6.4 Facial Expressions: Emotions and Mentality

Movie Making Techniques for Actors and Actor Directors
6.4.1 Introduction to Facial Expressions:

What you'll see next are a large selection of facial expressions reflecting emotions and mental situations.

Any serious actor is recommended to learn and master these expressions through training all his/her face muscles effectively and recording him/ herself.

The speed of how you can display them effectively, is a direct indication of your talent.

Only a professional observer can judge your performance. Never be tricked into thinking yourself persuasive. Most people think they can do so but give rediculous results. Happiness: (laughing, smiling)

A smile or laughter is the most recognized emotion from a distance.

When smiling or laughing, cheeks are pulled up and out. The mouth sides are pulled backwards as well as slightly upwards*. This slight upper movement pushes the upper eyelids and produces wrinkles around the eyes. Also, the mouth seems to get closer to the nose.

When laughing, the jaw drops and the upper teeth and gum appear. The upper lip appears to be straight and the lower teeth also expose in a big laugh.

For smiling, the lips push flat against each other. And remember, a true smile is symmetrical. It forms evenly and disappears gradually. It rarely takes more than a couple of seconds. Also, it does not preceed or lag the idea or happy situation in concern.

Catherine Zeta Jones Shy Smile
Fig. 1: Catherine Zeta Jones
and a Beautiful Shy Smile

(in "America's Sweethearts")

Rachael Taylor Laughing
Fig. 2: Rachael Taylor's
Sincere Big Smile

Sharon Stone Smile
Fig. 3: Sharon Stone
and her True Smile

(in "Cold Steel")
*A major way to express a false smile, which is not hard at all, is pulling the mouth horizontally backward without the slight upward movement and keeping it for several seconds, in addition to lack of synchronization with the initiating situation or idea. Contempt:

When an asymmetrical smile forms, by raising one side of the lips, it denotes contempt.

Contempt is not happiness, although it may have some slight feeling of happiness.

It is a good or okay feeling, when the person is showing it to someone or something.

However, a person doesn't have to be contempt about something or somebody else only.

A person can be Contempt with him/ herself (in Lebanese: mabsout bi7alo), for which the head may be also tilted up to feel as if looking down on others.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 4: Rachael Taylor
Contempt Smile Sadness:

In sadness, the eyebrows are raised from the inner sides and brought nearer. The cheek may be pulled slightly upwards, the mouth ends pulled downwards and the chin is raised. (Fig. 5)

If the mouth opens for crying, it looks square. Anger:

Anger may not be good for health, but it's good for movies.

An angry person has his/her eyebrows pulled downwards towards the inner sides and drawn together. The upper and lower eyelids are raised, the nostrils dilate, the face redens and vains show in the head.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 5: Rachael Taylor
Sad in "Shutter"

The lips are either tightened together and jaw clenched (Fig. 6), or the mouth become square to expose the teeth clenched or open if talking (Figs. 7 & 8).

Below are three angry woman - one of them has a gun! - thank God we're not their boyfriends!

Sharon Stone
Fig. 6: Sharon Stone's Determined Anger
(in "The Quick and the Dead")

Catherine Zeta Jones
Fig. 7: Catherine Zeta Jones's
Angry Talk (in "America's Sweethearts")

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 8: Rachael Taylor's Raging Anger (in "Shutter") Fear:

In Fear (Fig. 9), the eyebrows are raised, drawn together and appear straight. The upper and lower eyelids are raised. The mouth is opened and pulls outwards.

The fear expression freezes the face and usually lasts some time.

You've probably observed it with many woman when seeing a cat or a roach, and some faint from the sight of a dog. Fear in such incidents may be accompanied with screaming loudness above the human tolerance level and should be banned.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 9: A Very Expressive Fear Expression for Rachael Taylor in "Shutter" Surprise:

Whenever someone is surprised, his/her eyebrows are raised up and arched, the eyelids may be raised, the lower jaw drops and the lips are parted. (Fig. 10)

It is a brief expression, and may be followed by a smile, laughter, fear, sadness etc...

Many people freeze a surprise look upon their faces to show that they are happy meeting you. But that's fake.

People always lie and try to act, why don't they learn to act right at least.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 10: Rachael Taylor Surprised
in "Shutter" Pain:

In extreme pain, the eyes are tightly closed, cheeks raised, and eyebrows pulled together and downwards.

The mouth may be wide open, with square lips, preparing for screaming or yelling (Fig. 11), or the jaw is pressed for less intense pain. Disgust:

Disgust is an expression of complete repulsion (Fig. 12).

The upper lips are pulled upwards from the sides.

As the intensity of repulsion increases, the lower lip is pulled downwards from sides.

The eyebrows are pulled downwards from center but not towards each other and the eyes narrow. Mockery:

A mocking person has his/her mouth ends tightened slightly upwards and backwards, but not outward like with a true smile.

