An Actor’s Most Valuable Skill

I recently read an interview with Sir Ian McKellan, in Australia for his tour of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, which revealed what he considered to be the most valuable skill an actor can possess … confidence.

I blogged in September last year on The Drama Teacher about the need for confidence in high school student theatre. As drama and theatre teachers, we are perhaps finely tuned to the life of teenagers in the development of theatre pieces. Where our students are in their personal lives – not quite children – not quite adults – can directly affect the theatre-making process.

It’s a myth to think all adult actors are either naturally confident, or find obtaining and maintaining confidence an easy thing. Time and time again we see well-known Hollywood actors interviewed on American talk-shows squirming in their seats, hating the limelight and looking awfully uncomfortable being the centre of attention. On the flip side, however, is Robin Williams. Over the years I have seen Williams so confident on the David Letterman Show, he ran the interviews, not Letterman.

As a teenager myself, I had way too much energy and acting was a method of releasing that energy in a more controlled and rewarding fashion. Confidence was not much of an issue, either. It just seemed to come naturally to me. Yet, Ian McKellan claims that one of the most frustrating aspects for him over many decades acting professionally for stage and screen is the fact that he simply lacks confidence as an actor. It has been the demon inside him his entire career.

So, if you were given one skill to name as the most valuable an actor can possess, what would it be? I’m putting my money on focus. Without focus, an actor is doomed. I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts. Comment below…..

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