Best Acting Books: 10 Recommended Books All Actors MUST Read

Best Acting Books: 10 Recommended Books All Actors MUST Read

Acting is a profession that no matter how much skill an actor has, there is always room for improvement. For actors to sharpen their skills, they can hire acting coaches, take acting classes, and even read books to boost their abilities.

Acting coaches and acting schools are great for actors learning new acting techniques they can use on the stage or film set, but acting books can help with a myriad of skills including acting technique, auditioning, and self-marketing, all important things to any actor.

The problem with acting books is there is a huge abundance of acting books available for actors that are tough to figure out which are great, average, or terrible.

I’ve been improving my acting skills lately simply because I want to become a better film director and provide useful direction to my actors on a set, I thought I should head to the library and figure out the best acting books available to improve any actor’s skills.

In this post, I have come up with the top ten books that every actor should read based on what they can offer to any actor looking to improve their acting skills.

When it comes to acting it’s important to add variety, to get a much better dimension and feel to what fits your acting style. The key is to understand more about the technique of acting, and the suggested books are the best books for actors of any skill.

Reading is a huge part of growing as an actor. It’s important to integrate the learnings with actual practice.

Best Acting Books: 10 Recommended Books All Actors MUST Read

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An Actor Prepares” is a 1936 guide to acting by Konstantin Stanislavski. Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski (1863 – 1938) was an influential Russian theatre practitioner. He was himself a highly-esteemed character actor and directed many successful productions. 

However, he is most famous for his ‘system’ of learning to act, focusing on training, preparation, and technique. This was the first of Stanislavski’s book on acting. Concentrating on preparation, it offers the aspiring actor or actress tips and instructions on how they should prepare for performances. 

It’s a rough read, to be completely honest. It’s not exactly thrilling, but if you’re an actor this is a must-read. Stanislavski set the bar for modern-day actors/acting, and his teachings at the very least must be studied by any aspiring actor.

I’ve been taking acting classes for years, and have also read basically all the acting books. Most of the books are pretty useless because most of what you need to learn comes from “doing” in classes which you can’t get from reading, and the books treat aspects of acting either too superficially (e.g. a single page on substitutions) or else are too opinionated and polemical (you “must” do it this way and not that way).

This is the book to read after you’ve taken classes for a year or two. Larry covers “everything”, describes everything with tremendous detail and justification, and tends not to take sides but explain how different techniques work for different people. Basically, he goes a level deeper than most acting coaches do, so you get a lot of the “why” you might be missing from class, or just fills in gaps of knowledge you have.

So, it’s just a masterpiece.

BUT… the book bothers me because the cover is SO, SO, SO bad, SO cheesy. I had refused to buy it for years because with a cover so tasteless — looks like it’s from 1985, with the blood-red handwriting, the super-dramatic author headshot, that I couldn’t believe any good coach would ever approve a cover so “slick” and faux-“serious” and completely devoid of life or joy. Even the title “Intent to Live” sounds fake-dramatic. It was only after an acting coach of mine told me it was the best book out there, that I took the plunge and read it.

So buy the book and ignore the cover. Hopefully, someday a new edition comes out with a cover that seems to actually reflect the book’s content, instead of communicating the exact “opposite” of what’s inside.

In The Power of the Actor, a Los Angeles Times bestseller, premier acting teacher, and coach Ivana Chubbuck reveals her cutting-edge technique, which has launched some of the most successful acting careers in Hollywood.

The first book from the instructor who has taught Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Elisabeth Shue, Djimon Hounsou, and Halle Berry, The Power of the Actor guides you to dynamic and effective results. For many of today’s major talents, the Chubbuck Technique is the leading edge of acting for the twenty-first century. 

Ivana Chubbuck has developed a curriculum that takes the theories of the acting masters, such as Stanislavski, Meisner, and Hagen, to the next step by utilizing inner pain and emotions, not as an end in itself, but rather as a way to drive and win a goal.

In addition to the powerful twelve-step process, the book takes well-known scripts, both classic and contemporary, and demonstrates how to precisely apply Chubbuck’s script-analysis process. The Power of the Actor is filled with fascinating and inspiring behind-the-scenes accounts of how noted actors have mastered their craft and have accomplished success in such a difficult and competitive field.

This is an excellent book for actors at all levels. Reading this book you feel the author is sitting right next to you giving you private coaching on acting. I have learned so much detailed information on acting, and it has helped to boost my confidence in the audition process. Brilliant and life-changing world lessons for acting and life in general.

Respect for Acting is Uta Hagen’s blueprint for the actor, her design for “enlightened stage acting.” This classic book has helped generations of actors hone their craft, and its advice is as useful now as it was when it was first published.

