Actors are always asking me, “When I am playing an extreme emotion, how do I make it look authentic?”
My answer: Don’t play the emotion. Play the fight in expressing that emotion.
As humans, we don’t like to openly express emotions. We work to protect and hide our true feelings. We are always in conflict with ourselves in not letting our emotions take a hold of us. We try to be in control. So when playing emotions as actors, if we freely express ourselves, such as openly displaying the sadness or fears of a character - THEN WE ARE NOT BEING REAL.
Instead of playing the emotion, you need to play the conflict the character is having to NOT express that emotion outwardly. There is an internal struggle going on between that character’s need for control over that emotion and it coming out anyway. As an actor you are always playing your objective and then the inevitable obstacle to obtaining that objective. True emotional resonance lives on the razor’s edge of those two things coming together.
For an example, imagine this scene: You have worked long and hard for your company, slaving hour after hour to impress the-higher ups, staying late on many of nights, and have sacrificed your social life for your job. You have decided it’s finally time to ask for a raise. You schedule a meeting with your boss, script and practice your arguments and the day finally arrives for a face-to-face pitch. You lay out your rationale to your boss, who agrees that you have a strong work ethic, are a valued employee and has great potential. Then she says no. In that moment you are immediately faced with anger, frustration, disappointment, etc. But you have to maintain your composure. You don’t want to cry or scream or embarrass yourself. You are having an internal struggle with what you want to say and having your feelings come exploding out and what you should say in a controlled manner. So for the actor playing that scene - don’t play the anger, frustration, disappointment, etc. Play that struggle in NOT expressing those feelings. That’s where the authenticity lies.