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Have You Ever had to Play A Real Person?

"I played young Charles Bukowski in a film based on one of his poems. A fan, I jumped at the opportunity. After intensive research, I realized firstly that his writing in no way matches the sound of his voice, which is surprisingly very high and cheerful—strange, since his writing is so raw. Ultimately, I found the public Bukowski to be an act. Playing him was a challenge, not to mention ruthlessly having to peel an orange, stuff the whole thing in my mouth at once, and keep a bug-eyed horror-show grin on camera. I had a lot of fun."

Tom O'Neill, Brooklyn, N.Y.

"When portraying a character from real life, the primary concern for the actor must be the degree to which artistic interpretation balances mimicry. Ideally, if you are playing Richard Nixon, strong echoes of Nixon's speech and mannerisms will integrate into your performance naturally. But if you seek simply to copy him, the result will be hollow. When playing presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz, I was lucky because Czolgosz lived before the advent of film. My research yielded only still photographs and descriptions to blend with the playwright's text. Consequently, there were fewer 'pieces of business' for me to obsess over."

Jonathan Redding, Los Angeles

"Having portrayed numerous real and polarizing characters in 'The Laramie Project,' I have found it often both intimidating and exciting. Usually there is reliable historical material to build your character on, such as Internet stories, news clippings, and interviews. Often, as with 'The Laramie Project,' a segment of the audience knew this person on a personal level, and you hope not to offend those people. Also, regardless of whether the role is that of a hero or villain, it is important not to judge the character, because then you're just perpetrating a caricature. Honesty is the key when acting as a real person."

Bill Elverman, Los Angeles

"I played Greg Antonelli, an acquitted murderer. The twisted web of murder, prostitution, revenge, and redemption, involving a 24-year-old bodybuilder from Beverly Hills, is a complicated one. My struggle was to portray him accurately, because I did not know much about him. Also, I wanted to portray him as human, not a monster. I remained open so that I could experience a range of emotions that might actually lead one to commit homicide. Incidentally, he is neither dead nor in prison—a little frightening. But ultimately, it was awesome to be a part of such an unbelievable story."

Nick Polito, Los Angeles

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