What does all this talk about conflicting emotions mean for you as an actor, practically speaking? If a scene clearly seems to be about one emotion to you, go looking for a second emotion. If you relate to the Anger in a scene, look for lines that allow you to put Fear or Sadness with it. If you relate to Joy in the scene, look for the Fear or Sadness as well. (It is also entirely possible to find Anger in a scene that is primarily about Joy, and vice versa, although you may find them co-existing less frequently than the other possible pairing.)
“But,” I hear you say, “if that second emotion is there, won’t I ‘feel’ it?”
Our nature is to look for simple answers to questions, and acting is no different. When we find one answer, we just don’t go looking for a second one, particularly a contradictory one, which can co-exist with the first. We find the first and say, “Voilà! That’s it!”
So when you identify the dominant emotion of a scene, the tendency is to stop there. Sometimes it is so strong that the secondary emotion(s) end up hidden, and you have to root them out.
This is another reason for sticking with the emotions in their pure state. If you start dealing with fancier terms, when you go looking for a second emotion, you’ll find that you’re naming variations of the same primary emotion. “I’m frustrated.” “I’m annoyed.” “I’m resentful.” But they’re all versions of Anger.
But when you are working with the Mad/Sad/Glad family, this won’t happen. Okay, Anger is your primary emotion. Is there anything that happens in the scene that you can be happy about? Sad about? Scared about?
Distilled to these terms, it’s a lot easier to find the hidden emotions.
Once you find the hidden broad stroke emotions, give yourself over to what those feelings mean in the context of the scene. Ignore the primary emotion for the moment, stick with the secondary emotion. (If you’ve found more than one, run the scene twice, focusing on one at a time.)
Again, don’t go for fancy, subtle words, like disenchanted, or devastated, or surprised, or anxious. Go for the kids’ emotions: mad/sad/glad/scared. Get in touch with what it feels like to be angry in the scene before you temper it to simply be disenchanted. Allow yourself to be downright scared before you move back to anxious.
Why is this important? Because the fancier the word you apply to what your character feels, the easier it is to distance yourself from that emotion. It becomes a head exercise, which is interesting if you’re in a literature class, but not particularly useful to an actor!