In this final part of our interview series with on-camera expert, Alberto Bonilla (AB), interviewed by Kana Sato (KS), Alberto shares his techniques and advice on how to memorize lines quickly. In the photo above Alberto is coaching students in his Film & Television Level II class.
KS: Do you have any tricks you can share about memorizing lines?
AB: Normally, auditions for film and TV have a quicker turn around and that’s just the part of the industry. It is usually accepted that if you get a script with less than 24 hours, they’re probably not expecting you to be memorized or they will be more lenient. Though each casting director has her/his opinion about this. If you have more than 24 hours, it is usually expected that you need to be off-book, fully crafted. The first thing I’d say is that I have found traditionally you memorize quicker if you know the WHY you’re saying it.
KS: Not because it’s written on the paper, or because the other person said so and so.
AB: Yes. I mean it in the actor sense, not just the story sense. “Put down the gun.” I said “Put down the gun” because he is aiming a gun at me. That’s in the story sense. But why are you saying this? Are you afraid of your life? Are you defending somebody? Is this your friend and you don’t want them to get shot by the police? The WHY is more important. This is where acting technique comes in; if you really know how to craft, how to personalize, how to come up with real as-ifs. If you do that first, not only will the line be memorized, but it will be the ONLY thing you can say.
KS: Like the nursery rhyme exercise in 2nd year Meisner?
AB: Yes. The WHY also means the personalization- what it means to you personally. It also means the action- what are you doing in the moment and what does it mean. Some actors make a big mistake of working on the emotion first. They try to get to an emotion so they are trying to attach a line to an emotion and sometimes when you’re in the room you don’t get to the emotion, so therefore you don’t get to the line. But if you know the why, the personalization, and the action, doing something to somebody that has meaning to you will give you an emotional life. You want to make sure that you are always working from there. If you don’t know why you’re saying it, you’ll never memorize it or will come out as robotic or as a line reading.
KS: That’s a very active approach.
AB: The second thing I’d say is that memorization is a muscle. If you wanna be really good at memorizing, you should be constantly reading text that is difficult. Constantly memorize them. If they don’t get an audition for three months, actors don’t reflex that muscle for three months. Then they freak out that they can’t memorize that heavy script. It’s just like in a gym– Go take a class. Go on a website to download a script- even if it’s not the right type for you. Go ahead and memorize something from the NY times. Memorize a new Shakespeare monologue.–If you get that working, then when you do get a scene with 24 hours to memorize, you’ll be off-book and ready to go because you’re in shape.
KS: That sounds like a great workout plan!
AB: The third thing I’m going to say, and I mean this and tell this to my students all the time, is that when I was young, my dad asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. And it was before I knew I wanted to be an actor and I said “Well… Um, maybe.” And then he asked me, “Are you ok with blood?” I said “Uh, not really.” He said, “Then you can’t be a doctor.”
If you’re an actor but you don’t like memorizing, don’t be an actor. You can’t be an actor, it’s a job requirement. Your job is to take the existing text and make it into behavior. If you have trouble memorizing, then you need to work on it. Everyday. If a ballerina gets dizzy when she turns, she can’t be a ballerina. So she has two choices—she works on her double pirouette until she won’t get dizzy, or she quits. If you are somebody who wants to be an actor and you can’t memorize lines, you have two choices: Learn. Work, read, get over it and master it, …or quit.
KS: Alberto just dropped the mic
Bonus: What do you think of paraphrasing at auditions?
KS: You think you’re off-book, but you might mess up here and there… How important is it to deliver it word for word at auditions?
AB: It’s up to every individual casting director. If you switch two words or mess up a word, they probably won’t stop you. They might be enjoying what you’re doing. I don’t know. It depends on the casting director. However, if you doing Mamet or Sorkin, they’re going to want it word for word. If they have won an emmy for their writing, or an Oscar for a screenplay, there’s a reason. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get it verbatim. If you mix a word or two, if everything else is really solid, they might be fine with it. What I don’t agree with is when you change the meaning of the line, especially when you go in for a comedy.
KS: How so?
AB: A comedy is often written by a team or writers. They argue about every single commas. All of the punctuation is the map to the joke. If you ignore it, you are ignoring the map that you are given. Writers love actors that can do their words and their punctuation and make it sing. I think that in comedy it’s much harder to paraphrase because there are specific jokes and a musicality and a tone to it. Of course stumbling and things happen in any audition, but you will always fall back on how you rehearsed. So if you’ve rehearsed word for word, you’d fall on that regardless if the material is good or not. It’s not your job to judge material or rewrite the script. Your job as an actor it to take words off of a page and turn them into behavior to support a story. And when you do that properly, they see you as talented and solving a problem. And then… you might get a job!
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