There are two parts to every scene in a film – the foreground and the background. Though most actors perform when they’re in the foreground, it’s a totally different story when they’re part of the background. It’s something I’ve always found lacking in bollywood films - when the lead actors of a film are in the background of a scene they’re just standing around, and most of them don’t do anything.
The job of every actor is to act even if they’re not the focus of the scene, so if you just stand around you’re not doing your job.
For example, in a scene: You’re at a party and the focus is a couple dancing on the dance floor, but you’re standing among many people behind them, well don’t just stand there and watch. Instead, maybe talk to some next to you or walk over and shake somebody’s hand as if you’ve just noticed them arrive. Your director will love you for it!
One thing actors should always remember is the best place to learn is the environment around them. We live each day in a scene, there are other people around us all the time, we speak to some of them - that’s dialogue! Sometimes someone else is the center of attention and we’re in the background but we’re doing something not just standing around.
Let’s take another example, if your child is doing something funny, you don’t just stand their watching him - your expression changes or you might react with a certain emotion if he falls or throws something. That’s how acting is! You’re not just standing around with one expression on your face; you’re reacting to the situation around you. Not only does that make you a better actor, it also makes the scene come alive.
Your most important lessons won’t come from the acting classrooms; they will come from your life. The wider the range of your experience, the more you can draw from when you perform. Learn all you can about psychology, sports, movies, history, arts, music, science, etc. Each field will help you develop as a person. Do different jobs; work at a gas station, pharmacy, factory, stock exchange, lawyer’s office, restaurant, doctor’s office, government organization, Wal-Mart, radio station, etc.
The best way to learn is by watching people in your daily life. Everyone reacts differently to the situations they find themselves in. If two people are ordering coffee chances are they won’t do it the exact same way. And if the coffee shop is out of coffee they won’t react the same way, one might get angry; the other could simply go to another shop. People don’t do things the way you do, that’s how your characters are, they’re not you, you’re playing someone else, and so they need to be as different from you as possible.
An old man’s walk is different from a young man or a nerd. A child might walk the same way as his father or grandfather does – perhaps the three of them walk with their hands behind their back. There are certain words some people will never say, it’s the same with characters – the vocabulary is unique for each individual – a cop won’t talk the same way a businessman or politician and the language may differ by region as well.
What you should do is keep a notebook with you and write down dialogue, mannerisms, and interesting situations you see in your daily life. It would also help if you travel and meet people from different cultures. How do people eat in Africa? What does it feel like to be on top of the Eiffel Tower? How does it feel to ride a horse on a race track?
Do something you’ve never done before, such as bungee jumping, repairing a computer, running a marathon. Take a risk. Lose in love. Win in Love. Travel alone. Travel with friends. Travel with family. All this experience will only help you in growing as an actor. Remember: All knowledge is learning and therefore, good.