Everything was going fine for a while. I thought I had everything under control. But when I started feeling like my best wasn’t good enough, I thought that it would help. But I did way more than necessary. Before I knew it, I had OD’ed. I completely over-dramatized.
Over-dramatizing (OD’ing) is more common than you may think, and the effects can be devastating. Most abusers simply don’t recover. A lucky few, however, are able to break the habit of OD’ing and get clean. Acton Wright is one such success story. I had the privilege of sitting down with him that he might offer some words of inspiration and hope to other actors who have OD’ed.
Mike (M): Mr. Wright, thank you for taking time out of your day to share your wisdom with us.
Acton (A): Thank you, Michael. Stagebite has been an inspiration to me, and I am humbled to be able to contribute.
M: Well, first of all, how are you feeling?
A: I’m feeling wonderful. I haven’t OD’ed for four years now.
M: That’s fantastic! Congratulations.
A: Thank you.
M: Let’s go back, if I may, to the first time you OD’ed. How did you know that you over-dramatized?
A: How did I know? Honestly, I didn’t know. I thought I was acting appropriately. It never seemed like too much. I was Mortimer in a high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace. It started with a double take that got a big laugh. It felt good. So the next time I added a dropped jaw. The next night, a triple take. I just thought I was doing comedy. I didn’t realize that I was spiraling out of control.
M: Did anyone know you were overacting?
A: If they did, no one said anything to me. I didn’t know anything was wrong until college, when I took an acting for film class. One session was about “mugging” and “hamming” on camera. The teacher showed us cases of actors who gestured unrealistically, reacted suddenly and larger than appropriate, reached extremes of emotion quickly, or contorted their faces in ways people just don’t do.
M: What were you thinking when you saw those examples?
A: Well, I could see why some people would think they were funny, in a comedy, or really… well, dramatic, in a drama, but I couldn’t really connect. It became more about watching what that person was doing, and less about… everything else, I guess.
M: That’s when you realized something was wrong?
A: Well some of my theatre friends said that I reminded them of Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, Mike Myers, those kinds of guys—which is fine, by the way. The only problem is that I had never been in any plays where that kind of acting would fit. And I didn’t want to be that kind of actor.
M: So what did you do? Did you find help?
A: It’s been a slow process. I’ve had to communicate with my directors and coaches to keep me accountable. You’re less likely to OD if you have a network of support around you. People who can be honest with you.
M: Do you still feel tempted to OD? When is that temptation the strongest?
A: Yeah, I’ll admit, it’s tempting sometimes. It’s when I start thinking about how I’m coming across that I am tempted to over-dramatize. If I feel like the audience isn’t reacting, I want to OD to try to get a reaction. I want to carry the scenes myself. I guess, at the core, it’s a little selfish.
M: How do you overcome that temptation?
A: I think it all boils down to trust. You have to trust the thoughts you have on stage. Trust that your mind and body are present and responding. You also have to trust your fellow actors. Trust that they are doing their job well and they don’t need your help to carry the scene. And of course, trust the audience that can pick up your subtleties, and that they are enjoying what they see, even if they don’t react in ways you expect. When I was in counseling–
M: You were in counseling for this?
A: Yes. In counseling, I learned one quote that I repeat to myself backstage. It’s become my mantra. It’s from Juliette Binoche. She says,
“You have to let go of what you think is good; it’s a jump into trust, and trying to reach without wanting too much.”
M: Very poignant.
A: Yes. Are you going to put that in block quotes on your blog?
M: Of course.
A: Great. Yeah, my counselor said that anyone can overact. It doesn’t take great skill to do more than what’s appropriate. The actor’s skill lies in decluttering the truth. Hey—can that be in block quotes too?
M: I don’t want to OD it…
A: Good one!
M: Thanks. Any final words for actors who may be struggling with over-acting?
A: Well, that Juliette Binoche quote sums it up pretty well. Three steps. One, let go of what’s good. If you think something will be funny, or scary, or sad to do, that’s a red flag. You may be adding emotional clutter to a real reaction. Two, jump into trust. Trust the audience, the other actors, and yourself. And three, reach without wanting too much. Always keep exploring, but check your motivation. If you want to find more and more truth, then reach for that. But if you want more laughs or tears, your goals are misplaced.
M: Inspiring words, Mr. Wright. On behalf of the Stagebite community, thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom.
A: My pleasure, Mike, thank you.
If you or someone you know struggles with over-dramatizing, seek help today. It’s not too late.