Top 3 Acting Performances Every Actor Should Watch by Mark W. Travis

Watch the video interview here on Youtube

Film Courage: Top 3 movies every actor should watch and which performance they should study (that is, in terms of the acting performance)? I don’t mean the story but whether it’s a film like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, whether it’s NETWORK, just in terms of acting and performances.

Mark W. Travis:  Okay. Top movies and top performances are two different categories.

Film Courage:  Okay. Top performances. Let me narrow it down.

Mark W. Travis: Top performances, BLUE JASMINE.

Film Courage:  Oh, yes!

Mark W. Travis: Cate Blanchett. To me it was a stunning performance because in terms of the way I work, I think there are certain actors, when I say actors can’t do this alone, there are some actors who have these amazing abilities to allow themselves to sink deep into a character. Cate Blanchett is one of them and BLUE JASMINE’s one of those performances almost regardless of what you think of the movie. You just watch her work and the multi-faceted ways because of different timeframes she had to experience that character.

Another, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, if you look at his work in LINCOLN or GANGS OF NEW YORK or something, he’s another actor who has found a way of dropping himself deeply into a character and (very quickly). One interview I read about him (not with him), an actress he worked with asked him at the end of the movie (because she couldn’t talk to him during the movie because he was in character all the time), asked him why he spent so much time and so much energy just to get into a character like that. And his answer was…he says “I’m not a good enough actor to do it any other way.” Which I thought was profound. He sees himself as a very limited actor but he knows what he needs to do to get deep into that character.

If you watch MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck’s performance I think is stunning regardless of his history, his background and the problems that he has, watch that performance because there’s another actor who has dropped so deeply into the nuances of the characters, it’s sort of startling.

Meryl Streep will do this frequently…Frequently? She’s only been nominated 20 times. But there are certain actors who when you watch them, they can literally disappear, you feel that the character takes on and that’s what we are looking for.

Film Courage: Chameleons?

Mark W. Travis: Chameleons in a way but I see it as…more than a chameleon. Chameleon is more like I will change myself into something which it is chameleon-like but it is I will release myself, I will give myself over (this is my experience of these actors) is that they give themselves over and just allow themselves to be in that world with…in a way…ignoring themselves regardless of what happens to them as an individual, as an actor. They have to be that, that’s a total relinquishment to the character.

Film Courage: And if someone were to watch let’s say those performances from those four or five actors that you mentioned, what about turning down the sound and just seeing the body language, the reactions, the expressions, the micro-expressions?

Mark W. Travis: Yeah. Watch them exactly, watch them in detail and watch the movies (which Elsha and I do. We can have a whole discussion about that), we watch it several times and watch and even stop and look at and go back and just look at that moment, look at that reaction and understand that the best performances, that reaction was not planned. That stunning reaction probably was not planned at all, it just happened.

I remember I was working with an editor that I had worked with on a couple films of mine (he was showing me a film that I didn’t direct). There was a scene and a stunning moment in that scene he says “You know, that’s the only time she ever did that?” And that to me was a key thing, to capture those moments that happen but first of all the actor has to allow themselves to give that unplanned.  Planned performances are death! Unplanned performances are where the gold is. Just go in there and just see what happens.

Question for the Viewers: What are the top 3 acting performances of all time.


Watch the video interview on Youtube here



MARK W. TRAVIS is regarded by Hollywood and independent film professionals internationally as the world’s leading teacher and consultant on the art and craft of film directing. He is known as “the director’s director.”

Fueled by the desire to generate organic and authentic performances in an instant, Mark developed his revolutionary Travis Technique™ over a span of 40 years. Not limited to filmmakers, The Travis Technique™ has proven to be an essential set of tools for all storytellers, writers, directors and actors.

Mark Travis has taught at many internationally acclaimed film schools and institutions, including Pixar University, American Film Institute, UCLA Film School, FAS Screen Training Ireland, NISS – Nordisk Institutt for Scene og Studio (Norway), Odessa International Film Festival (Ukraine), CILECT – The International Association of Film and Television Schools, and the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (hosted by Griffith University Film School, Brisbane, Australia).

Productions directed by Mark W. Travis have garnered over 30 major awards, including: an Emmy, Drama-Logue, L.A. Weekly, Drama Critics’ Circle, A.D.A, and Ovation awards.

His film and television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Capitol, Hillers, and the Emmy Award-winning PBS dramatic special, Blind Tom: The Thomas Bethune Story. Also the feature films Going Under (for Warner Bros. starring Bill Pullman and Ned Beatty), Earlet (documentary), The Baritones, and The 636.

On-stage, over the past 20 years, Mark has directed over 60 theatre productions in Los Angeles and New York, including: A Bronx Tale, Verdigris, The Lion in Winter, Mornings At Seven, Equus, Café 50s, And A Nightingale Sang, Wings, Linke vs. Redfield, The Coming of Stork and others.

Mark is the author of the Number-One Best Seller (L.A. Times), THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors. His second book on directing,

DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS (published in April of 2002) is currently used as required text in film schools worldwide. His third book, THE FILM DIRECTOR’S BAG OF TRICKS: Get What You Want from Writers and Actors was published in 2011. Mark’s popular DVD, HOLLYWOOD FILM DIRECTING, is available now.


MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors.


MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors. ELSHA BOHNERT is Chief of Staff of Boyden Road Productions and the director of The Travis Story Center in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of DON’T TRIP OVER THE GARDEN HOSE (Deuxmers 2013). Her stories and poems have been published in literary journals and she is an award-winning visual artist as well, with works in public and private collections throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Elsha teaches workshops in “Art & Writing for Healing” and is the only teacher authorized by Mark W. Travis to teach the “Write Your Life” Travis Technique™.