- In this episode of “Good & Bad Acting,” U.K. acting coach Keira Duffy reviews great, mediocre, and downright terrible anger scenes from movies, breaking down what the actors did right and wrong in their performances.
- Duffy deconstructs some of cinema’s most memorable rage scenes, from Samuel L. Jackon’s simmering Ezekiel 25:17 speech in “Pulp Fiction” to Leonardo DiCaprio’s vein-popping explosion in “The Great Gatsby.”
- She discusses how acclaimed actors like Denzel Washington, Jack Nicholson, and Angela Bassett make their outbursts feel real and explosive on camera – as well as common acting mistakes that can make an anger-fuelled performance veer into ridiculousness.
- Scenes include a range of film genres, including emotional dramas like “Training Day,” and “Revolutionary Road” as well as classic comedies like “Mean Girls,”“Bridesmaids,” and “Honeymoon in Vegas.”
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Alonzo: King Kong ain’t got s— on me!
Keira Duffy: He absolutely embodies the rage that he is feeling.
Regina: Mother – [spits] [screams]
Keira: I don’t believe that she is feeling a gut-wrenching anger…
Hi, I’m Keira, and I’m an acting coach based in the UK. And today I’m going to be looking at rage scenes, the good, the bad, and the in between.
“The Great Gatsby” (2013)
Gatsby: You shut up! Shut up! You shut up! Shut up!
Keira: There’s such an arc of emotion that goes through Leo’s character in such a small space of time.
Gatsby: The only respectable thing about you, old sport, is your money. Your money, that’s it. Now I have just as much as you. That means we’re equal.
Tom: Oh, no, no. We’re different. It’s in our blood. And nothing that you do, or…
Keira: He starts off pretty smug, pretty in control. It’s not long before he’s shaken and rattled, and you just see a quick look of doubt on his face. And then when he’s pushed to breaking point, the buildup in it is so brilliant. The soundtrack absolutely helps. The ticking, along with his facial expression changing, really takes you on that inner journey with him. And you can feel the rage ticking up in him.
Tom: Say, or steal, or dream up can ever change that.
Gatsby: You shut up! Shut up! You shut up!
Keira: And his face is almost contorted by the anger. His cheeks are literally shaking and quivering with his rage.
Gatsby: Shut up! Shut up!
Keira: There’s clear conflict within this scene between the two men, but also between what’s happening internally with his character and what he wants others to think of him. He wants people to think he’s a gentleman, that he’s just like them. The sad thing about this scene is, in his action, he proves that he’s not. What’s beautiful about it, then, is his character’s realisation and how his awareness is initially on the other character, and then grows and sees himself in the room.
Gatsby: My sincerest apologies, I… I seem to have lost my temper.
“A Few Good Men” (1992)
Jessup: You snotty little b——.
Kaffee: Lt. Kendrick ordered the code red, didn’t he? Because that’s what you told Lt. Kendrick to do.
Kaffee: And when it went bad, you cut these guys loose!
Keira: So, when Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson are first talking, the shot’s quite small and the attention is really focused. Tom Cruise is not moving much. The intensity is in the way he says the words, rather than his body really taking over. And in the same shot, he walks away, and as he walks away from camera, his body language gets so much bigger. It’s so well done, and it works really, really well for camera.
Kaffee: You had Markinson sign a phony transfer order! You doctored the logbooks! You coerced the doctor!
Judge: Consider yourself in contempt!
Kaffee: Col. Jessup, did you order the code red?
Keira: The way in which Tom Cruise builds the scene is really clever. Tom Cruise is actively trying to aggravate Jack Nicholson here. So it’s really interesting to see him using anger as a means to get anger out of someone else.
Judge: You don’t have to answer that question.
Jessup: I’ll answer the question. You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!
Keira: Jack Nicholson, as contrast, is extremely still. So both men are showing anger here, but in a very different way. This is a character who believes he is above the law. And he is a respected person, and his ego is high, and he has a lot to lose. So, rather than trying to show his anger, Jack Nicholson’s character is trying to stifle his anger. He’s trying to control it, and he’s trying to keep it down until he no longer can, which is why it’s such a magnetic scene to watch.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessup: I did the job-
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?!
Jessup: You’re godd— right I did!
“Mean Girls” (2004)
Shane: Why are you eating a Kälteen bar?
Regina: I’m starving.
Shane: Coach Carr makes us eat those when we want to move up a weight class.
Shane: They make you gain weight like crazy.
