Dealing with actors in masks

When your actor gets dressed up in the costume or makeup, there are some things you can do to make their life easier.

I have never had to coach an actor but I can share my experiences from in the mask.

There are several issues to consider when an actor is in costume. The first one, especially if they are wearing a mask is the loss of visibility. When I wear a latex mask, I have a difficult time seeing, especially peripheral vision. While I am in costume, you need move where I can see you to give me commands. Small hand gestures or head nods don’t help me at all. Speak clearly and make large gestures so I can see.

When I am fully dressed, it can get really claustrophobic. As my director, or camera guy, please focus on me. Now is not the time to look at a cat video on Facebook. I am doing everything I can to keep my composure and my focus. Stay close to me, give clear, concise commands. Don’t ask my opinion. Don’t use a lot of words. I need commands like “stand here, then you fall down to the left.”

I will be hot, and uncomfortable, and I will feel like rushing. You need to slow things down so I don’t get hurt. But if I notice you are slow because of something you are doing, then it is very easy for me to get grumpy in the costume. Slow things down because of safety or because my costume is messing up.

I also will tend to be embarrassed while on public display in this ridiculous costume. Try to not laugh or make funny comments. Once the costume goes on, I have to assume the mindset of the character. If I am a blood thirsty orc, funny comments will not help my performance at all. And it comes across like you are not taking my suffering seriously.

Another issue is that I may really get into the character. As an eight foot tall orc I may believe I can just jump off of this table and in costume I may very well try it. You, director person, are there to keep me from hurting myself while in character. This is not the time for me to be doing improv.

I also can not hear you with a latex mask over my ears. You need to speak up, and minimize how words. Short, loud, clear commands are what I need.

I am also very hot. I am sweating, and dehydrated. I need you to have some water available for me in between takes. I need you to watch over me for signs of heat stress. I need you to know how to get me out of the costume in a hurry in an emergency. Inside, I am thinking “one more shot, I can survive one more shot, push on, push through”. Which may not the safest course.

Even a simple pair of shoes can change the world around you. If I put on any costume item, watch over me, and stay close, and help me navigate the hazards of the set. Sometimes it is not my safety that comes into play but the stuff around me. When I am carrying a four foot orc sword, please help me watch out for stuff I might accidentally break as I move through the set.

So, I as an actor, while in costume or makeup, have a lot of things working against me. I am hot, have poor vision, poor hearing, poor sense of touch, may feel overly empowered, am self-conscious, claustrophobic, dehydrated, and on top of all of that I am trying to really focus on my performance. So, I really need you as a director/safety person to help me out. It might help if you  imagine your actor wearing oven mitts on both hands, a motorcycle helmet, welding goggles, and clown shoes and  walking through a china shop. That is how much help they need. They may look totally at ease. In fact they should. That is their job as the actor, to be that character. But looking at ease and comfortable doesn’t mean they really are.

be nice to your actors

be nice to your actors

Take care of your actors, especially if they are friends that you just shoved into a costume. Sit them down before putting on the costume and tell them what to expect. Be comforting and attentive when they are in character. And as a director, put a latex mask on for a few minutes to see what it feels like, and walk through the house with a sword on your belt.

Go ahead, make a mess, have some fun.

One response to “Dealing with actors in masks

  1. Alicia DR Hankins

    You are a very patient actor in a mask. And you do well acting while under these tough conditions. Yes, be nice to your actors all glued to their masks. Get straws and give them lots of water throughout the shoot. Be sure to have them remove the masks, start all over, several times. They need to stay alive for the film!


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