How to Have Presence In Acting
The most overused, misunderstood word in the acting universe. What is presence? It is that intangible sense that someone special has entered the room, and filled it with their Beingness, I guess.
I’ve heard tell that when Clark Gable entered a room from the back, quietly, all heads would mysteriously turn and look at him. I’ve worked with a few people who seemed to have a similar quality, particularly John Travolta and Isaac Hayes. I’ve watched actors over the years on stage who created that sort of an impact, simply by their being in the room with you. I’ve also met and worked with politicians who had the quality of presence.
Helen Hayes, perhaps America’s greatest actress during the 1930s-1950s, tells the story in her autobiography about her very long run in Maxwell Anderson’s great play, Elizabeth, The Queen. She performed the role, though she herself was very much too short for the part. But no one ever complained, and why? Presence. Ms. Hayes filled the stage and the theatre with the magnificence of her spirit, and no one doubted that she was, indeed, the greatest female ruler in history.
So now, you ask, isn’t THIS a quality one must be born with, this unique type of presence?
Yes, it is.
And everyone IS born with it.
Everyone has a degree of presence. If you exist, you impact a space when you enter it, and something vital exits the space when you leave. You have presence, and the quality of it can be consciously developed, to some extent.
Some of this quality is a result of confidence, a real awareness that a person can do with extreme professionalism what he’s there to do. There are plumbers who step into your house, and you know you’re in trouble because they’re going to break something. Another plumber walks in and you immediately sigh with relief. He KNOWS. And he knows he knows. He’s not worried, so neither are you. This sort of confidence results in presence, a sense that one is in powerful and benevolent hands.
An actor with presence radiates confidence, regardless of the role. He or she KNOWS. They know they’re good, and that you’re in for a treat, and so you are. You sit back and wait, knowing something good is going to happen, and glad you’re there to be a part of it. I believe that one of the most important elements of presence is confidence. You will develop confidence as you succeed as an actor. Another aspect of presence is a powerful sense of being exactly where you are, and knowing that you are. You can help yourself with this by simply and truly looking about each space you enter, and truly locating yourself in that space. Know that you’re there. Know that you’re YOU. Know that you know what you’re doing.