Acting on Impulse
We live in a strange world, psychologically speaking. According to psychiatrists, we’re all mentally ill. That is the current definition of humanity and has been for quite some time. After all, we were all born sinners, according to many theological systems. These systems have the effect of making the human impulse an evil thing. By the time most people get to an acting class, they are completely blinded to their own impulses. That’s because we think of being impulsive as being careless and maybe even stupid.
On the other side, we have compulsion. We are pressured by our parents, our society, and our religions and governments. And then after years of this, when we develop a psychological problem, we are called compulsive and that is a disorder.
So humans are suspended between these two things: our impulse and the compulsive forces mentioned above. We don’t want the impulse because it is considered to be evil, and we all know that we don’t like to be told what to do. So who are we? What are we? What is our purpose, and what should we do? We are lost…
Thankfully, the actor has an answer to this. Two things: Number one, you must learn to return to your instinctive impulse structure. Number two, you must have a moral compass which keeps you from hurting others. This is really all you need. There’s nothing wrong with your impulses—just as long as they don’t hurt other people. In an acting class, if it’s your impulse to touch the knee of the other actor and you feel reticent to do this, then simply ask the actor for permission. The key is to return to our instinctive spontaneity.
In my acting classes in Hollywood I give blanket permission to people in class to use the kind of familiar touch which is consistent with the character. I never go over the top with this. I want people to feel safe to use their impulses. Our impulses are the healthiest part of our psychological structure. Ask for permission if you ever have any doubt about a natural behavior. The healed actor finds that they can rely on their impulses and their compassion.