ACTING TECHNIQUE | Play “Powerful” with Subtlety 

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  • ACTING TECHNIQUE

    Play “Powerful” with Subtlety

    Subtle power is powerful on camera

    (By Javier Guerra)

    (Photo: Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels)

    How should you portray an extraordinarily powerful person? How should you play an all-mighty queen? Or a scary drug kingpin? Or an intimidating CIA agent? Or a reputed and feared killer?

  • Credit Academy Award Winning Spanish actor, Javier Bardem, for pointing out a mistake that actors often make when portraying very powerful characters. The mistake, as Bardem describes it, is in feeling the need to demonstrate how powerful your character is.

    You should never play a powerful character by forcefully projecting your power, unless it’s called for in the script. Subtle power is much more powerful on camera.


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    In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bardem ran through the highlights of his acting career. He began with some of his earlier credits, including Before Night Falls (2000), for which he became the first Spanish Actor to be nominated for an Academy Award.

  • Then, he began discussing his signature role. In 2007, he played assassin Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

    Bardem discussed the gas station scene from the film. In it, the attendant masterfully portrayed a man who was extremely frightened of Bardem’s character. It allowed Bardem to demonstrate his power to the audience through subtle means.


    When you’re going to play a king, you don’t have to act like a king.

    (Javier Bardem)


    “One of the golden laws in acting: When you’re going to play a king, you don’t have to act like a king. You have to make sure the people around you treat you like a king,” said Bardem.

  • In the interview, Bardem demonstrated, through gestures, how a real king acts. The king, according to Bardem, doesn’t need to put any effort into frightening those around him. The king can just relax. Those around him should be terrified by his mere presence, not by his demonstrations of power.

    “Kings don’t go like this (poking his chest out). Kings can go like this (relaxing in his seat). But the people around you have to be like this (nervous and on edge).”


    (Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men)

    “The scary part of that scene is not so much my character, but the (other) actor who really recreates fear in an amazing way,” Bardem recalled.

    The next time you’re playing a powerful character, remember that truly powerful people are granted power automatically by those around them. They don’t have to work for it.


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