There are times when even the best of actors working with solid material encounter a role to which they cannot connect. If you find yourself in a situation where you lack an intuitive feeling for your role (always optimal), you’ll have to resort to exacting analysis and serious rehearsal to engineer a credible performance.
1. Find a prototype. Descriptions of the character may be scant, but think about whether there’s a prototype for this kind of character, and if you’ve ever seen a good actor playing this kind of thing successfully. What were they doing? Every basic examination of a part, of course, includes an investigation of how the character responds to events and what objectives they seem to be seeking.
2. Search for a hook. You may be able to find a hook—an aspect of the character’s behavior on which to hang your performance. It might be a way of walking or talking, or the way they handle a prop or relate to an aspect of wardrobe. It could be they’re always looking for a mysterious clue or one perfect soul. Do they carry themselves with their energy concentrated in the head, heart, or low belly? Are they inward or outward?
3. Use the dialogue as a way in. Paraphrasing the dialogue into your own words is a good way to get closer to an understanding of where the character is coming from, and you can use particularizations (an “as if”) to help connect you to the meanings. To do this, pick an event in the text and ask yourself what you would react to in the same way your character reacts to this thing. It might be they feel about getting passed over for a promotion the way you would about being diagnosed with cancer. Daydream a fantasy, creating a “flashbulb memory,” and after you’ve generated a vivid reaction in yourself using something you can relate to, then associate that with how your character relates to the chosen event.
4. Practice the actions. You can make further appeals to your talent and give yourself even more confidence by rehearsing actions. Develop and rehearse a scenario where you’d be using the same tactic to get an objective, with the same emotional charge, as your character uses in the scene. For example, you could practice confronting your sister’s stalker as a “mirror activity” for how your character addresses an employee’s poor job performance; or, you might rehearse making a heartfelt toast to your best friend and then use that behavior for how your crime boss character congratulates a hit man on having killed an informant.
Cultivating the same feelings and behaviors in yourself, you may find at some point that the part no longer seems so foreign. Terence said over two thousand years ago, “I am a human and nothing human is alien to me.” By maintaining your sense of play and constantly surrendering to the unknown, you just may find you’ve somehow slipped into that weird character’s skin.
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