How to embody your character: Part 2

Many actors tell me they struggle with embodying or connecting with their characters. 

So today, I want to teach you an added layer of character development you can use for your next audition. 

First, I'll give you my 3-Step Framework, and then I'll walk you through an example.

Grab a frothy latte or your beverage of choice and tuck in.

Here we go!

STEP 1: BRAINSTORM YOUR CHARACTER'S CORE QUALITIES

Read through the script as a detective and look for your character's qualities. You may find clues in what she says, her actions, or the way others react and respond to her.

Be careful not to rely too much on your character's profession, if it's stated. It may give you clues to her qualities, but it won't give you the whole picture.

For example, if your character is a teacher and you're a teacher, don't assume you know how to "play" her. That will leave a lot of nuance on the table. 

STEP 2: FIND YOUR CHARACTER'S WHY 

Determine your character's motivation. You're looking for the intention behind her words – why she says what she says.

One way to think about it is to decide what's driving her emotions or thoughts. Then what was the thought behind that? And behind that? 

It's her thoughts between the lines, that trigger her next line.

That’s the juicy nuance you’re after.

STEP 3: ALIGNMENT

Where are you and the character aligned? What Core Qualities do you share?

This step is especially important if you don't like or respect your character.

Many students tell me they can't connect to a character if they don’t agree with the decisions she’s making in the scene.That's a problem because it means they're not fully present during the audition.

And they won’t book it.

The answer is to align with one of your character's Core Qualities. It helps you relate to why and how she's making decisions.

Let's walk through an example.

Your character is a high-powered lawyer. The scene is you berating your law clerk for bringing you the wrong sandwich.

If I was auditioning for this role, I may decide to lean on the part of me that can most relate to being a lawyer. So, I’d choose my “corporate” self and draw from the 18 years I spent in the bond trading world for a Wall Street bank.

Sounds about right, doesn't it? Nope.

This choice isn't aligned at all with what’s actually happening in the scene. 

So let’s try to figure out what’s happening by looking at the lawyer’s actions.  

I know the lawyer needs to “blow up” at the clerk, so my first instinct might be to connect with her anger.

I'll think about the time I got angry at a friend. The lawyer's upset, I remember being upset. Same thing, right? Nope.

Just connecting to the emotion doesn't explain why my character is angry. Knowing why my character is angry is where I’ll find the nuance.

So what do you do?

Start by brainstorming the lawyer's Core Qualities.

Here are several possibilities:

Grit, Determination, Responsibility, Focus, Intelligence, Problem Solver, Motivated, Go-Getter, Shrewd, Discerning, Busy, Success-Oriented and Competitive, Perfectionism.

Find her Why.

Why does she get so angry? 

Another way to think about this is to look at what the clerk is doing that's upsetting her.

Perhaps the clerk's “transgression” – forgetting her lunch order – opposes one of her own CQs. 

She assumes everyone moves through the world as she does. She would never forget a simple lunch order, so the clerk must be an idiot, and she doesn't have time to hold his hand. 

That’s what’s setting her off. 

And that feeling is what you want to unearth and align yourself with if you can.

If you can't get it exactly, that's ok! Getting in the ballpark will be way better than what most actors will do.

Align yourself with the character.

What qualities do you and the lawyer share? Think beyond her actions; That's how you avoid getting caught up in judgment.

Look at the CQs you chose for the lawyer, and decide how each could explain why she berates her clerk in this scene. 

Ultimately, you'll choose one that resonates with you, so put yourself in her shoes.

Here are some examples of what I mean: 

  • Are you so sometimes so busy you don't have time to feed yourself?

  • Are you so focused sometimes that interruptions frustrate you?

  • Are you, like the lawyer, a go-getter who sometimes takes on too much?

  • Are you dependable and responsible and hate not meeting expectations?

  • Are you a perfectionist, like the lawyer, with no tolerance for mistakes?

Now choose one that resonates with you most, and describe how it fits both you and the character.

I’ll choose that the lawyer and I share the CQ of "Responsibility."

For her, Responsibility is what allows her to get her job done on time. It’s what allows her to win cases and grow her practice. If she says she’s going to do something, she does it. People rely on her, and it’s her Responsibility to live up to their expectations. She takes her job seriously. She wants to win this case and doesn't have time to hold her clerk's hand. She needs him to do his job. 

I understand this about her because it’s me, too. 

It was me in the corporate world when I had clients who trusted and counted on me. And it’s me, now, when I give someone my word. I hate letting people down, and I hate when other people are flaky and don’t follow through on their commitments. 

Connect the dots. 

Think about how your new connection to the lawyer plays out in the scene...the nuance behind your words.

When the clerk messes up the lawyer’s lunch order, she blows up because she can't believe how irresponsible he is. 

Since we don't have an actual script, I imagine the lawyer might say (or think) something like this:

“I can’t believe this! I hired you to perform legal research and analysis for me, and you can’t even get my lunch order right? How did you get into law school? Why would I put you in front of my clients if I can't trust you to do a simple job?" 

Do you see how different this deeper alignment is versus connecting to just the character's anger or her professional corporate mindset? 

This work will help you give a more powerful, grounded and nuanced performance.

If you want to dive even deeper into these concepts, check out my 5-Step Action Guide for embodying your characters and booking more work.

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This article was originally published by Backstage