What is It Called When an Actor Goes Off-Script?

Actors are usually given a script to work with, which they have to thoroughly read and memorize so that they can nail every line at the right exact time.

But sometimes, actors will go off-script, and act out or say something that they weren’t supposed to, or that at the very least wasn’t scripted beforehand. When an actor does this and goes off-script, it is said that they are ad libbing, or using ad lib. They can also be said to be doing impromptu dialogue or actions, as it is something out of the blue that wasn’t planned. 

Some people refer to going off-script as improvisation. But here’s the thing. Improvisation is the practice of performing or acting out something when there is no script, to begin with, so everything is impromptu and improvised.

When actors go off the script, they simply ignore or forget what was scripted, and add in their own impromptu dialogue or action, which is ad libbing.

Do actors improvise in movies?

Movies will generally have a very long script that has been redacted time and time again, and that has been handed out to the actors to be studied and rehearsed, so they know exactly what they’re doing and saying during the filming process. However, this doesn’t mean that actors in movies never improvise. In fact, there is a lot of improvisation in movies, as actors will be re-filming the same scenes over and over, and will occasionally change them up with some improvised line or action, to see if it works or if it adds any difference to the scene as a whole. Sometimes, the director will even instruct the actors to forget about the script and to improvise within a scene, to get a feel of the story and characters, and to come up with new ideas. Other times, actors will randomly improvise, sometimes out of a mistake or because of a certain circumstance, and the improvised scene will be the one that makes it into the final cut of the film! Movies are a long process, so actors get plenty of chances to improvise and maybe give their input on the script itself. Although it is far easier to improvise in live performances, as there is no re-filming to be done then!

What are sides in auditions?

There are many acting-specific terms in the world of drama, and one of these is ‘sides’. Specifically, the sides in auditions. But what are they? Well, a side in an audition is essentially the small sections or chunks of script that are provided to the actor as material for the audition. So the side is basically the bit that you will perform during the casting auditions, to showcase what you would look like performing as a certain character in a certain part of the script. Usually, the sides will be provided before the audition, at least a day in advance. The actor is then expected to become familiar with the entire section, which will range in size (could be a few lines, or a few full pages of script, depending on the audition).

When you get to the audition, you will then be asked to perform the side you were provided with, which relates to a specific section of the overall script! The term ‘side’ might seem odd to refer to a specific scene. Why not simply call it a scene or a section?

The term actually goes all the way back to William Shakespeare. Back then, it was important to save paper, as it was costly. So when rehearsing, actors were only given their side of the story, or their side of the scene, with just the lines that they needed to know.

So when you’re getting a single section for your audition, it’s also referred to as getting your side. Seen like that, it kind of makes sense!

Famous improvised scenes in movies:

As we’ve said, it is very possible for actors to improvise in movies, and they actually do it quite often. In fact, some of the most iconic lines or scenes from movies are completely improvised by the actors themselves! Here are a few of the most famous improvisations in movies:

  • In 300, the famous “This is Sparta!” line which is the most quoted from the movie, is completely improvised by Gerard Butler himself! It was originally supposed to be whispered, but he decided to yell it out, turning it into an epic battle cry.
  • In Titanic, the line “I’m the king of the world” yelled out by Jack when he’s standing at the front of the boat, is improvised by Leonardo DiCaprio. The director loved it, and it made it into the final cut!
  • In Iron Man, one of the most iconic phrases is the timeless “I am Iron Man”, which goes on to form a legacy of the superhero in the following movies. And yes, it was completely improvised by Robert Downey Jr!