Get Into Character: An Actor’s Guide to Creativity

Where does the beginning of creating your character first come into play?  From what echo do you receive the first sense of something palpable, to help you begin to weave your portrayal?

There are many stories shared from the tellings of talented actors who have blessed us with performances on the stage or screen throughout history.  As an actor, what can you study and gather from such stories and recorded moments that you may use for your own instrument?

When you dive into the work of an actor whose performance touches you, you are opening your soul to more than just an experience because you too are an actor who desires to give.

There is so much inspiration to help you grow in your acting.

When you watch the spontaneous pause of a Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, ‘listening in’ to see if Blanche is overhearing what he wishes to tell his wife in secret.

Who can forget Kim Stanley in The Goddess?

Perhaps the scene in Raging Bull when Robert De Niro takes out his agony on a concrete cell block wall.

Perhaps it’s the power and control held with the utmost restraint from an actor like Al Pacino who suddenly stops in mid-performance on stage while playing in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie because of a woman ‘cough yacking’ in the audience.  Here is Pacino giving a brief reading from the play.

Maybe, it is the stories that travel through time about the great Eleonora Duse and her infamous blush witnessed by George Bernard Shaw, or the break out role from Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage.

This is what we hold ourselves up to as actors.

Everything else is secondary to the commitment and sacrifice you give with your craft.

Fame and fortune can come with the territory but one must never forget what the deeper values of acting must contain.

You have to figure out what it means to you on your own.  You get to define your own moral code in your work.  No one else can do that for you.

It does not matter what religion you are, what nationality you carry in your DNA…we are all one race and good art reminds us we all have a beating heart.

Also, it isn’t inspiration from acting alone that can enrich your soul.  Reading, attending art galleries, going to concerts and so much more feeds your craft, life and soul as an actor.

Creating A Character

First Impression

Is it a sound?  A touch?  A dream?  From where does the first spark take place?

In most cases your first impression with your character will come from a script.

There are situations where there may be a discussion you have with a director ahead of time, before being offered a part.  This can be the beginning phase of character understanding and research.

In other instances, your first encounter with your character may be presented to you in novel form, before receiving the script, if the film or play is being adapted from an original source.

There can be a multitude of ways you are first introduced to your character and you need to be open and ready for all aspects presented to you.

It is always advisable when you first sit down to read your script alone, without distraction.  You need to leave yourself completely open to the first time experience you will receive with the material.  Stanislavski called this the first impression.

Every script you receive will be different and every character you play will be different, therefore the process you take when approaching your character will also be different.

There will always remain a certain set of principles in your work.  Both internally and externally but the way in which you arrive at such choices will all be dependent on the nature of your part and the context of the story.

Your imagination will take on a life of its own and lead you down the right path you must take.  Trust in that.

  • You must always respect and incorporate your own unique process.  There are many ways a character can be built depending on the actor and their own personal craft.  There is no right or wrong way, so long as it is truthful.

What are the circumstances?

Be sure you know the situation and what’s at stake.

Allow your imagination to generate the entire situation for yourself.

It’s one thing to comprehend the scene but yet another thing to express it fully.  How do you express something that you understand but isn’t real to you?  How do you begin making such a situation real to yourself?

Can you identify with your character?  Are there similarities that make for better connections?  What is most distant from you with your character’s situation?  Have you ever been in a similar situation?  What if you were?

Explore your characters circumstances until they become your own.

Find Connections – Research – Development

You need to find connections within you in relation to the material.  You start within yourself.  There really is no other way of beginning because you need to play your own chords. You certainly can’t play someone else’s heart.  You can only play your heart, as the character.  Therefore, you begin with you.

Ask yourself questions.

Questions that contain an abundance of different emotional explorations.  Certain questions you may ask yourself will not stimulate you at all, yet other questions will trigger something real inside of you.  When you receive your first whiff of something that moves you, water that seed and see where it grows.

Acting is about investigating and exploring the world of your character until you eventually merge with that entity.

There are no shortcuts and there never should be.  Do not rush through or walk through your work.  Be patient, take your time and discover.

