Listening is paramount in acting, and understanding how to inspire the delivery of your lines through the process of listening to your scene partner, is vital. There are so many ways we listen, but the most important awareness the actor must have is to take note of what motivates the character to listen. Much of what we see in film and television acting incorporates the ability to listen, and then react naturally and instinctively.

We are motivated to listen when there are consequences that matter deeply to us.

In every drama and comedy there is always something at stake; something that could be taken from the character or something the character needs that they are fighting to get. There may be news your character is waiting for, or actions, or results that will satisfy your character’s desires and what they are hoping to achieve in the scene.

To master listening, listen for what your character wants to hear or feel from the other character… Listen with a hunger to get something that is vital to your happiness or survival.

Characters have a range of desires. Some want attention, affection, satisfaction, approval, money, power, control… any one of these could be the very objective played for your next audition or performance. Or, it could be order, that your character needs, or redemption, forgiveness, a meal, a friend, etc. It could be anything that is true to the script and the material you are working. Use your imagination and study the character. Eventually you will discover the character’s desire or need.

Every character wants something from their scene partner that is intrinsic; something that will help them reach their ideal life.

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A chapter in “Acting with Impact: Power Tools to Ignite the Actor’s Performance”, is dedicated to this power tool. I like to call the Objective a “power tool” too, because it is one of the parameters that dictate the give and take with your scene partner. And actors, you know how important that is! And new actors, if you didn’t, hopefully you know now!

I would like to focus on how Objective, combined with Listening, is used in performance with the film, Sophie’s Choice, directed by Alan J. Pakula. Sophie, (Meryl Streep) is haunted by her past, as revealed in the scene where she opens up to Stingo (Peter MacNicol). Ashamed and emotionally tortured by her memories, she bares the horrors of how she was sent to a concentration camp in WWII and how she survived, but her young children did not. Sophie raises the stakes by desperately wanting “forgiveness” for her actions. In the scene, Stingo wants to take her pain away and to comfort and reassure her.

In the Oscar award-winning film, Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, Forrest (Tom Hanks) wants love (the girl of his dreams), Jenny (Robin Wright). But Jenny wants to escape and find the peace she has never known which was stolen from her when she was a little girl. Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) wants her son Forrest, to have a normal life. Lieutenant Dan, (Gary Sinise) at the top of the film, wants to die and follow in his family’s footsteps as a brave soldier who died for his country.

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Each character cares deeply for their goal, regardless of how difficult it might be to get it.

A character’s Objective doesn’t change unless a pivotal event happens that shapes the character’s decisions and actions. Take note, that in most films, each character’s Objectives are very unique and very different from the other. It’s important to choose a strong and active Objective that is born out of and aligns with your character in the script.

It also is advised to know how to break down a script and analyze it to discover the strongest and most active objective.

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