Without going into specifics, I recently saw someone perform who accomplished that skill of Fine Acting. To me, it can’t exactly be defined in a textbook way, but there are specific ingredients that make it up.
I can tell you what it definitely is NOT: It is not LOUD. It is not SHOWY.
From what I have witnessed from most people who leave a theater or film who don’t normally interact with actors on a regular basis..people think acting means a big part, where someone is loud and yells their emotions. In film, if they have a lot of close ups, they must be good. Or if they are on stage and they are the loudest, they are the best. Not so much.
A performer who can stand there and suck you in by virtue of that charismatic, full, emotional quality of inner life and hold you there, often without many words, is someone who understands what it means to be a fine actor. it doesn’t mean “doing a lot of stuff” on stage.
I remember in college that sometimes our professors would throw water bottles or say things like “That was crap” by virtue of running out of different ways to cajole a performance out of a group of actors. They’d say things like “You guys, Acting is EASY. Just do it.”
And in many ways it is easy. But it takes a finesse to trust that all of the work, research, backstory, etc will be there on stage for you and come out as it needs to. It is much HARDER to make the emotion come out of you by yelling and contorting your body in all sort of actor-y ways in order to draw attention.
But my money is on the wo/man on stage who lifts the quality of the entire show up simply by being there and filling the empty space of the stage with something real. Even the other actors can’t help but be better in their performances because there is no denying it when an honest performance is staring you in the face.
As time goes on, I find myself feeling the need to express much more often my appreciation for work that is fine. It is fine not necessarily because it is uncommon, but because it’s elevated. It makes you work for it. It’s not so over-the-top, punch-you-in-the-face that you jump back in your seat.
Those moments where the audience leans in to meet the actor half-way..to me, those are the biggest successes.
When you see it, you know it. Not every show or film has it, but when it does, you won’t want to look away.