Regina: Mother – [spits] [screams]
Keira: One of the things I really like about it is when she walks into the room and she’s leaning forward, and she has this forward energy. She’s actually screaming for a really long time, and it’s hard to sustain that level of momentum or energy through that sound. And she does a really good job with her physicality of keeping this forward motion.
Usually when we think of anger we think of more deep sounds, more shouting.
Gatsby: Shut up! Shut up!
Keira: But not a high-pitched scream. Her scream is super girly, and it’s a really interesting choice to make in showing anger.
In terms of how much I believe her anger, I don’t believe that she is feeling a gut-wrenching anger like I think some of the other characters we’ve seen are. But that also ties into who she is. She is a very shallow character. And, therefore, it kind of makes sense that the way in which she displays her anger is also quite shallow and veneer-level.
Regina: This girl is the nastiest skank b—- I’ve ever met.
“End of Days” (1999)
Satan: I can make it like it never happened. All for the price of a stranger’s address.
Jericho: No! You will never see the girl!
Satan: You don’t want to see me upset, believe me.
Jericho: Oh, you want to f— with me? You think you know bad, huh? You’re a f—ing choir boy compared to me! A choir boy!
Keira: I do like the way that he uses his voice. He really does let loose and plays with the words and tries to get his anger out in that way. For me, it just doesn’t carry through the inner life just because it feels a little bit broken up. When Arnold punches the mirror, there’s a pause before he turns around and directs his anger at Lucifer.
Keira: Rather than the anger being the thing that pulls him around and drives him towards the other character. It feels a little bit like he’s got the line, he knows what he has to say, and each step is being seen on its own. So, “You will never!”
Jericho: You will never see the girl!
Keira: “Never” is really leaned into, but I don’t believe that that line’s being directed at the other character. I feel like the focus is on the word “never.” Because the listening doesn’t seem to be there as much…
Satan: You and I are so much alike.
Jericho: We’re nothing alike! Nothing!
Keira: I think something that would help is if he pays more attention to the other character. Switching your attention away from, “How can I show that I’m angry?” onto the other person and how you see them.
Jericho: I want you to go to hell.
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
Jules: What does Marsellus Wallace look like?
Jules: What country you from?
Jules: What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in What?
Say “what” again, I dare you. I double dare you, motherf—er. Say “what” one more godd— time.
Keira: The focus is completely there from Samuel L. Jackson, the way that he’s just so intently staring at the guy he’s about to gun down. It completely pulls your attention as a viewer.
Jules: Well, there’s this passage I got memorized. Sort of fits this occasion. Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.”
Keira: It’s almost like there’s, well, there is, literally, a target in front of him, and everything he’s saying is delivered pointedly to that target. As well as the gunshots, his words. He is very much in control of what he’s saying. There’s no superfluous movement or breath, anything. So even though he’s showing anger, there is a performative element to this whole sequence. This is a rehearsed piece.
Jules: “And I will strike down upon thee, with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers!”
Keira: He really lengthens and leans into the words, so it feels biblical. Obviously it’s from the Bible, but it gets a sense of power that really comes through, the way he says “furious.”
Jules: “With great vengeance and furious anger.”
“And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee.”
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Keira: In this scene, you really get the sense of the primal aspect of anger. There’s no audience here; he’s not doing it for anyone else. It’s just pure rage that’s coming out. I think he does such a good job in it. He lets it into his whole body, his whole face.
I particularly love the way that he turns away from the mirror when the mirror is broken, and you catch his reflection, and all that rage has just dropped off of him. Even though the rage isn’t showing on him anymore, there’s still a darkness behind his eyes, and you feel like it’s part of his narrative that will carry on with him. So in contrast to the scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where it felt more episodic – Arnold Schwarzenegger hit the mirror and stopped there, and you felt like it was a moment that began and ended there – with this, you see the buildup in Jake Gyllenhaal’s face as he’s about to scream, as he reaches for the mirror. And you feel that energy carrying through with him afterwards.
Rick: What the f—? Godd— it.
“Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992)
Airline agent: Well, there are several restrictions.
Jack: What’s this guy doing, around the world in 80 days?
Airline customer: Lighten up.
Jack: You lighten up! Look, I’ve got a major problem, OK? My fiancée was kidnapped and taken to Hawaii. I’ve got to get there now!
Walter: Well, I’m trying to make arrangements to get to Milwaukee for my nephew Douglas’ wedding on the 21st.
Jack: You’re not even flying today?
Keira: Something that I find really funny in this scene is the way he overemphasizes words. “You’re not even flying today?” “In 80 days?”
