The kind of actor who doesn’t bother to dig below the surface will consequently never find the things that make their characters tick, or the qualities that make them unique. They will never find the character’s emotional life, an aspect that is crucial to connecting with the audience. The result? Lackluster performances that are tedious to watch.
Granted, some scripts are better than others at giving clues to who the characters are but regardless of the words on the page, how can we, in our job as interpreter of those words, make the characters come to life in such a way that engages the audience?
We need to create a background that informs our character’s consciousness. In real life, things happen to us. Those things are then imbedded into our consciousness. They have sway over how we think, feel and act. Our characters, on the other hand, come to us a blank slate. The writers provide us with a series of events: past, present and future. The director gives us hints and suggestions but how can we use those events and suggestions to form characters that are real, living, breathing human beings?
We begin by addressing three aspects of our character’s lives: the physiology, sociology, and psychology. This helps us create the character’s BONES.
Why the physiology? We need to know our character’s strength. Does he stand up tall? Is she hunched over? If you’re playing royalty you might assume your character should stand strong and tall. But what about Richard III? He was a king who was weak and stooped over. Those physical traits and how different actors portray them have historically had a tremendous impact on their performances. Use what you’re given in the script but challenge yourself to find more. Dig deeper. The script is your guide but not the final word on who you bring to the stage.
Next, from a sociology standpoint, where does your character fit into the social structure of the play? Are you upper class, lower, middle? What kind of work do you do? Are you educated? What was your childhood like? What is your family like now? Did you have a brother who tormented you? A sister who ignored you? How did those things affect who you are now in your relationships? Are you religious? Maybe spiritual? What are your political beliefs? What do you do for fun?
What about your psychology, what are your moral standards? Do you have a satisfying sex life? What frustrates you? Disappoints you? What is your personal credo? What’s your temperament? Are you easy going or rigid? Extroverted or introverted? A little of both? Do your smarts come from books or the street?
By asking and then answering these questions you begin to shape your character’s consciousness. You embark on the process of creating a wealth of information that will influence how you approach your character.
What’s presented here is just the tip of the iceberg. The questions are plentiful and the possibilities endless. Challenge yourself to explore the deepest crevices of your characters. The work you put into this will pay off not only for the audience but also for you as an artist. Remember how you felt the first time you saw Meryl Streep or Dustin Hoffman. Be THAT actor!
Our next free industry workshop will be on the 30th of March and our guest instructor will be casting director Michael Cassera. Also attending my next round of classes is casting director Donna Grossman on March 7th, and lead agent at Stewart Talent, Phillip Casesse on April 14th. So far the following agents, casting directors, directors, and producers have been guests at our free workshops: Casting Directors – Kimberly Graham, Judy Bowman, David Cady, Donna Grossman, and Donna McKenna. Directors – Matthew Penn and Tony Glazer. Producers – Summer Crockett Moore. Agents – David Elliot, Ann Kelly, and Peter Kaiser. Hope you can join us at the next one.