There are a LOT of things, as in physical things you can do in a scene. Sometimes there will be things written, sometimes, not.
Something like, "HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER." May seem like simple direction, but they can be much, much more.
If there's some kind of action written into the scene, it's there because the author had something very specific in mind for what that character was feeling in that moment. There's a very specific reason that HE TAKES A DRINK OF WATER right then, and not the line before or after it.
What's the reason?
Damned if I know.
Get creative. it could be a litany of reasons...maybe...
...he needed a minute to think
...he wanted to let the guy think about what he said
...he needs to relax
...he was actually thirsty
These are four off the top of my head. I haven't even seen the scene we're talking about.
If there's stage direction, sure, do the literal thing, sometimes that's all you need. But in the whole play/movie, the guy only ever is directed, in the script, to drink twice, why is this one of the times? You answer that, and you've got a little clue to the character, even if you don't have all the info you'd like on them.
In the scene you're about to do, what just happened the "moment before"?
Something ALWAYS happened just before this. Sometimes the script will give you clues, sometimes it's totally up to you.
We could easily make a list of what it could be when it's up to us...
You could have...
...just had a fight.
...just woken up.
...just stepped in dog shit.
...just got laid.
...just had your dog die.
...just got a new job.
...just quit your job.
...just won a $5,000 scratch ticket.
You get the idea.
Go make your own list. At least 10 items. Pic two for the sides today.
P.S. I find it's better to make a list that has nothing to do with the scene you're about to do. This way, you get to try some really random stuff, and have a little more outside-of-the-box fun.
Of course, if it's obvious what just happened, you should probably try on that choice too.
The stuff that we're doing on set, the stuff that fills our life with meaning?
It really ain't that important. Seriously.
Sure we move people. But we're not firefighters, or heart surgeons. What we do is mostly fluff. It's entertainment. Entertainment that makes some people, and hopefully ourselves, a shit-ton of money.
I'm not saying that what we don isn't important, but lets' put it into perspective.
In general, no one is going to lose their life if we mess up a take (nod to the stunt men, for whom this may not be true). It's just another take. Now, once you get past the 3rd or 4th take, you may start costing people money, and by the time you're on take 10, they're wondering what the hell is going on. But still, no one's life is at stake.
What we is important, in context. We all love out-takes, but you don't want the set to be a free-for all. And you don't want to be unprofessional.
Believe it or not, being more relaxed about the whole process will make you better as an actor. More relaxed = more emotion. More emotion = more dramatic takes.
A little trick to make you look a bit more professional for your cold reading scenes when you audition.
Memorize your first and last lines.
Aside from being the easiest lines to remember, just by their nature of being first and last, this also provides you with a great opportunity to connect with your scene partner/reader. You know that you're starting the scene connected with them. And you know that your finishing it connected.
People, in general, tend to remember the first and last impression of a person. Being "off the page" for that first line, gives you a chance to focus on the emotion in the scene, or your task. Then have your finger right there, so when you go down to the page, you're on track.
Memorizing the last line ensures that you're not buried in the page at the end of the scene, for the button at the end of the scene. Give it a try on your next one, see how it works. 🙂
I don't care who you're reading with, look right at them, and do the scene WITH them. Not AT them. WITH them. Get them to feel what you want them to feel, to say things in a certain way.
Putting that effort in will go a very long way in developing a reputation as an actor that connects.