The more questions you ask yourself about the circumstances at hand.  The more you explore, investigate and experiment, the more you will develop your character.

Continue to contemplate, make choices, play with ideas all the while sewing yourself to your role.  Over time you will bleed into that other person and they will in turn bleed into you.

You may hear a voice.  A particular sound may rise up in your throat and you recognize this as a possible defining moment that brings you closer to your portrayal.  Perhaps a walk suddenly occurs to you and you start to physically walk with some random inner vision that hit you in the middle of the night.

Maybe an imaginary memory flows through you while letting your thoughts go and what has manifested is so deeply personal to you that it stays with you.

All of these elements create character.

It’s important to do your best to remain open at all times.  Not only in rehearsal alone or with the other actors and director but also in your waking life.  Be open to the world.  Nature has a clever way of revealing things to you that you may find useful for your character building and research.

Relationships

The story of your character can also unfold by understanding those relationships that surround you within the script.  Even the relationships that make room for discussions of people you may never come in contact with directly in the story.

Understanding your relationship with people helps to define your character.

The way in which you show your true self to your mother will be quite different as to the way in which you reveal yourself to your local bank teller.  These are sides of your personality and character and can be considered keys to developing and discovering your character from your script when you think in those terms.

Environment – Time Period – Accents

A person born and raised in Japan is going to act quite differently than someone born and raised from the Bronx.

The styles of clothing will defer and so will language and speech patterns.

People from Huntington, New York will speak differently than people from Monticello, New York.  Regional speech also plays a definition in character research and will prove to influence your character’s expression.

Maybe your character is from Ireland but has an English father and a Spanish mother.  This too will influence your character.

These are all things to consider when creating your part.

History

Imaginary memories you create for your character will serve you as life changing moments that have developed your character into who they are in the present tense of the script.

Their may be flashbacks in the story or mentions of your past that will also correlate and define for you more learning material about your character.

Don’t leave out your character’s future aspirations.  Perhaps your character has a dream, a goal, a passion.  This will also possibly unlock some keys for character development.

Physicality

The behavior and mannerisms, the physical movements that make your character tick is something that also creates character.

This can be something as subtle as a smile that differentiates from someone else’s smile.

Does your character walk and talk a certain way as a cover up to how they are truly feeling inside?

Internal Thinking

What does your character think about?

What are the everyday common thoughts to the random thoughts….explore those possibilities.

Music

Maybe there is a song that tells you more about your character than anything else.  Maybe it’s an entire album.

Music can be great for marinating on your character and opens you up to more self-discovery.

Final Thoughts

There is an invisible magic in acting that can never be taught in articles like the one you are reading now or in acting books or acting classes.

You can only give the utmost of yourself in the work and hope that your efforts will have a level of context worthy of the art form.

The magic in acting can never be taught, only guided when it occurs because no one is truly above the work to qualify enough to reveal it’s mystery.  None of us know the mysteries of any art.  This is what makes what we do so beautiful and so special and at best, humbling.

Classes, books and articles exist to help the actor learn about an art form but one must never take any form of art literally.  It is more beneficial to play in the mystery, rather than analyze the art entirely.

Depending on the questions raised and analyses explored, you will begin to weave something of a living person.  This happens over time and on its own accord.

There may be elements that arise that you do not understand but just so happen to work its way organically in your work without rhyme or reason and that is fine.

There cannot be a step by step approach to acting when it pertains to building a character.  One size will never fit all.  One role will have many interpretations.  Even if you played a role and had the opportunity to play the character again years later, there will be nuances and a different path you would take.

The only thing that will always persist is your own fundamental value and truth in your work.  There will always be principles but imagination sets us all free.

CONCLUSION

There is no right or wrong way to construct a living, breathing human being.  This cannot be stated enough.  This article is meant to open up your creativity and feed you with nourishing ideas for your own work and development.

The best work is your own way of working.

Use what works for you along your journey. Continue to mind feed your soul with ideas that will enrich you as a person, so that you may have something more to give back to those that need it.

Any art form is a responsibility and must be taken up with sincerity for the work, commitment, passion, curiosity and enjoyment.

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