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The Secret Meaning of Hand Gestures: A Guide for Actors

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

By Faith Hibbs-Clark, Founder

As an actor, your body must become an extension of your character. Have you ever considered the power of hand gestures in portraying a character? Hand gestures can provide valuable clues about a person's behavior and personality. Understanding their meanings can help you develop a more authentic and convincing character. In this article, we will explore some common hand gestures and their hidden meanings and provide some tips for actors on how to use them to communicate more effectively.

The human hand is an incredibly expressive part of the body, and we use it to communicate our feelings, desires, and intentions. For example, a clenched fist can represent anger or determination, while a palm-up gesture can convey openness or vulnerability. By understanding these gestures, actors can bring a greater sense of authenticity to their characters.

Let's explore some examples of common hand gestures and their secret meanings:

1) Crossed arms: This gesture communicates defensiveness, resistance, or discomfort. It is commonly used when a character is feeling insecure or threatened.

2) Choppy hand movements: These quick, sharp gestures are often used to convey aggression or impatience. They can also indicate a lack of control or restraint.

3) Clasping hands: This gesture can represent a desire for comfort, support, or reassurance. It is often used when a character is feeling vulnerable or uncertain.

4) Pointing: This gesture can be used to signify aggression, frustration, or urgency. It can also be used to direct attention to a specific object or person.

5) The Palm: Showing an open palm is a gesture of sincerity, honesty, and peace. However, a raised palm can show stop or stay-away signals.

6) The Rub: Rubbing one's hands together can indicate greed or anticipation. It might also convey your character's nervousness.

7) The Flick: A flick is a subtle yet powerful gesture that can be used to show indifference, impatience, or irritation. It involves a quick, dismissive movement of the hand.

8) Hidden Birdie Gesture: This gesture is formed when someone gestures with their middle finger slightly extended. It can be used to signify hidden anger in a passive-aggressive manner. This is one of my personal favorites because it is not a commonly known hand gesture, but the meaning of it can easily be felt.

As an actor, understanding the hidden meaning behind these hand gestures can help you to embody your character better and bring a sense of authenticity to your performance. Incorporating hand gestures that align with the character’s emotions or personality can enhance the credibility of the scene.

Using Hand Gestures to Convey Character & Personalities:

Hand gestures can help actors convey their character's emotions and personalities. For example, a person who is hiding something might fidget with their hands or keep them in their pockets. A confident and powerful character might use expansive gestures, while a shy and introverted character might use more subtle gestures. The key is to use hand gestures that feel authentic to the character and the situation.

Hand Gestures for Specific Contexts:

To use hand gestures more effectively, actors must first consider the emotional context of the scene and the character's personality.

Hand gestures can also be used to create emotional context-specific behaviors for characters. For example, a doctor might use specific hand gestures during a surgery, or a chef might use hand gestures while cooking. Using context-specific hand gestures can help actors bring realism and authenticity to their performances.

Hand Gestures to Show Different Cultures:

It is essential to be aware of cultural differences in hand gestures and to make sure that your character's gestures match their cultural background. For example, the okay sign in the United States shows approval. However, in some countries, such as Brazil, it is considered an obscene gesture. Researching cultural differences in hand gestures could be the detail in an audition that helps them get the part.

It’s important to remember that hand gestures are just one aspect of the body language that actors use to convey emotional context, meaning, and personality. However, by mastering the use of hand gestures, actors can create a more compelling and realistic portrayal of their characters.

Hand gestures are a powerful visual communication tool in the actor's toolbox. They can reveal much about a character's emotional state, motives, and personality. By mastering the use of hand gestures, actors can bring an added sense of authenticity to their performances and maintain the audience's engagement which we call "neural coupling" in the CMFA "Acting Science" method.

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC & the creator of the Acting Science Method ™. 

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