Walter: Well, Consumer Reports said that if you make your travel arrangements two weeks in advance at the airport-
Jack: You’re seeing this line? We’re all flying today.
Airline agent: Please, sir. If you don’t get back on-
Jack: Then what?! I’ll be arrested? Put in airport jail?!
Keira: He kind of comes across to me a little bit like a sulky teenager, the way he delivers some of his lines. But I think the ridiculousness of it makes it funny. You can kind of see this kid-like quality he has when another person waiting in queue tells him to lighten up, and he responds, “You lighten up!” It’s almost like he’s just having a squabble with his sister. So it really works in this scene because you see someone who is an adult, who’s extremely frustrated, but who’s just acting like a big kid.
Jack: Get your godd— ticket and move on! [cheering]
“Revolutionary Road” (2008)
April: [laughing] Oh, Frank, you really are a wonderful talker. If black could be made into white by talking, you’d be the man for the job!
Keira: Sometimes when people are doing a scene, they can lean into the most obvious choice of, “Oh, I’m angry, therefore everything must come out in a really attacking, aggressive, loud way.” And she does the opposite.
April: So now I’m crazy because I don’t love you, right? Is that the point?
Frank: No, wrong! You’re not crazy, and you do love me.
April: But I don’t. I hate you. You were just some boy who made me laugh at a party once, and now I loathe the sight of you.
Keira: She takes it really light, she laughs a lot. There’s a feeling that’s she reached her threshold and gone beyond that, which is why there is this chaotic, manic laughing that comes about.
April: In fact, if you come any closer, if you touch me or anything, I think I’ll scream.
Frank: Come on, stop this, April.
Keira: I love the bit when she almost dares Leonardo to touch her. She has this fire in her eyes. And when he does, you see the exhilaration as she screams. It’s like she’s unbound herself. She’s not constrained to the conventions of a normal conversation anymore. It’s one of the most fascinating things to see on screen, when the power shifts between two characters. And in this scene, that is that moment. And then I think the choices she makes in it are brilliant.
Lillian: Helen’s taking me to Paris.
You are taking me to Paris?! Thank you so much!
Helen: À Paris!
Annie: Are you f—ing kidding me?
Annie: No, Mum. Motherf—ing Paris?
Keira: I love the way that she drops in the first line. You see everyone around all reacting really happy, and then you see that disbelief growing in her, and the decision of when to say something. And she drops it in such an almost casual way, but it cuts across on top of everything.
Annie: Are you f—ing kidding me?
Lillian: Annie, calm down.
Annie: No, Lillian. What, are you gonna go, you’re gonna go to Paris with Helen now? What, are you gonna, you guys gonna ride around on bikes with berets and f—ing baguettes in the basket of the front of your bikes? Oh, how romantic!
Keira: So, one of the things that happens throughout the film is lots of little moments of passive aggression. So you really feel a release happening within this scene. As she gets angrier, a bit like the other comedy scenes, she uses her body more. The physicality comes in. She uses her voice really well to go from really big, to bringing it back smaller again.
Annie: What, are you gonna go, you’re gonna go to Paris with Helen now?
Annie: Lillian, this is not the you that I know. Look at this shower! Look at that f—ing cookie. Did you really think that this group of women was gonna finish that cookie?
Keira: She really leans into words, specifically about the cookie.
Annie: Oh, you know what? That reminds me, actually. I never got a chance to try that f—ing cookie!
Keira: She does really well to stay on the line of comedy, but also getting a sense of real emotion come through. And I think the way in which she achieves this is because, even though she is having an outburst, it’s still focused on a recipient, and that is her best friend. And you feel the honesty that comes through with that. So whilst it’s funny, you really, really feel for her character, too.
Annie: Ooh, delicious. Stupid cookie, I think I’ll – [grunts] Maybe it’s better if I dip it in the chocolate!
“Judge Dredd” (1995)
Judge: I should have put you down myself, personally.
Rico: You know, I never understood that. Why did you judge me? Why did you judge me?
Keira: There’s not really any pause or moment in between each line.
Judge: You killed innocent people.
Rico: The means to an end.
Judge: You started a massacre.
Rico: I caused a revolution.
Judge: You betrayed the law!
Keira: So it’s just this fast pace as it builds up and builds up to that final word.
Judge: You betrayed the law!
