Theatre practitioner Stanislavski maintained that only 10% of what’s actually going on in our heads is expressed through words, the remaining 90% lies bedded beneath the script. This is subtext, and in Stanislavski’s own words, “[subtext] flows uninterruptedly beneath the words of the text, giving them life and a basis for existing… It is the subtext that makes us say the words we do in a play”. Or for our sake, a film.
Here is a list of action (actor) verbs useful for helping the actor’s process of creating a subtext. Of course, this isn’t the definitive list of lists. A lot of verbs are missing from it. Verbs that are commonly mistaken for actor’s verbs are the ones that require several actions or are not pursuable without words. Such as “to build,” which is an activity or result.
“To question as to whether an action verb is doable, you have to measure the ability of the actor to pursue the action readily without any dialogue.”
Essentially, does it immediately make one think of something that one can pursue without speaking? If it does, it is an actor’s verb, and these words will immediately enable the actor to respond and (hopefully) give you the performance you need.
To brush off
To buddy up
To check out
To put down
To show off
To ward off