The cheeks are elevated to push against lower eyelids, the eyes are half open, accompanied with head tilting and short up and down or side head movements. Doubt:

A doubtful person will usually lower his/her head or tilt it. Usually he/she will have one eyebrow lifted and eyes half closed. The mouth corners are pulled downwards and the the mouth may protrude a little.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 11: The Pain Expression of Rachael Taylor in "Shutter"

Cynthia Khater
Fig. 12: A Disgust Expression of
Cynthia Khater Unfamiliarity:

An unfamiliar person will have his/her mouth corners pulled downwards and mouth protruded. The head swings from side to side. The eyebrowes may lift altogether indicating a "No I don't know". Excitement:

An excited person draws a smile upon his face.

However, the eyes are not wrinkled, like with smiling; they are wide open and the eyebrows may pull from the sides.

Catherine was really excited fooling around with Zorro (Fig. 13);

Hey let's not get too excited with that sword Ma'am!

Catherine Zeta Jones
Fig. 13: Catherine Zeta Jones: Excitingly Charismatic in "The mask of Zorro" Boredom:

Boredom, we always experience it, because we see too many situations, subjects or people that are boring! For them, the feeling is mutual!

In boredom, the edges of the mouth are slightly raised and pulled backwards, the eyes are halfway open, if not nearly closed.

The boredom expression is best indicated with associated body expressions: when the cheek leans totally on the hand, the fingers start drumming on a table, or the legs start vibrating as a last resort to try to amuse oneself. (Fig. 14) Pity:

Pity is some sort of "controlled" sadness.

Like sadness, the eyebrows are slightly raised from inner side slightly and brought nearer, and the eyes are narrowed.

However, the mouth corners are not pulled downwards, rather, they are pulled slightly upwards. (Fig. 15) Interest:

An interested person has his/her eyebrows raised, jaw relaxed, head advanced forward, and a focusing eye gaze. (Fig. 16) Concentration:

While concentrating, the eyebrows are slightly brought downwards towards the inner sides, the eyes are open, and the lips tightened and protruded a bit. (Fig. 17) Worry:

Worriedness is expressed by drawing the eyebrows slightly downwards and together, and the lips tightened together and pulled slightly upwards and backwards. (Fig. 18) Determination:

In determination, the jaw is shut firmly and the face held without expressions. (Fig. 19) Embarrassement:

Embarrassment is self consciousness under direct attention of others. (Fig. 20)

When someone is shy or embarrassed he/ she will usually lower the eyes and head. But blushing is the major sign, which seems to be lost as the person ages.

Frankly, I never met an actor or actress that can force him/herself to blush!

Cynthia Khater
Fig. 14: A Boredom Expression of
Cynthia Khater

Sharon Stone
Fig. 15: Sharon Stone's Touching Affection in "Gloria"

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 16: Rachael Taylor Interested in Learning Facial Expressions
in "Shutter" Self Thinking:

When a person is self thinking, he/she will lower his/her eyes as well as head.

The eyes also freeze in a diverging relaxed position, without any concentration. (Fig. 21)

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 17: Rachael Taylor Concentrating
in "Shutter"

Sharon Stone
Fig. 18: Sharon Stone Really Worried
in "Gloria"

Sharon Stone
Fig. 19: Sharon Stone's Determination
in "Gloria"

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 20: Rachael Taylor blushing onset of "Transformers"

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 21: Rachael Taylor's Self Thinking
in "Shutter" Stupidity:

Does stupidity have a look? Suppose I'm stupid, can people tell? Even if I didn't say a word?

As long as you don't say a word or make any facial reaction, people cannot judge you first. But as some time passes by, you may be forced to express or say something.

My advice is don't do anything if you are not certain of what to say and willing to prove it. It's better to be categorized as not smart than stupid.

Many girls I know as well as some boys are categorized as "stupid", because they do or did this expression:

See that empty look of surprise and happiness, those relaxed eyes looking nowhere, thinking of nothing, or that open mouth with the tip of the tongue appearing. (Fig. 22)

You are a movie maker or actor, searching for more, that's why you are reading this. You are smart.

Rachael Taylor
Fig. 22: Rachael Taylor
Posing for the Stupid Look

6.4.2 Using Facial Expressions Effectively:

Although we know what facial expressions mean, in life we tend to mask much of our emotions.

This translates to movies, depending on the character and genre you're playing:

A very emotional expressive character, such as the works of Ava Gardner (Fig. 23), will show many of these. But a tough Clint Eastwood, may not show anything at all.

Also, in Comedy and Drama, it may be good to express these expressions. But, for a Mystery, Action or Thriller movie, it may not be advisable at all.

Other times an opposite expression makes the real tension, such as a murderer that smiles so warmly for the character he's about to kill.

It's all about the confict, the interior feelings and context against the observed expression.


Ava Gardner
Fig. 23: Ava Gardner's Emotional Display
in "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman"


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