ON ACTING: "Playing' Emotions
Human beings--the template on which all emotional choices of character are based--do not initiate emotional experiences on their own. A humans emotional experience is derivative, it is a secondary happening. Of primary category is the actor/character's prior state of emotional potentiality; pre-existing pools--neural circuits, really--of potential emotions. The process is: A character enters a scene, like all human beings, with the potential for feeling, the possibility of feeling...and then the events of the scene, the stimuli from those events bombard the character, and that bombardment activate specific emotions--neural circuits--from the actors all-too-human potentiality to feel.
The actor-as-character feels anger at that moment because the events of the scene touched her anger circuits at that moment above all others. Or she felt sad there, because the events of the scene activated her neural circuits of sadness at that moment above all others. Or her she laughed there because the events of the scene touched her "funny bone," her neural circuits of laughter at that moment.
So when an actor decides to 'play' any emotion at a particular point in a scene, what the good actor is really saying is: at this point in the scene, I will allow the events of the scene to activate my potential for anger; or at this pint of the scene I will allow the events of the scene to stimulate my human capability for sadness. Or at this point of the scene I will allow what the other say or do to me make me laugh; they will have struck my funny bone.
Emotional preparation pre-dispose us; events dispose us. No one gets up in the morning and wants to get angry. Life--or in the actor's case, preparation exercises--heighten our potential for certain feelings in tha actor-as-character; and then other events, other people, actuate their actual, specific manifestation in us. So when an actor says "I will play that emotion here," what he is really saying is: "At this particular point in the scene I will be prepared to allow myself to feel my chosen feeling (anger, or sadness, or laughter) based on what others specifically say and do to me." THEY make me feel those emotions at any particular point in the scene, and cause them to dominate over all others feelings I have in me at that chosen point of time."
That's why good actors look and listen to others in the scene. They know that other's words and deeds are what causes emotions to arise in us. We are "played" by others. We do not play ourselves.