Physical Objectives - Acting on Action

A Physical Objective



Anyone who has studied acting knows that objectives are key to most realistic acting techniques. Objectives explain the motivation of the character and provide the intention behind the words.

But all too often, as actors, we become word-locked. A gap opens up between knowing our character’s objective and our ability to act upon it.

If the character JADE wants to be comforted by her MOTHER, that’s an important piece of information for the actor to know. But it’s how we use that information that makes all the difference.

We talk about the actor’s interpretation of role. The objective often provides a way of interpreting the scene. The objective helps us make the interpretation by making an interpretation of the scene in line with the objective.


But all of this interpretation can lead us back into our heads and not into our bodies - into action, which is where the acting takes place.

Thinking about the character and the interpretation of the scene is a good thing. Ideas are important. But ideas must be turned to action, or they remain intangible and invisible. Unactable for the actor and un-viewable by the audience.

What do we do with this information about JADE wanting comfort? We must turn it into action. So we ask, what actions might JADE take to receive comfort from her mother? We could ask what would I do to get comfort from my mother, but my relationship with my mother isn’t the same as JADE and her MOTHER.

I must look to what actions are available to JADE within the context of the scene. And I must step out of my comfort zone and consider all the possibilities. JADE may not just try sweet strategies, she may become a brat, she may try to provoke her mother. So we can try what we might call ACTIONS/TACTICS, the psychophysical approach that many actors now take.


But I want to suggest something else. I want to suggest that there is something that will drive us more than just abstract actions.

I believe that physical objectives provide a shortcut for actors. In other words, when you want a physical response from the other actor, it provides a shortcut to the actions that would provide it. If the actor playing JADE decides the physical objective is the warm and comforting embrace of her mother, the actor is more likely to be able to act to achieve that. They know the actions they might perform to get it.

Physical actions like to get a kiss, to get someone to sleep with me, to get someone to put their arm around me, to embrace me, to kneel before me, to get to their feet, to leave someone alone, to go confront the bully.

We know the actions we take when we want physical action from someone else. So when you analyse your next scene, when you prepare your next auditions - consider what physical objective your character is trying to achieve, look the other actor in the eye and try to get them to do it.

The actions are no longer abstract words designed to fulfill an acting exercise. They are the physical ways of achieving the physical objective and they are second nature.

To You, The Best


Mark Westbrook is the Studio Director at Acting Coach Scotland and the leader of the one year diploma in stage and screen acting

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