We actors hate it when a director basically tells you how to say the line. It feels like the director is more of a puppeteer with his hand shoved way up your backside, trying to make your mouth parrot how he thinks it should sound, like Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy. The better (and more experienced) directors know better than to do this, because it invariably will make the actor totally turn off (and secretly get pissed). But sometimes, a director with the best intentions will resort to a line reading because they don’t know how else to communicate what they’re looking for.
In those cases, I tend to be a little more sympathetic, and try to interpret what the director is actually saying he’s wanting in that direction. Douchebaggery is pretty obvious — one can easily spot a control freak. But a genuine director might end up doing line readings out of sheer enthusiasm for the process.
I generally don’t parrot back the line exactly as dictated to me, because it never sounds right. Usually the director won’t like it that way either, so he’ll give you another line reading which sounds exactly the same. It then becomes a game of doing your best voice impression for the director and is an exercise in futility.
Instead, I try to listen to the intent behind the line reading. Usually when you get a line reading it’s because your intention in the scene isn’t what the director is looking for. If you can translate the director’s delivery of your line and understand what intention he wants you to have, then you can find the specific intention, deliver the line your own way, and he will probably think it’s spot on exactly the way he wanted.
At the risk of giving up one of my trade secrets, I can tell you that it’s much better to use stealth and to be more ninja-like in your work, instead of getting confrontational. We creative folks have fragile egos at times, and it’s much better to “play well with others” than to let our own ego get the best of us. Don’t be the one that the showrunners think “doth protest too much”, or thou might find thee without the gig.