To truly master the art of improvisational acting, you must be able to think on your feet, respond to the unexpected without missing a beat, and seamlessly create a spur-of-the-moment dialog that other cast members can integrate into their performance. What’s more, you must do all this while continuing to engage the audience with your storytelling or comedy. Through excelling at improv takes talent, practice, and acting training, some actors are able to make it look effortless. Here are just a few actors whose have found success making improvisation a major part of their careers.
Robin Williams – From his first starring role as the alien “Mork” in the late 1970s television series Mork & Mindy, Robin Williams has made a career from his ability to improvise wacky, larger-than-life characters and roles. In his role as the voice of the Genie in the 1994 Disney animated movie Aladdin, Williams is credited with improvising the majority of the dialog for the character.
Steve Carell – Though the cast claims that The Office is entirely scripted, they admit that they are given the freedom to include improvisation into their dialog. According to costars, Steve Carell – who starred as the lovably oblivious manager Michael Scott from 2005 through 2011 – was a master of the art. He’s had years of practice in perfecting his skill; some of Carell’s earliest comedy experience dates back to his days in a Chicago improv group, and he taught improv classes in the early 1990s.
Bill Murray – Over the course of an acting career that has spanned nearly 40 years, comedian Bill Murray has made a name for himself as a legend of comedy – and a master at improv. In fact, most of Murray’s lines in the 1980 classic comedy Caddyshack were completely improvised, including his famous “Cinderella story” scene. According to some interviews, Murray also improvised the majority of his role as Dr. Peter Venkman in 1984’s Ghostbusters.
Chevy Chase – Apparently, Bill Murray wasn’t the only Caddyshack star who practiced their improvisational skills in the film. According to cast interviews, funnyman Chevy Chase also improvised many of his scenes. Chase has continued to rely upon his improv skills throughout his acting career, including in his current role as Pierce Hawthorne on the television show Community.
Sascha Baron Cohen – Many actors integrate improvisation into their acting, but some actors rely on it almost exclusively in their roles. One such actor is Sascha Baron Cohen, star of comedies such as Borat and the HBO show Da Ali G Show. Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy is based on creating outrageous, over-the-top characters and setting them loose on an unsuspecting public. Because the people his characters interact with aren’t generally aware of what’s going on, their reactions are unpredictable, meaning that Baron Cohen must constantly improvise to maintain character and prolong the hilarious conversations and predicaments.
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