I direct actors the same way I approach cinematography. I set all the necessary preconditions and then proceed with intent. I set the objective of the scene… to prepare to ride a bull, for example, and imbue it with a particular meaning… to show the bull rider’s nervous rituals before entering the arena.
First, I would cast someone who knows how to ride a bull, who has actually prepared for a rodeo and knows first-hand the rituals and procedures. Action will therefore come naturally, as he already understands the dangers involved and will show the emotions we’re looking for.
Second, I focus on the simple physical action. “Wrap your hands with tape.” There is no need to over-dramatize. Simple adjectives, “deliberately” or “slowly” can go a long way. By focusing on the physical motion, it allows the actor to give the most of themselves to the scene. The action does not need to carry the weight of the entire spot – that is what editing is for. The simpler the interpretation of the action, the more human emotion will be present.