Scene 15 is a little over three pages of intense dialog, some important character beats, and a fair amount of technobabble. We were supposed to shoot it tomorrow, but it was moved to this afternoon, so my plan to learn it tonight was pushed up by almost 24 hours.
People always want to know how actors learn lines, and there isn't one correct answer, because we all do it in different ways: some of us learn by reading the script over and over again, some of us learn by performing the entire scene aloud by ourselves, some of us write the scene down, and some of us run lines with another person until we have the dialog in our heads.
I learn my lines by understanding the scene, deciding what each line (or dramatic beat) is about, and then trying different things with my lines until I find the choice that makes the most sense. For example, last week we had a scene where I kept blanking on one of my lines. After a couple of takes I realized that I couldn't remember the line because I was doing the wrong thing with it, and that was making my brain short out. I can't tell you the actual line, but I can tell you that the acting choice — which was wrong — was Make An Offer. When I realized that Make An Offer was wrong, and Look For Permission was right, the scene came together, and we were done in two more takes.
I also have to understand what's at stake in each scene. I need to know exactly what my character wants and needs, so I can make choices for him to get there. As I said on Twitter recently, I realized that Doctor Parrish's favorite thing in the world is "I told you so." Evil Wil Wheaton's favorite thing in the world is, "Ha! Gotcha, Sheldon Cooper." Cha0s' favorite thing in the world is, "I know something you don't know, and never will know, because I am so much smarter than you." Knowing these things gives me a place to begin in every script, just like "Don't Be A Dick" gives me a place to begin every day in my real life.
But back to today's work. I learned today's scene by breaking down the entire thing into beats, and then placed those beats within the context of the rest of the episode (In Eureka, something fantastic usually happens in the first few pages, and the bulk of the show — and the fun in each episode — is spent figuring it out and fixing it) so I know what the stakes are.
Some of the things Doctor Parrish is doing today:
- Share scientific insight.
- Correct them. Again.
- Accuse him.
- Solve the Problem. Easily. (Jesus they're idiots.)
- Ha! I told you so.
It's easy, while doing television, to just learn the lines and rely on instinct and experience with the character you've been playing for a long time to bring it all together. We never have enough time, and some of us are working 12 hours a day, five days a week, so there are times when we're just so burned out and exhausted, we simply don't have the energy to really dig in and do more than that. While there are some great actors who can do that and deliver brilliant performances, I'm not one of them. I don't want to miss any beats. I don't want to miss any nuances because I'm relying on instinct instead of complete understanding of the scene. For example, the beat I mentioned above, where I share scientific insight, was originally Share a good idea, but while I was playing with the scene last night and again this morning, I realized that it was more specific, and stronger, and more interesting to share scientific insight. Maybe the difference between the two choices is too subtle to matter in the final cut, but it's a significant difference to me, so I made the change.
I guess I work a little harder than I have to, partially because I feel it's my responsibility as an actor to rise to the demands of the material and tell the story as fully as I can, but mostly because it's fun to break down a scene and find the strongest obvious and non-obvious choices that will tell the story the way it deserves to be told. The moments I live for — the moments I love — as an actor are the moments in rehearsal or during a take when I discover something about the character or the scene that wasn't aware of until the exact moment I found it … just like real life, which is what we're aiming to recreate whenever we make up a story, even a story that's all about nano[REDACTED] and hyper[SPOILER] [SPOILER].