No story exists without a ‘difficulty’ or ‘problem’ that needs to be resolved. And the element that keeps a story alive is an increasing difficulty.
The ‘difficulty’ might not be clear, it might be implied or suggested but it is always there.
And the actor’s main task is to keep that ‘difficulty’ alive. If the actor doesn’t do it then the filmmakers use the other weapons in their armory to achieve that result. The editor will make shots shorter and/or the composer will create music that generates the tension that is lacking in the actors performance.
The Rehearsal Room is constantly encouraging actors to listen for a ‘difficulty’. Some actors initially find this concept challenging. I explain life constantly teaches us that as soon as we think everything is fine we are likely to find out that its not. That sort of experience encourages us to keep an eye out for anything that we may not have anticipated. Actors always need to be on the lookout for some sort of difficulty either ‘expected’ or ‘unexpected’ that might affect the relationship or the circumstances. They need to maintain an active process of continual assessment.
In his marvelous book ‘Thinking, fast and slow” psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains it this way… “The questions are perhaps less urgent for a human in a city than for a gazelle on the savannah, but we have inherited the neural mechanisms that evolved to provide ongoing assessment of threat level, and they have not been turned off. Situations are constantly evaluated as good or bad, requiring escape or permitting approach”
It’s important for actors to remember that we are animals. Those animal instincts are very close to the surface. In life we use them constantly second by second. Make sure your acting process liberates those processes and doesn’t inhibit them. Many actors shut down the very thing they should be opening up.