“I only memorize the lines!”

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It’s a humorous fashion, where people celebrate and share actors/actresses who confidently state that their only responsibility “is learning their lines.”

I completely understand and appreciate the intelligence behind the actors’ saying it.

The excessive sharing by people makes me view it as a hollow response that trivializes the matter to a tabloid standard. The media, particularly tabloid press, has a fixation on stories like this; they feel compelled to invent and market them. Their aim is to foster division by presenting a protagonist and an antagonist. That is the way to effectively market stories. Occasionally, there is a confrontation between the erratic, deranged Method Actor and the composed, practical Regular Actor, or the contrasting dynamic between the dull, seasoned actor and the intriguing, edgy Method actor. It’s all a bunch of…. It prompts discussions that are quite shallow. Just as a side note. David Mamet’s plays and scripts have garnered significant acclaim, with renowned actors like Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Alec Baldwin, often described as “Method Actors,” contributing to their popularity.

It is counterproductive for young actors to have the notion that they are inherently brilliant and can simply utter the lines or trust their instincts without putting in effort. A well-known acting instructor from a prestigious drama school once stated that while most students believe they possess exceptional intuition, his 50 years of teaching experience have shown that some students actually possess a flawed or foolish intuition.

Intuition is not a trait that is automatically present. Intuition is developed through experience.
That’s why I completely empathize when certain actors make that statement. But then as an actor who’s job it might be to understand where someone, a character or the actor is coming from, you might think. This actor/actress is a total pro, been in the game for like 25 to 60 years, mostly in theater, doing like a thousand of shows of play runs or has been on set forever. By engaging in this practice, you can visualize how it refines your instrument. This advice is not practical for most actors who work only in the film and TV industry and have limited opportunities to pursue their profession, typically ranging from 15% to 45% of the year.

Let’s consider why an actor might say something like “I only memorize the lines!”

1. It’s absolutely true! However, it has been clarified that they have a vast amount of experience. It’s like a concert pianist who can effortlessly play a piece just by looking at the notes. If you have committed to daily training since the age of 7 or whenever you started, then yes, you can.

2. They have transitioned their approach from an analytical process to an intuitive understanding that can only be achieved through 20 years or more of experience.

3. As they memorize their lines, they create associations, imagine vivid images, and, most importantly, actively listen and react during their performances.

4. Their inclination is to safeguard their process and refrain from discussing it, fearing that talking about it might dilute the energy that should be dedicated to action. Another reason for their stance is their firm belief in the importance of individual thoughts and imagination, advocating against being influenced by an actor’s specific journey.

5. Well-known actors have expressed their frustration with foolish questions and the tendency for their responses to be misinterpreted, manipulated, or exploited. So in order to not have to answer stupid questions and being exploited, they do the right and best thing one can do shot it down with “I only learn my lines!”

I share the same view as actors who emphasize that talking about acting is not something they like to do; one must actually engage in the practice. Conversely, acting instructors may need to discuss it occasionally to provide clarification, offer feedback, and prevent students from repeating their mistakes. It can save time to clarify the process, even though they will make their own mistakes.

The more you experience, the stronger your intuition becomes. With a total of over 50 years and 20,000 hours of flying experience, Chesley Sullenberger piloted the passenger plane to a safe landing on the Hudson River. His biography on Wikipedia provides clarity on the matter.

It is important for every actor to develop their own process and discover what techniques are suitable for their craft. Certain actors modify their approach for every new project. The utmost priority is to show respect and avoid engaging in gossip or turning it into a competition.