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6 Signs That Can Help Anyone Distinguish a Good Actor From a Bad One

Many viewers intuitively feel it when actors are doing a bad job, but not all of us can explain how we understand it. At the same time, professional critics, directors, and avid cinema-goers can figure this out easily — that’s why we can learn from them.

We at Bright Side conducted research and found out how people who work in this industry distinguish good actors from bad ones. In the bonus, you’ll learn why director Marcus Geduld thinks that Keanu Reeves, who is loved by so many, isn’t a good actor — at least in his mind’s eye.

1. A good actor looks authentic.

The actor is doing their job well if they can make the viewer believe in the emotions their character is feeling. It doesn’t matter what the character is doing: getting wounded, breaking up with his beloved woman, or whether he is scared to death. “If an actor seems to be faking it, he’s not doing his job,” writes Marcus Geduld.

2. They plan for the parts they play.

Good actors spend a lot of time preparing for their roles. They think about the motivations of their character, thinking ahead about their movements, and selecting various ways of memorizing and reading their lines. Some even try to live through the destiny of their character like Natalie Portman who played a prima ballerina in Black Swan.

One Reddit user gave a good example of how thoroughly an actor can think over every step. “For Red Dragon, Edward Norton — according to some people behind the scenes — wanted to act nervous in the middle of an interrogation. Someone suggested that Norton do something obvious (like, let’s say, hit a table) in front of the camera. Norton didn’t think this was subtle at all, and called out the director for suggesting it. Afterward, they tried other ways and ended with Norton’s character Graham exiting the room. It’s only then that you notice there is sweat under his armpits.”

3. They know how to surprise their viewers.

If a viewer can easily predict the actor’s reaction, it means they are faking the play. The actor’s task is to surprise the viewer, otherwise, their role will be boring. “Think of how a woman might react if her boyfriend breaks up with her. She might break down and cry, she might laugh hysterically, she might throw water in his face, she might go completely numb and have no expression at all...,” says Geduld.

He gives examples of Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, and Al Pacino. Their talent lies in the fact they are chameleon actors — you never know what their next reaction will be.

4. They listen to their movie colleagues.

Watch the actor when there is someone else speaking in the frame and they are silent. This is the very moment when you can see actors who are not living through their roles, but who are thinking about technical moments instead like recalling their next lines, for example. A good actor is fully focused on those who they are interacting with. “You can see whatever is being said to them physically affecting them as if the words are slapping them across the face. Watch Claire Danes. She’s an amazing listener,” shares Marcus.

5. They master their voice and body perfectly.

If an actor or an actress moves and speaks expressively, it means they are doing their job well. Their “tools” don’t interrupt their play — you can’t see the tension in them. That’s exactly what Philip Seymour Hoffman had. He was vocally and physically gifted. He wasn’t in great shape, but he used the shape he had in expressive ways.

In an opposite example, Geduld calls out actress Kristen Stewart, “I find it almost painful to watch her. She looks like she’d rather be anywhere else besides in front of a camera. She is (or seems) very self-conscious.”

6. They are not afraid of playing complicated and controversial roles.

Great actors are not scared to show the things that most people prefer to hide deep in their souls. Bad actors will never show ugly and petty personality features. Geduld believes that “in fact, this sort of emotional nakedness is very hard to fake. If you ever get a sense that an actor is showing you a secret part of himself, he probably is.” Julianne Moore and Bryan Cranston have this talent, in Geduld’s opinion.

Bonus: Why Keanu Reeves is a bad actor

In his explanation of a good and a bad actor, Marcus Geduld explained why Keanu Reeves can’t be called an outstanding actor. The thing is that the many people who judge his acting go on their impression of the movie as a whole, but this is wrong. According to him, “If some other actor had been in those films, those same people would have liked him. It’s not really the actor (or not entirely the actor) they’re liking. But since he plays the protagonist, they focus on him.”

Here is what Geduld thinks about the acting abilities of Reeves: “Keanu Reeves, in my mind, is a horrible actor—mostly because he’s wooden and fake. It often seems as if he’s reading from cue cards rather than saying words that are his.”

Geduld thinks that the reason is not in the fact that Reeves plays a reserved character who doesn’t speak much in The Matrix. There are other examples where actors played a reserved person like Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day or Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men, while being more comfortable with their roles.

In order to persuade his readers, Geduld offered a comparison: Keanu Reeves’s acting with the acting of Tommy Lee Jones — paying attention to their voices and moves. Look at these 2 videos: a compilation with Keanu from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and No Country For Old Men with Tommy Lee Jones. Can you see the difference?

Do you agree with these criteria? Which actor or actress is perfect at what they do, in your opinion?

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