One of the qualities of great actors is that they tend to have a more interesting imagination than average actors. As a result, their acting choices – how they get from A to B – are usually more inventive and surprising. Add up all those choices in a single role and a great actor's interpretation has the stamp of uniqueness.
Whether you're a novice actor or very experienced, it's therefore crucial that you spend time and energy on keeping the muscle of your creative imagination strong and healthy. But how?
For a start, ask yourself: when do you get your most interesting ideas? Because ideas come unbidden. I'll bet it's when you are most relaxed. That might be when you're in the shower, or swimming, or meditating, or when you first wake up in the morning.
The trick then is to transport a bit of that state of mind onto the rehearsal room floor. In other words, to find an optimum state of relaxation. Given the pressures of the business, that might sound a touch improbable. But surely you can remember a time when you were rehearsing and it just seemed like play: the time flew by, everyone was having fun and fizzing with ideas, there was laughter and no one felt any pressure or fear. Those moments may be rare, but they are possible when there is a climate of trust, generosity, openness and being comfortable with taking risks.
You might say it's the director's job to supply that atmosphere. Yes, many directors do create an atmosphere of play, but as an actor you can also contribute to that by working in a trusting, generous, open way that will inspire others in the cast to do the same. It can start with you and spread outwards. This all comes down to your values as an actor – warmth, generosity and enthusiasm, for instance. You choose the values that you bring to the job. The right values will help produce a sense of play. When you play you relax. When you relax, your creative imagination stirs. And then the best ideas come, unbidden, to the surface.