Last month the acting bug struck once again and after a long hiatus I started to audition. In the process I was reminded how important character relationships are. I wrote about it in this blog not too long ago but it bears repeating.
All too often actors, myself included, gloss over the very thing we need to pay close attention to. We get sidetracked memorizing the script, figuring out our objectives, or any one of a dozen other things but don’t give enough attention to the most important work we need to do…creating rich relationships.
Often troublesome in real life, relationships in “reel life” can be just as elusive. The good news is when we’re acting, we have a formula to help us figure them out. The first aspect we need to focus on is the fact of the relationship. Is the other character a sibling, a parent, a friend, an enemy, a stranger? A boss, an employee, a teacher, a student?
Once you know the “facts” the next thing you have to figure out is how you “feel” about the other person in the scene. This usually breaks down to one of six possibilities. Do you love him, or do you hate him? Do you admire her or do you resent her? Do you want to help him, or do you want to get in his way? One of these six things cover nearly every relationship we’re ever going to have with anyone in our reel lives as well as our real lives. How you handle your relationships in your real life is up to you but it is imperative that you incorporate these aspects in your reel lives.
The audience, and this includes casting directors and directors, connect to our work on an emotional level. If our emotions aren’t engaged, if we aren’t feeling something, it is unlikely they will either. And guess what? If they don’t “feel it” you probably aren’t going to get the job.
“Feeling it” isn’t a license to overact. Feeling it means you have an honest emotional connection to what is going on in the scene. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, you then need to express it at the right time, in an appropriate manner.
If the scene is long enough and you can express the opposite feeling, so much the better. This keeps the scene from being static. If the character is your brother and you admire him, is there a place in the scene where you might also resent him? This is advanced acting work but worth exploring. It will enrich the scene, add texture and make you a much sought after actor.
My first audition back in the game was for the lead in a film. Doing the work on the relationships, I knew who the other character I was reading with was and how I felt about him. I also knew how I felt about the other character mentioned in the scene, my daughter who had been killed in a car accident. After my first take the casting director said, “John, that was beautiful. I don’t want to touch that.”
Now, sometimes you hear that and it means, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out,” but since the comment was followed by a twenty-minute conversation with the casting director, I knew that wasn’t the case. I haven’t heard anything but I know the casting director was pleased with my work and she will have me back.
My next audition, for the co-star in a TV series, I wasn’t as well connected. And while the audition went okay the relationships weren’t there and I knew I wouldn’t be booking that job!
My third audition, another co-starring role on another television series, I recommitted to the work and created rich and textured relationships. I got a call back. Students often ask, “What can I do to make my callbacks stand out?” My answer? “Make the relationships stronger. Make sure how you feel about the other character(s) is clear.”
At the callback we read two scenes. I knew I loved my brother, the other character in the scene, and wanted to help him. The director liked my choices but then asked me to take it in a different direction. I was able to make the adjustment without losing how I felt about my brother because I had done my relationship work. I left the callback not knowing if I would get the job but knowing I had done what I wanted to do – create a rich and honest relationship.
The next day my agent called to book me. The difference? I nailed the relationships.
Getting a job is like being invited to sit at the big table on Thanksgiving. Make sure you aren’t shortchanging the relationship aspect of your work because sitting at the big table is fun!!
If you’re interested in seeing what this technique is all about I have two new classes starting soon. Check out the Classes page for more info.