Keira: It’s definitely an entertaining scene to watch. But when they’re both going at that scene, you get this sense of – they’re both trying to show anger, but they’re not particularly listening or reacting to each other, which is why the inner life isn’t coming through so much. It’s kind of interesting because the characters are actually playing people who have been cloned. They’re not really aware if they have emotions in the same sense of other people. And in this sequence, you can see them trying to access rage. But I don’t feel like the choice to either be kind of robotic or the choice to be really feeling those emotions is fully committed to. That, I think, would have been stronger as a scene. But it kind of falls somewhere in the middle.
Rico: I betrayed this!
“Waiting to Exhale” (1995)
Bernadine: This motherf—er is psychotic. I bet you there’s serial killers less anal.
Keira: It’s an interesting scene because there’s no one else there, and that can be really difficult, when you’re playing a monologue and you don’t have anyone to respond to. So she does a really good job at taking out a lot of her anger on the objects that she’s handling. So she’s ripping everything apart. And there’s a power that comes with that. This resolution that, “I’m gonna kick you out.”
Bernadine: Couldn’t have started that d— company without me! I mean, I got a master’s degree in business, and there I was, his secretary, his office manager, and his computer!
Keira: And it’s interesting that every time she goes down the stairs, the tone changes slightly to almost more of a sobbing tone.
Bernadine: I need you to be the f—ing background to my foreground.
Keira: This powerful action of ripping the clothes off and then the awkwardness of taking everything out the house gets into this more sad and helpless emotion. So I really like the contrast between those.
Bernadine: Get your s— and get out!
Keira: I think she may also be improvising this scene, which gets across the feeling of just raw emotion and anger. One of the things that she does in it which I specifically love is when she gets in the car and she flicks down the sun shield and then flicks it back up and carries on. And it feels like, because she’s just moving so quickly, her body’s moving before she’s thinking. You feel like this is someone who’s living in the moment.
I love, in this scene, the ending. The composed, together character that comes across, in complete juxtaposition from everything we have just seen, as she calmly lights her cigarette and drops the match on the car.
Howard: I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressmen, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, godd— it! My life has value!”
Keira: His character’s described as the mad prophet as the film goes on, and you see the power that he has in this scene. There’s a real life and fire behind his eyes, and you feel the urgency.
Howard: I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.
Keira: There’s a looseness in his facial muscles, which really gets that mad energy across, too. And one of the things I really love is when he finishes a statement, his mouth is almost relaxed in this area, his chin out slightly.
Howard: I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.
Keira: And I don’t think he’s specifically thinking, “Oh, I need my face to look like this.” But there’s an element that is kind of raw in his face. It’s not well presented. His expression is so wild that you really get that frenetic energy coming across from him. It makes him seem a little bit unhinged.
Howard: I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
Keira: But what he delivers is actually a very persuasive argument. And the public responds to it.
Howard: And stick your head out and yell, and keep yelling!
Man: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!
Keira: He does so well with this because he’s so pointedly staring at the camera. He never deviates from his message, he never looks around. He has no awareness, actually, of being in a studio. The only thing that’s important to him is delivering his message to the people.
People: I’m mad as hell! I’m mad as hell! I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!
“Training Day” (2001)
Alonzo: I’m putting cases on all you b—-es. Huh? You think you can do this s—? Jake! You think you can do this to me?!
Keira: I can see the stakes are real for him, I can see the pressure he’s under, and it all comes out in such a raw and physical way.
Alonzo: You motherf—ers will be playing basketball in Pelican Bay when I get finished with you! 23-hour lockdown! I’m the man up in this piece!
Keira: This guy is an egomaniac. He really believes he is the most powerful guy there, or he at least believes he needs to prove that at every opportunity. And you can see him really using every fibre of his body to get the message across. He absolutely embodies the rage that he is feeling. He’s beating his chest, he’s standing with his shoulders back, he’s really facing off to everyone.
Alonzo: I’m the police! I run s— here! You just live here!
Keira: And, vocally, you hear the words coming all the way from his gut. You feel he’s connected to every single word he is saying.
Alonzo: Go on, walk away, ’cause I’ma burn this motherf—er down. King Kong ain’t got s— on me!
Keira: Although he’s really trying to show that he is the most powerful guy there, he’s also reached the end of the road. And you can see that in his expression. There’s an absolute desperation behind his eyes. I feel like it’s like a man who’s drowning, and is therefore thrashing around to try and save his life, but it’s pointless. It’s not gonna get him anywhere. I think some of the lines are also improvised within the scene. I think the King Kong line is improvised, which just gives you an idea of how much he was really living in that moment.
Alonzo: King Kong ain’t got s— on me!
Keira: It’s the difference between portraying or presenting an emotion really well and really accessing it within you. And he absolutely nails that in this scene.
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