What was James Gandolfini’s secret? Focusing his anger using the Meisner technique.


I am always interested in how an actor finds his “real” moment to convey “real” emotions.


When I read that James Gandolfini focuses his anger using Meisner technique, I smiled. How do you conquer an emotionally charged scene, and repeat it take after take?


There is a line between showing real anger and forced anger. One is pushed, and one is authentic. When crafting a scene in which your character expresses anger in response to what is happening, prepare by daydreaming in order to explore the levels of anger possible. Perhaps your character smiles through anger. Or perhaps when they cry when angry. There are many variations on how one experiences anger. Using the imagination to discover the depths and personalization of anger, helps bring an emotionally charged scene to life.


To become a good actor, preparation and self-knowledge is paramount. If you don’t know your own depths of emotion, then it will be difficult to know the depths of your characters emotions. Anger can be one of the hardest emotions to accomplish in a scene. If the anger is forced, it will be clearly false to the audience, and will be painful to watch.


“Mr. Gandolfini, who had studied the Meisner Technique for two years, said that he used it to focus his anger and incorporate it into his performances. In an interview for the television series ‘Inside the Actors Studio,’ Mr. Gandolfini said he would deliberately hit himself on the head or stay up all night to evoke the desired reaction. If you are tired, every single thing that somebody does makes you mad, Mr. Gandolfini said in the interview.”–Terry Knickerbocker


What if your scene partner isn’t giving you enough to make your character angry? The logic of where they are coming from doesn’t matter,  the logic of your personal preparation will help to continue the flow of emotional continuity for the scene. The scene will work if you consistently listen and respond in the moment. And trained Meisner actors know how to be self-sufficient at all times.


Want to be more like James?
Terry Knickerbocker Studio is a place for actors to commit to to being the best actor they can be
Check out our 6-Week Summer Intensive or Two Year Conservatory and Apply Today.