Actors and Subconscious Automatizations

There are different acting methods which relate to different ways of dealing with subconscious automatizations.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

An acting part can build towards something else in the sense that it makes it easier to get another acting job later. But the later job mostly won’t use the same character-specific automatizations. Sometimes actors do a bunch of similar parts, and if you could predict that then it’d be more convenient and efficient to play those parts pretty intuitively. However, being able to get similar parts in the future often isn’t predictable. And if you do the first part with a lot of conscious control, and then get hired for a new part by people who want more of the same, you should probably keep doing what you were doing, not change your approach.

I think this may sometimes apply to other professions too. Lots start with fairly generic skillsets (e.g. doctors, programmers, or police officers) which make sense to automatise and then as they develop they move to more specialised roles and ideally would automatise them too. But they wont always get to do the thing they thought they wanted to at the beginning and maybe end up in another speciality because e.g. there’s a drop in demand for the type of work they want, or they get stuck in one path and miss the opportunity to pursue the ideal path, or they end up taking a better paid job which isn’t their ideal (and maybe don’t bother to automatise it as they plan to move on when the right opportunity arises).

I think it might be particularly noticeable with actors. I think there’s a lot more drastic variation between acting roles (than e.g. programming roles), and they need to learn their lines and directions which are almost never going to be needed again after the movie whereas programmers can often reuse code.

And acting based on more intuitions and subconscious automatizations is hard work too, not necessarily a way to save effort. Creating those intuitions, getting rid of them after, and repeating for every new part is a lot of work.

I think it could also be potentially dangerous. Someone who plays badguys a lot and automatises that role might find it more difficult to keep the badguy behaviour out of real life.

So all actors need substantial skill at consciously-controlled acting so they can be flexible.

This makes sense. What are some roles where the focus is on subconscious-controlled?

I think military roles (at least any active combat role) requires a ton of subconscious automatisation. They need to be able to make good conscious decisions too, but in combat reaction time is life-and-death. I’d guess emergency roles (e.g. fire fighters) need super well trained subconscious skills, so their conscious minds can focus on the critical life-saving decisions and then once the decision is made the automatisations can get the job done.

In dangerous roles sometimes automatisation is super dangerous though. E.g. electrical line workers working on an electric pole with live high voltage electrical cables can’t afford to ever get complacent with safety procedures and staying consciously vigilant seems sensible in that situation.

Very repetitive roles (e.g. warehouse labourers) seem like they would be very boring to do consciously. I’d guess people would normally learn to do the work subconsciously, then keep their conscious minds occupied with stuff like banter with colleagues or reading audio books or listening to a radio.

Some examples of actors which play repetitive roles (possibly more suited to subconscious acting) and varied roles (possibly more more suited to conscious acting):

Repetitive (they all do other stuff too, but have one big central thing they do a lot)
Tom Cruise - plays approximately the same character in most movies (and is very very successful at it)
Arnold Schwarzenegger - very similar characters through a lot of his movies
Jim Carrey - mostly plays the wacky exaggerated slapstick guy (except for that really really dark one Dark Crimes)
Keanu Reeves - very similar roles whether it’s The Matrix or John Wick series’

Nicholas Cage - tons of weird and varied stuff, including playing two characters in one movie in Face/Off.
Christian Bale - very committed to his roles, big personality differences (and even drastic physical changes e.g. starving himself for The Machinist).
Sigourney Weaver - though she played the same character in multiple movies (Ellen Ripley) the character goes through distinct growth with each movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot of automatisation as well as conscious effort involved.