The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Charmaine Bingwa, who stars on Paramount+’s “The Good Fight.”
There is a maxim my first acting teacher told me, and there is scarcely a week in my career or my life that I don’t muse upon it: “The best artists sit at the center of themselves…” At its core lies a simple notion: You need a strong sense of self to be able to play anyone else.
That doesn’t mean you need to be a boisterous extrovert to be a performer, but a strong understanding of who you are is paramount. Because no one is you, and that is your power. In a world that becomes increasingly retouched, filtered, and auto-tuned, we can’t underestimate the raw, breakthrough power that a truly authentic and personal performance can have.
Often at the beginning of an actor’s career, there is a temptation to push the character far away from oneself. Understandable. We got into this business to play other people. But such departures can drift easily into the land of caricature if it’s lacking a solid self to ground it.
Your personal point of view is what makes you the artist you are; the colors you paint with, your palette, and your daring choices are your artistic signature. Detail is king, because in acting, millimeters speak volumes.
It’s a worthwhile pursuit to explore not only who you are, but why you are. What do you have to say that nobody else can? Why do you need to say it? The greater the importance for us, the greater the importance for our characters. Maybe your mother showed you a Caravaggio, which inexplicably moved you to tears. Maybe your character has a secret garden that breathes life into them in that very same way. It won’t be written on the page, but you can make sure it shows up onscreen.
When we find that sweet spot where the given circumstances matter to both ourselves and our character, we enter the realm of electric, operatic, uncomfortable, eviscerating, devastating, delicate, and intricate. Whether you’re an expert or a casual moviegoer, we all can feel when truth is shared with us. Because the more personal our work, the more universal. When we know who and why we are, walking into an audition room, putting down an audition tape, pitching, writing all becomes easier. It becomes purposeful.
People frequently ask me what makes my character Carmen on “The Good Fight” tick, because she seems like such a mystery. But I know her who and why as well as I know my own. Anything less is a gimmick. Her principles may differ from mine, but she lives her life with purpose. And she inspires me to do the same, too.
So arm yourself with purpose. Who and what you are is a gift. Don’t deny yourself or others of that gift. Own who you are and your character might just own the screen.
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