Tips: an actor's guide to directing

Using tips from actor Bruce Alexander and Michael Caine in his 1987 acting masterclass Michael Caine: Acting in Film, plus behind the scenes shots from BBC One costume drama The Paradise, we explore how directors can get the best from actors.

Bruce Alexander has acted in television dramas including Casualty, EastEnders and A Touch of Frost and is currently directing theatre at RADA. He has worked with many directors over the course of his career in television and on the stage.

Directors should act as enablers, allowing actors room to express themselves creatively in order for the story to unfold. The best directors create an environment where imagination rules and everyone in the cast feels involved.

"Actors need a good, safe environment where they feel free to take creative risks."– Bruce Alexander


A director is an enabler and a leader, but in order for them to command the respect of the cast and crew they need to have prepared thoroughly.

Know the script

They must know the nuts and bolts of the script and have a firm grasp of each scene's storyline in order to answer any questions the actors have.

Identify the beats

They should also be able to identify the beats in the text, in order to direct the action smoothly. A beat is when a scene turns a corner or changes direction in the text.


During the rehearsal listen to the actor's feedback and thoughts. By working as a team you will be able to discover the truth of the script. Allow them to use their imagination and work from there, even if it means scrapping your homework. Avoid using negatives. Give positive feedback and highlight what you think is working.

Talk in terms of scale

It is always useful to talk in terms of scale. Using transitive verbs, for example, you could direct an actor to "love him more" or "pity her more with that line". Question the actors in order to provoke the desired action.

Set the tone

Stick to the etiquette of a drama set, keeping to the tone of the scene you are about to shoot. For example, don't shout "action!" for a moving funeral scene. Talk to the actors face to face when giving feedback and always approach the members of the cast before you address the crew.

Create a bubble

The drama set may be huge, but the action itself may be taking place in a smaller, intimate space. Be sure to create a bubble for the actors, so they can completely involve themselves in the action.

Shot size

Actors will work very differently depending on the size of shot, so it is helpful to let them know which size you have chosen.