Why do Actors Frown? (And why they shouldn’t!)

Yes – we all get frown lines eventually. And it is normal to frown.

But frowning is a solo activity – by that I mean that it is when we engage with ourselves and not with other people.

We frown when we are thinking, remembering in order to be precise, concentrating, squinting to see clearly, working things out. Or when we are ‘showing’ the other person our mood or reaction. And what we are signalling then is, ‘Don’t try to engage with me. I’m not for communicating with. Leave me alone. If you do that, I won’t be friends.’ We frown for ourselves – or to keep ourselves separate or untouched by others.

So if you frown when you are speaking, you are not really talking to the other person, but to yourself. And, though it rarely happens in life, it turns up only too often when actors are dealing with that unnatural act – speaking text. A fellow director comments that actors frown because they are reading the lines off the front of their heads. That may be true, but I think they frown mainly because they are trying to add something to the work in order to show us how we should feel – or to get feedback that they are feeling; because they are caring, responsible actors trying hard to be truthful – and that’s taking their energy inwards.

When people engage with each other in life – even in a confrontational way – they tend to raise their eyebrows rather than frown. They may frown intermittently as they try to remember something, but their brows clear as they report it to the other person.

Clear brows mean that you are connected and engaging with the other person, raised eyebrows mean you are using extra energy because what you are saying is important or because the other person may not have understood, or even that you are threatening them. In rare moments we may frown when we threaten. but that is because we are also concentrating on summoning our own intensity – engaging with ourselves, in other words. And those moments are rare!

Watch real people around in conversation, and really successful actors on screen, and see how rarely they frown. Smooth brows look great on screen – we see your eyes – we know you are really talking, engaging, and communicating what you need to say. We believe that the words are your own. I watch actors on-screen all the time, and when the words become their own, when they are truly ‘there’, magically, their frowns disappear.

Frowning is shutting down, shutting out the other. Take a tip from Shakespeare and, ‘Unknit that threatening unkind brow’!

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About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.