Hagen draws on her own struggle with the techniques of acting as well as her decades of teaching experience to break down the areas in which actors can work and search for realities in themselves that serve the character and the play. This approach helps actors to be specific in their actions in order to communicate an artistic statement. Hagen’s instructions and examples also guide the aspiring actor through practical problems such as “How do I talk to the audience?” and “How do I stay fresh in a long run?”

Part One, “The Actor,” deals with the actor’s concept of him or herself, as well as techniques that set an actor in motion physically, verbally, and emotionally.

Part Two, “The Object Exercises,” offers specific and detailed work for the actor, covering a broad range of problems and circumstances, from making an entrance to using the Fourth Wall.

Part Three, “The Play and the Role,” covers how to approach the play and identify with the character the actor will undertake. It also shares practical thoughts and answers the questions young actors ask most.

Uta Hagen’s influence endures in many of today’s most compelling stage and screen performances. Informative and inspiring, Respect for Acting will bring her timeless techniques to actors and audiences for years to come.

I can’t put this acting book down. The book offers an amazing perspective on the art. You have to read this with COMPLETE vulnerability. ACTUALLY read it, don’t just go through the words. STFU and be a sponge.

Final Draft 11

A collection of 125 acting exercises that are based on journal excerpts and dialogues from Mr. Morris’ classes. These exercises teach the actor to systematically eliminate his or her instrumental obstacles — tensions, fears, inhibitions — and explore the “being” state, where the actor does no more and no less than what he or she feels.

As the title indicates, many of the techniques herein address the actor’s need to avoid falling into the traps of concept and presentational acting. There is also a complete chapter on sense memory — what it is, and how to practice it and apply it as an acting tool.

This book is quite refreshing when compared to most acting books. Usually, you get books that talk very theoretically: “Be the character, when given the script, look for the shifts in tone, mark the changes in emotions, become one”. It works for some but not all.

The issue with these types of acting books is that they force the actor to remain in their head. We’ve all done it. Every actor who is serious about their craft has been down this road, many remain on this road. You know the one I’m talking about. The “Do your homework but forget about it when you go up on stage” type of training. The “I need you to be spontaneous but still remain within the structure of the script and play”. The “Bring yourself to the character…but more like the character!”.

It’s nauseating. You’re told to memorize and remember each beat but then are criticized for being too mechanical and “not in the moment”. See how these two thoughts don’t really mesh well? You’re telling me to do mental math but then chastise me for thinking too hard.

Enter this book! The Method! In a nutshell, this book teaches you to use your life as a means to be believable on stage or on camera. While this book doesn’t discuss on-camera acting, the principles are no less effective. , and exercises that free you of tension to exercises that remove you from your ego, this book is incredibly practical.

Compared to other acting books, there are no theories in this book. It’s “Do exercise A to reduce or relieve stress. Then use exercise B to ground yourself. Then use exercise C to assimilate your emotions into that of your character”. It’s very effective, and it’s nowhere near as challenging as many professional method actors make it seem. You don’t need to go homeless to act dejected and hopeless. I enjoyed this book and will use these exercises in my scenes to come!

Sanford Meisner was one of the best-known and beloved teachers of acting in the country. This book follows one of his acting classes for fifteen months, beginning with the most rudimentary exercises and ending with affecting and polished scenes from contemporary American plays.

Written in collaboration with Dennis Longwell, it is essential reading for beginning and professional actors alike. Throughout these pages Meisner is a delight—always empathizing with his students and urging them onward, provoking emotion, laughter, and growing technical mastery from his charges. 

Sanford Meisner is one of the greats in the acting field. He shows his ability to teach and inspire. This book is also very well-written and understandable, even to the novice actor.

I read the entire book. Meisner on acting is funny as hell. He is real and is not afraid of being transparent with the students he taught. My favorite lessons were using the imaginary “as if” which helps a whole lot and the repetition exercise which gets you out of your head and into “living under imaginary circumstances”. It gets you to react to the other person which is vital if you want to make a scene in a movie or play seem legit. This is one of those acting books that you need to use a highlighter and take some notes. Loved it!

Acting: The Basics remains a practical and theoretical guide to the world of the professional actor, which skilfully combines ideas from a range of practitioners and links the academy to the industry. 

A practical and theoretical guide to the world of the professional actor, skilfully combining ideas from a range of practitioners and linking the academy to the industry. It covers key areas such as:

  • the development of modern drama and acting processes over the years 
  • the approach and legacy of acting pioneers and practitioners from around the world 
  • acting techniques and practicalities, including training, auditioning, rehearsing, and performing – both for stage and camera

Complete with a glossary of terms and useful website suggestions, this is the ideal introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the practice of acting and the people who have advanced its evolution.

