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July 10, 2011

Myth #1: "It's all in the eyes.": You Can’t Push An Emotion Through your Eyeballs

The eyes are the windows to the soul. We've all heard it. I heard a photographer pleading for the actor to bring it to their eyes. I also heard of acting teachers trying in vain to get an actor to create an emotion and push it through their eyes. I heard a casting director tell me that all good acting is in the eyes. 

The reality is you can’t push an emotion through your eyes.

Let’s think logically about it for a moment. Do your eyes ever feel sad? Have they ever gotten angry? Have they ever woken you up in the middle of the night saying "damn, I’m mad?" The answer is no. When it comes to the eyes, the pupils can  dilate or contract. Your eyes can move left to right, up and down, around in circles. They may get wet or dry, but that could also be allergies.

If you are resisting an emotion tension may build up pressure behind the eyes, causing them to bulge a little, but it’s pressure you feel, not emotion. 

Both the moist and the bulging eyes make it seem as though something is going on with you to the viewer, but it’s more of the resistance or managing of an emotion rather than the reveal of one. So the question is, if it’s not all in the eyes, where is it? 

The answer is, it’s in different parts of the face. Although we may focus on someone’s eyes, we are taking in more information than we realize.  Our peripheral vision picks up the slight opening and dropping of the mouth or the eyebrow being drawn together. We are actually reading different parts of the face, including the eyelids while looking at the eyes and then determining what that person is feeling. Moving one muscle on your face in one of the emotional families changes the whole look of your face, making it look like it's all in the eyes.

You can't force an emotion through your eyes. That is why it can be so devastating to the actor's acting process because everyone is telling them to "Bring it to the eyes; bring it to the eyes." In frustration you try to push out the emotion, but you never quite achieve the result you want.

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Sound familiar?