Suspense and Psychological Thriller Acting Tips – How to Create a Chillingly Believable Character

by on January 24th, 2015
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While acting in a horror movie allows you the freedom to express your character in a large and dramatic fashion, suspense and psychological film acting requires you to be subtle within your acting style. The reason for this is because the scripts within these type of films rely more on quiet emotions and dialogue. A great example of suspense/psychological thriller acting is in “The Grudge.” Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar is introduced into a creepy and highly psychological setting. Unlike acting in a traditional horror movie, she portrayed the character in a subdued manner. The bulk of her terror was kept to herself, and showcased through her actions rather than words or in over-the-top screaming and running.

When you’re slated to work on a suspense or psychological thriller, you must take time to create a character that is chilling and believable without being hokey and predictable.

Facial Acting

Out of all other genres of acting, suspense and psychological thrillers require a unique form of facial acting. In many of these films, the character may not disclose their feelings through dialogue, but rather through facial expressions. When done properly, facial acting can convey an entire scope of emotions and dialogue without saying one single word. An excellent way to practice facial acting is to create various scenarios. Standing in front of a mirror, engage in these scenarios and strive to express your emotions solely through your face – do not use any words.

For example, ” You are in a dark, cold and damp room; a basement perhaps. There is some type of smell in the air, and atmosphere is not right. You know something bad is around the corner, but you aren’t sure what. You want to delve deeper into the room to uncover the cause of this fuliginous ambiance, but you are conflicted. Walking around the corner, you discover the source of this invisible angst. There is a wall covered with photographs of you, personal photographs. The work of a stalker. You can’t make a sound because he may be home, but as you sift through each picture, you realize he’s been watching you for years. He is obsessed with you. He wants to have you – dead or alive.”

Act out this scenario, giving a full emotional performance using only your face.

Body Language

Like facial acting, your body language plays a vital role in suspense and psychological thrillers. Making interesting body movement choices can add depth to your character. Using the aforementioned scenario, how would this character move throughout the basement. Would he be walking with his head held high, and his arms casually swinging by his side, or would he be slowly walking, each step heavy and difficult. Would his arms be held up near his chest or curled into a fist ready for an attack. How are his shoulders resting? How is his breathing? Suspense and psychological thrillers require acting from every muscle in your body to deliver the emotions and objectives of the character without using words.

Carefully Dissecting the Script

Making educated choices for your face and body movement requires a true and deep understanding of the script. To create a chillingly realistic and interesting character, dissect your script line-by-line. Beside each line of dialogue and each action line, write an internal thought for the character. When reading your script, also read these internalized thoughts. Doing so will help create emotions and objectives that are personalized and unique for the character.


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