Some days, when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or maybe eaten one too many tacos or pieces of cake the night before, we don’t feel full of rainbow-colored smiles. Then we make a cup of coffee and settle into the booth for our first audition of the day. We pull up our first script, and lo-and-behold, it asks us to lace the script with butt-loads of smiles.
What’s worse? Sometimes the script isn’t even well-written. These days happen.
Before I get into how to retrieve that smile from the depths of your grumpy soul, remember: there are many degrees of smiles. The land of smiles is not in black or white, all or nothing. It’s not just stone-faced or grinning maniacally from ear to ear. There’s the smile that just curves the corners of your lips ever so slightly as you have a pleasant thought or get a text from someone you adore, or the kind you half try to suppress when your friend trips and falls in a public place (this is assuming they don’t hurt themselves of course!) The one thing is for certain is that the smallest smile can infuse your read with a whole lot of warmth. And the warmth from that smile is encouraging, supportive, empathetic, inspiring; all tones that commercial copy generally desire. Now for some tools that have worked for me – they help me have fun and find some genuine joy and smiles in my work.
One quick trick, simply pulling a memory of something hilarious, can get that smile going pretty quickly. We as actors have that beautiful, wondrous and complicated reservoir of memories to use in our work. So use it when you need to find a smile. Were you laughing at a meme or Instagram post the day before? Pull it up and take a look before you hit record.
Another way which goes beyond just a smile for me is something I call “three in a row”. It’s a way to get some real joy out of, and into the read. The thing is, it requires us…uh oh… to get out of our own way; to play and be silly. Here’s how it works: after you’ve read the copy, identified what it wants, what the client is asking for, and maybe made some choices about it… hit record. Do the first two takes with total abandon. Again, play! Be silly! No one is listening (and if your spouse can hear you in the other room tell them you’re watching an insane clown on Youtube. If they do tease you, kick them out of the house for an hour or take back that offer for a foot massage.)
Improv your way through these first two takes using your own words peppered throughout the actual copy. Joke about the text, use an accent or a silly voice;just some small change. Or go big and give your character an eye patch! Bend slightly to the left because your enormous hunchback is weighing you down. Be a professor or a mad scientist who can’t seem to blink no matter how hard he tries. Allow yourself. to make yourself laugh. When you get to the third take, take a deep breath, find your composure, be on mic, and stick to the script. If you’re on a roll, do another. How did that third/fourth take sound? Were you more relaxed? Did the smile that the client wants come more easily, more naturally? Give it a try.
Lastly, whenever I was blue, my mom would say, “Just smile! Do it. Doesn’t matter if it’s real. It’ll make you happy dammit!” Turns out there have been studies on it too: even a forced smile lifts a bad mood, and then actually becomes a genuine smile. I’m no scientist, but in my experience, I find that to be true.