In school, teachers have been telling us all to give every scene our all, no matter what’s going on. They aren’t telling us not to get sick, as that’s just physically impossible. What they’re trying to say is that when you’re working, you have a responsibility to the people you’re working with, to the work, and to yourself to bring everything you have to bear at any given moment. Some of the best work I’ve seen from my fellow students at the Atlantic Acting School has happened when they were seriously under the weather.
A lot of us seem to fear fully dedicating ourselves, really committing to a scene where we know our character is destined to fail. We instinctively pull back to protect ourselves from the feelings that go along with failure, and the scene loses a great deal of poignancy that way.
The simplest way for me to reconcile the two is to point something out: when you’re ill your focus is on trying not to pass out and still get the work done; you just don’t have enough left in the tank to worry about how terrible it’ll feel to not get what you want in the scene. At least, that’s been my experience in the past.
"Don’t worry about having enough energy for the job; whatever you have is enough."
Don’t worry about having enough energy for the job; whatever you have is enough. Just make sure you don’t hold anything back because everyone will know it. Obviously staged intimacy gets a little iffy if you’re sick; you then need to discuss that with the director and your scene partner. When it comes to fighting, same thing applies; if you’re feverish and having trouble keeping your thoughts straight then you need to be careful about following the fight choreography. Anything you need to do, you should know well enough that it takes up very little of whatever precious processing power you have left. If your lines are perfectly memorized and your blocking is physically ingrained, you’ll be just fine.
The one thing you really don’t have to worry about is looking like you’re trying hard enough. If you’re sick then everything takes more effort and you have simply less energy available to you. It’s like walking around normally versus trying to wade through knee-deep water.
Long story short, if you’ve got the flu and you’re working, don’t just call it in. Give it whatever you’ve got and if you’re too sick then they’ll either work around your recovery or you’ll be taken off the project. There’s nothing you can do about it, but if you put in the work they’ll be a lot more likely to keep you.