Character Work 101: Getting into Character for Your Role
Besides being part of a kick-ass or heartwarming story, acting is also a field of study. Technique is vital to any actor who takes their work seriously, so if you’re planning to take on hundreds of roles, you’ll soon be able to recognize layers of personality or depths in thoughts inside even a fictional character. Aside from interpreting a character, your technique in getting into character will gradually affect how you approach the script and story as a whole.
The goal of a trained actor is to become a fully realized three-dimensional character with a rich backstory. Your audience must find your character and lines believable in order to be deeply affected by your performance. So how do you achieve this?
4 Technical Ways for Effectively Getting into Character
Study the material
Before we jump to getting into character, understand that each character is a storyteller. Either the character creates events or they are affected by them. Analyze the role that your character plays in developing the story and make it a goal to portray this to the audience. What does the story, as a whole, intend to impart and in what way are you contributing to this message? What are the major plot points and bits and pieces that cause your character to say certain lines or make certain choices? Are there any social expectations or restrictions that your character is bound by? What is the story’s world like? How is your character affected by the writer’s chosen setting? What could have happened before the story that molded your character into the person they are now? Read and reread the script. Make notes. Ask questions. Know the material inside out.
Getting into character is getting to know them as an individual with human characteristics. Organize some of the answers you’ve gathered from studying the script by dividing them into three categories: physical, social, and psychological (some would add moral and mental, but both may fall under psychological). There’s no better way to assume a character than know them inside out.
- Physical defines gender, age, size, ethnicity, general appearance, mannerisms, health condition, etc.
- Social refers to economic status, profession or trade, religion, relationships, reputation, affiliations, and the like.
- Psychological reveals habitual responses, attitude, childhood memories, traumas, desires, motivations, fears, values, likes, and dislikes. Since this aspect shows how the character thinks and what they feel, this is considered the most essential level of characterization.
Another popular and useful technique is the popular Stanislavski system, which draws on feelings and experiences that are said to convey the truth about the characters being portrayed. Konstantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor, producer, and director born in 1863, is the “father” of modern acting. For actors, understanding Stanislavski’s seven fundamental questions is an invaluable foundation upon which to build a character. Dee Cannon of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art further developed them into ten.
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- When is it?
- Where have I just come from?
- What do I want?
- Why do I want it?
- Why do I want it now?
- What will happen if I don’t get it now?
- How will I get what I want by doing what?
- What must I overcome?
The most common mistake newbie actors make is focusing too much on their own lines without listening and reacting to their scene partner’s lines. Remember, acting is reacting. Additionally, listening and reacting are just as important in acting as delivering lines. Once another character from the scene says a line, you should be interested in the other actors’ response. If the other character’s lines told you that your best friend died, you’re not supposed to just wait blankly for your scene partner’s long lines to end just for you to react in shock. The other characters are there because the lines in the scene are a conversation and interaction among characters. Listen and react to your co-actors’ gestures and words until they give you the cue for your next line. Do not go back to the script until you have reacted to your co-actor.
This technique was formulated by one of Stanislavski’s students, Sanford Meisner. Meisner’s technique asks the actor to focus on nothing but the other actor(s) in the scene with them, as opposed to one’s internal thoughts or feelings associated to the character. The idea is that the intensity of the performance makes getting into character feel more authentic and powerful.
A Final Word
The above tips are more of general ways to ease into characterization. There are actors who have their own unique—sometimes bizarre—ways to prepare for a specific character. Find your own quirk and maybe this could help you out even further.Character Work 101: Getting into Character for Your Role by Holly Bissonnette