This is a great book. One of the best acting books for beginners. A great introduction to acting for the layperson, amateur, or beginning student. I even found it a great read like a seasoned professional and professor.

Merlin does an excellent job of presenting multiple facets and viewpoints on the craft of acting, as it translates to both the stage and screen. This belongs on your shelf if you are a student, practitioner, or educator.

Stella Adler was one of the 20th Century’s greatest figures. She is arguably the most important teacher of acting in American history. Over her long career, both in New York and Hollywood, she offered her vast acting knowledge to generations of actors, including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro.

Stella Adler: The Art of Acting is one of those acting books with the lessons are graduated from very basic matters to quite complex issues of textual analysis and decorum. Though mostly monologs, they include enough exercises and student responses to get the flavor of Adler’s work. Some themes run through these classes: American culture is bankrupt, Lee Strasberg got Stanislavsky wrong, and class and its formality must be learned to do major plays through the realist period. This is required reading for anyone interested in theater practice.

Greatest Book on acting I’ve read to date. I read all the other acting theory books by Uta Hagen, Stanislavski, Checkhov, and Meisner back when I was training but never got around to Stella’s until I heard Gary Oldman mention it in an interview with Backstage, and I’m glad I took the time to seek it out. 

I used Stella’s book to prep my entire role for the last short film audition and definitely learned a lot more acting techniques to use for the future. 

This acting book helps with prep and technique, gives you confidence, and allows you to be free once you get to set. I’d highly recommend it. I’ll likely be referring to this book while prepping roles for the rest of my life.

On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov

The most authoritative, authentic text of a classic guide to acting.

In the four decades since its first publication, Michael Chekhov’s To the Actor has become a standard text for students of the theater. 

But To the Actor is a shortened, heavily modified version of the great director/actor/teacher’s original manuscript, and On the Technique of Acting is the first and only book ever to incorporate the complete text of that brilliant manuscript. Scholars and teachers of Chekhov’s technique have hailed On the Technique of Acting as the clearest, most accurate presentation of the principles he taught Yul Brynner, Gregory Peck, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Quinn, Beatrice Straight, and Mala Powers, among others.

This new, definitive edition of Chekhov’s masterful work clarifies the principles outlined in “To the Actor” concerning the pivotal role of the imagination in actors’ understanding of themselves and the roles they play. 

On the Technique of Acting also expands on Chekhov’s previously published work with many unique features, including: 

  • Thirty additional exercises
  • A chapter devoted to screen acting
  • More thorough explanations of the Psychological Gesture, inner tempo vs. outer tempo, and other key concepts of Chekhov’s approach

For actors, directors, and anyone interested in the theater, On the Technique of Acting is an essential handbook.

The definitive Michael Chekhov book with an excellent foreword and introduction that makes sense of how his technique evolved. Detailed explanations and 90% of the exercises you can try, to enhance your understanding, can be done alone. A great part of an Actors library.

The Actor and the Target is an immensely popular and ever-practical book on acting that takes a scalpel to the heart of actors’ persistent fears, helping them to release their talent on stage. It is straightforward and unpretentious, with a spirit of artistic and personal freedom.

This book is different. If you are an actor struggling with understanding playing action, sense memory, substitutions, or if none of these things are part of your process, then don’t buy this book… YET! Instead look into Uta Hagen’s book, Respect for Acting, or perhaps even Robert Cohen’s book, Acting One.

This book assumes that the reader has been trained in modern acting theory, that the actor reading it has an understanding of how to play and build a character, and yet still struggles (as we all do) with forms of “block”. The author often uses the phrases/teachings of other acting teachers to point out that it is in fact the framing of some of these “tools” that leads to block. 

Not that the other theorist’s ideas are incorrect, but rather that each actor needs to frame his/her process differently, and that the “target” dictates more of the game than we often think. Little of this is plainly stated in the book, much of it is implied, and if the reader hasn’t the breadth of experience much of the potential firepower in this text may be missed. Each time you read it you will see another layer.

It’s a fantastic book for any actor trying to re-evaluate or sharpen his/her process. It is loaded with truth.

Other Must-Read Acting Books

Are Acting Books a Waste of Time?

While I understand that acting books sometimes make for a tough read, the acting books mentioned above are essential reading for actors today. 

They are often very academic and can be hard to process, but they will give you a concrete foundation in acting. The authors of the books listed above are the ones who originated modern acting. Without them, and their books, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

Best Acting Books: 10 Recommended Books All Actors MUST Read

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