I was recently watching two actors playing a Shakespeare scene – beautifully  spoken and with intense, continuous eye contact – and  I suddenly realised that this just wasn’t real.

 As an actor, you are often taught to maintain strong eye contact, particularly when portraying high status characters. You are encouraged to think that if you give total focus to the other actor in a dialogue, it will be powerful.

The problem is that this doesn’t always look truthful or authentic, because we don’t do that in real life. In fact, in normal conversation we hardly ever maintain continuous eye contact, unless we are lying and want to conceal the truth. When we are thinking, we look away: it’s a human trait. Each movement of the eyes, the head or the spine denotes a different thought. Then we dart back to the eyes of the other person to maintain the thread of the conversation. So there’s variety in the rhythm of eye contact. This is especially important in screen acting where the audience is trying to read the thought in your eyes. 

 But actors get into the habit of speaking with continuous eye contact. Test it for yourself by observing what happens in real life when someone is talking to you.