Acting is a tough thing to do. Making it look effortless is where true art takes place.
However, many actors fall into traps. One of the most common is playing the end of the scene. What do we mean by that? It’s playing the last emotion at the beginning.
In the context of a scene, some actors will come into the beginning of the scene already dealing with the emotions revealed at the end, instead of allowing those emotions to evolve. For example, if the character ends up getting hurt by someone at the end of the scene, they shouldn’t play wounded or hurt at the beginning. That should be a revelation. It’s far more powerful.
The idea of playing the end of the scene can also be extended to include a full show or movie. Some actors play the bad guy from the very first moment we seen them instead of playing them normal at the beginning only to find out they’re bad at the end.
How many times have you watched a show or film and, when a character is introduced, you think “they’re the bad guy.” You may not find out the person is the antagonist for another thirty minutes, but because the actor is “playing the end of the scene” you know.
I watched a TV show where an guest actor was playing an old friend visiting one of the series’ leads. As soon as the old friend walked in, he didn’t treat the series lead as if he hadn’t seen him in ten years. He treated the lead cautiously, as if the old friend was hiding a secret and had become dangerous. Turns out the old friend WAS dangerous and he WAS hiding a secret, but I don’t need to know that the first time I see you! I’m patient. Say hi to your buddy. Ask him about his family. Have a drink. As a matter of fact, be the NICEST guy in the world. Then, when we find out you’re a scumbag, it hurts.
In preparation for writing our Christian mystery TV series called Gabby Wells, we’ve studied a lot of television crime shows and mysteries. It really comes down to this… the bad shows “play the end of the scene” and good shows hide it.
And to be completely honest, sometimes it’s not entirely the actor’s fault. Sometimes the director brings too much attention visually to a minor character in the beginning which gives you a hint they’re the bad guy. “Why did they show the janitor in close-up and no one else?”
Lastly, another flaw, especially in television, is that they’ll cast well known actors in what, at first, appear to be minor roles, but are later critical. And we know this from the onset because you ask yourself “I know that actor really well. I bet their character is involved in the crime.”
So, if you can, as an actor, writer, director or casting director, don’t play the end of the scene at the beginning. The payoff is the revelation of who is the baddie. Giving that information away at the beginning of the scene or the start of a show/movie just detracts from the entire experience.
Don’t play the end of the scene… it will get here… eventually. We’ll wait for it, I promise.