lighting is very harsh or–God willing–very flattering. The list is endless because no one is perfect–at least not at all times. 

Moreover, actors are notorious for contemplating and over-contemplating their performances. There may be times when you’re perfectly pleased with your acting skills. You knew you were in the pocket on set, and the camera really captured the magic. But there may be other times when you find yourself wincing and scrutinizing every last detail of your work. You look at it over and over and you just know you’re capable of doing better. Maybe you find yourself wishing you’d used a different inflection; maybe you have an ah-ha moment, “No wonder the director kept telling you to tone it down or to put a dash of humor in the performance.” And some things are beyond your control. You may have done ten takes, but the editors choose the worst one because it’s the only take without the boom in it.

Paul Giamatti, the wine swilling schlubo of the inebriated comedy Sideways, hates watching himself onscreen. “But I’m not gonna get any better if I don’t,” he explained. “And no one else is going to pick me apart–well, they will–but I want to learn so I have to pick myself apart. I think I do it in a more useful way than I used to. It used to be dismissive. I couldn’t even watch.”

When you see yourself onscreen, you become cognizant of just how much you’ve really put yourself out there. Your work is exposed for any and all to lay comment upon or to criticize openly and freely from that point on. “I saw you on that TV show—You were terrible!” “I saw you on that hair loss commercial. Are you really balding?” Or, “ED must be a particularly agonizing affliction.” How about, “Do you use maxi pads exclusively?” Funny, yes; ridiculous, no doubt. But you’ve got to be ready for this level of attention and focus. It might behoove you to anticipate the reaction to any given role or persona, and prepare your witty, insightful response.

Jeff Bridges is the first actor in movie history to play opposite a younger version of himself –known as Clu 2.0 in Tron: Legacy. When asked if it was weird to see a younger version of himself onscreen, Bridges answered, “It’s not that odd. I’m used to watching old movies of myself. When I’m actually filming the movie, I’m just being myself; the younger side of me isn’t around.” Well there’s a healthy perspective for you.

Overall, when you watch yourself onscreen, you can learn from the experience. But keep in mind, it’s not up to you to critique your performance or even to make sense of it. It’s your job to do it with all the gusto you can muster, and then let the world figure it out. In fact, many actors wrap their projects and choose not to see their performances. They lay it before the bar of public opinion and then…move on to the next one. They simply grow to trust their work.

It’s important to remember why you became an actor in the first place: to express yourself deeply, to be imaginative, to have fun, and to challenge yourself constantly. So, when you see yourself in full 1080P HD, cringe all you will, but also, most certainly be proud. Because your livin’ the dream!