Filmmaker Mike Leigh’s description of how he works with his actors in movies reminds me of (unsurprisingly) relaxed concentration and deliberate practice.
When it comes to the crunch it really is about having actors who are totally able to think deeply about their characters while at the same time, once we developed those characters, for them to be absolutely organic and able to respond emotionally to anything that comes their way. When it comes to thinking about how a character talks, there are literary and language considerations. For actors to be able to differentiate between themselves and the characters they are playing while at the same time remain in character and spontaneous requires a sophisticated combination of skills and spirit. The bottom line is this: For those that can do it, it’s a natural combination and they don’t think twice about it. For those that can’t do it, they can bang their heads against a brick wall from now till kingdom come and they still won’t get there.
Leigh’s acting example — that there are two distinct people at work, the actor and the character — is interesting to think about in the context of sports. I wonder if any athletes approach working on their games in this way, differentiating between the player who performs and the person who analyzes the playing. Plenty of athletes refer to themselves in the third person (Rickey Henderson!), I wonder if that’s why.