Whether it’s Marlon Brando screaming “Stella” at the top of his lungs in classic Street Car Named Desire or Joaquin Phoenix releasing an almost painful laugh as Arthur Fleck in “Joker,” the ability to access emotions is essential to the craft of acting. Good actors communicate emotions with their audience with a nuance that feels both new and real. If an emotion is portrayed in an unconvincing way, the audience cannot suspend their disbelief and are no longer immersed in the production, so getting it right is really important. Showing emotion requires a combination of technical skill, emotional depth, and a deep understanding of the character you are portraying. Here are some key strategies and techniques to help you convey emotion effectively on stage or screen:

What Makes You Feel An Emotion?

Knowing how to access your own tears, fears, and smiles makes it easier to do so when you’re portraying a character. The Stanislavsky Technique asks actors to strengthen their “emotional memory.” Take stock of any shift in your emotions throughout the day, and really interrogate what’s causing it. What makes you happy, sad, angry?? Make sure you have that really intimate self knowledge and tap into that.

Use Your Senses

Don’t just use your imagination; use your senses. This technique is found in both Stanislavsky’s teachings and Lee Strasberg’s ‘The Method’. When you are recalling a memory, try bringing up all of the sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch of that moment. Really immerse yourself in the memory so that you feel like you are right back there, imagining the wind on your face or the warmth of the lights, helping to guide you into the emotions you felt at the time. This will really pull you back into that place and aid you in drawing up those emotions in an authentic and engaging way.


Get the popcorn out and settle into watching some movies! Watch the greats who are know for their emotional acting, as they perform different emotions so you can appreciate the contrast. How does Jack Nicholson perform anger differently from Cate Blanchett? How does Nicolas Cage emanate sadness and fear through the screen in “Leaving Las Vegas,”? What about Leonardo Di Caprio in Basketball Diaries? His despair when his mother won’t give him money for drugs and shuts the door on him sends shivers down your spine every time. Watch the greats and learn from them.

Embody The Character

Ask the W questions (who? what? when? where? why?) about your character to figure out their motivations and why they feel the way they do. Genuine emotion comes easier when you fully understand your character’s given circumstances and the objectives driving them. This is something to look at scene to scene and moment to moment as it changes across the story. What is your characters backstory, what do they want?? How are they in relationships and friendships? Some of this stuff will not be there on the script so it is up to you to bring that to life with your connection to the character.

Use Active Verbs

Assigning an active verb to your dialogue in a script can help you find the intension and subtext behind the words you say, and therefore help you know how to feel. For example, if your line is “see you later,” you can note on the script using an active verb depending on what emotion you want this to be said with, which will then help you bring that emotion to your delivery – is the tone questioning, warm, wounded, sarcastic? Adding those verbs to the line give a completely different way of emotionally delivering those lines. This also points to the importance of body language, gestures and facial expressions when delivering an emotion so bare that in mind.

Be Completely Present

Stay present and react genuinely to your fellow actors and the unfolding events of the scene. Truly listen to your scene partner(s) as genuine reactions come from being fully engaged and responsive in the moment. Resist the urge to analyse how you’re going to react and just let yourself react!


Keep studying the script. Practice being your character and performing their emotions until it feels like second nature. Practice in the mirror, with your friends, with scene partners. The more you embody the character, the more natural the emotions will feel, and therefore be delivered.

Extra Tips On Getting All Emotional

When you are trying to get yourself into the exact physical state that you need to be in when you actually feel the emotion in your own life, there are some practical things you can do. Here are some tips from world famous acting coach Cathryn Hartt –

How To Get Angry

Agitate : Do pushups or run on the spot. Stomp around, pound your fists, and yell and curse to pump your emotions up to get angry. Get your adrenaline pulsing through your body any way you can.

Rant : Try ranting, which is when you speak passionately about something. Choose what your character hates most and do a few minutes worth of a wild, passionate, angry rant about it. Pick what is really irritating your character in the scene or identify the straw that broke the camel’s back that set you off. Or ask yourself what drives you crazy? Get madder and madder as you go; let it rip!

Scream : This works especially well if you are playing an extremely angry or powerful villain. Just scream bloody murder! Try to scream and go right into the scene.

How To Get Sad

Slump : Slump or hold onto your body in a defeated or protective way. Perhaps even collapse a bit. Use your body to inform your tone.

Ugly breathe : Try audible breathing as if you can’t catch your breath. Make the ugly sounds you make when you cry. Let your voice be ugly and broken. Let your face become ugly. Be willing to be unattractive.

Cry : Choose what you fear, what broke your heart, or whatever situation in the actual scene is making you sad and just rant. Get more and more upset as you go until you are sobbing. This will help you to find the buttons to push when you need to call upon those tears again. It will get you so out of control that it is easy to break into tears very quickly.

How To Get Happy

Smile : The easiest thing to do when trying to get happy is simply to smile. Even when you are not feeling your sunniest, pasting a smile on your face, according to facial feedback theory, states that this can change the way you feel. Try it now!

Joke : Listen to a funny podcast, watch some videos on You Tube of cats falling over, get silly and joke around!

Laugh : Fake it until you make it – physically go through the act of laughter until you’re actually releasing a full-belly laugh.

By combining these techniques, you can develop a richer, more authentic emotional range in your acting. Practice, self-awareness, and a willingness to be vulnerable will enhance your ability to convey deep, genuine emotions on stage or screen.