There is a moment in the 1980s movie Thelma and Louise when a young actor walks on to the
screen. In the film his role is a little larger than a bit part, just a two-bit hustler who steals a heart
and a bag full of cash to conveniently move the plot on to the next stage. The reality however is
something else. From the moment a young Brad Pitt enters the scene, the audience knows he’s
going to be a star.
What is it that picks out just a handful of actors and actresses, from a global cast of many thousands,
and makes them something special, even amongst their peers? The answer is star quality. Those that
shine brightest have that je ne sais quoi that you can’t quite put your finger on, which makes them
stand out on camera and it’s not just the ‘easy-on-the-eye’ ones either.
Star Quality Comes Naturally
Hollywood is the natural home to many of these ‘stars’, but even the star-making factory itself
cannot control who the audience naturally warms to. For example, Alec Guinness was a great actor
and the critics choice, but he never had the same star quality as swashbuckling Errol Flynn who was
an average actor at best. As for actresses, much has been made of Jennifer Lawrence’s star quality
and Judi Dench shows that it is not an age thing – quite a turnaround for an actress who was once
told that she didn’t have a face for film!
George Clooney once admitted to an interviewer that ‘it’s all about having a secret,’ and this
perhaps hints at what that star quality is. Those that have it exude it. It seems to come naturally to
them, or rather they are natural in the way they connect with the camera, projecting an intimacy
and a connection with their audience that seems to reach out beyond the lens.
Good looks are not a requisite for star quality. While they certainly help in the Hollywood industry,
off the big screen star quality often announces itself in the form of presence. The Dimbleby brothers,
Jonathan and David, are some of the best presenters to have ever graced the British small screen.
Both have a twinkle in their eye, neither has been described as a sex symbol to the best of my
knowledge (and apologies if I am wrong) yet both have made careers from outperforming many of
the household public figures they have hosted. They are a fine example of how having presence and
assuredness can carry an audience.
Can I Get Some Star Quality Please?
Star quality. If you’ve got it, you probably know it. If you haven’t, it’s not something you can buy off
the shelf. However, most of us are not aiming for Pitt/Lawrence star quality when we are stepping in
front of the camera, we just want to do a decent job, free of gaffes and look comfortable in our own
However, many will go on to surprise themselves, performing far better than they thought they
would with some basic coaching. Without inherent star quality there are tricks and techniques that
will transform a performance. Confidence imbues confidence and with it comes a change in how
one holds oneself and projects to the camera.
The trick to star quality is about not trying too hard… almost to the point of not trying at all. You
know that feeling that comes along, once in a while, on a day when you feel different; as if you are
walking on air, as if as if there is an impenetrable aura about you and the surrounding world seems
to notice it (however fleetingly). That’s the essence of star quality. It may be impossible to bottle,
but if you can at least hold that thought or play that role before stepping in front of the camera, it
becomes no more difficult to play with than a prop, like a pen or a glass, in your next big scene.
You can make changes that will bring about a difference.