You or the Character?

This point comes up every time I work with an actor. I spent 20 years of my life as an actor trying to sort this out. And another 20 years as a director and coach.

Let’s start with the question – ‘What is a character?’ – a character is a person from real-life or fiction within a situation/life/relationship that is embedded in a story/film/play. The ‘character’ was imagined/remembered/observed by a writer and encoded by letters/characters onto a printed/electronic page. This ‘character’ is then imagined by a director/producer to be brought to life – via casting – by an actor.

Brought to life – by whom? By YOU – the actor. You are the only human being who can provide the life. There is now no ‘character’ – YOU are now the only embodiment of those encrypted pages. YOU in the role.

The ‘character’ is now given a heartbeat, a pulse racing, blood coursing through veins, hands to feel, legs to move, eyes to see, a brain to understand – and a mouth to speak.

But these are YOUR eyes, legs, hands. YOUR heart,mind, eyes. YOUR voice. There is no-one else there.

Only the writer and director can describe your role from the outside. You can’t – you are inside looking out. You can only see and feel from the role’s POV. You and the role are indivisible – while you play the game of being in that play/film/TV.

Sometimes we feel sorry for our roles because we are in the wrong POV. Human beings we like to be with are brave and full of self-humour, irony and life. If you shift to the role’s POV – we will want to be with you.

That doesn’t mean you move/speak or even think in the way you do when you’re not playing this game. YOU in the role may be in another time. You’ve led a different life. You possess skills or knowledge you may not have in your own life. You may speak in a different language. These are the muscle memories/pictures/experiences you will need to store during preparation. And that you must forget and trust while you are playing the game.

You should never ask ‘How’ to play the game. Simply know where you are, what your relationships are and what you need and go!

I’ve just finished a workshop in Barcelona. There was a sculptor there trying out acting. Actually he was wonderful. And he gave me a very important image. He said that within his lump of clay, or piece of stone lies the original. And that he can either chip away to find the original, or build it up from the base. Which should he do as an actor? I told him he could do either, but the important thing to know is that he is the clay – he is the stone.

So find your ‘original’ but within YOU. You are the clay. You are the material. And it is living material. The ‘character’ is YOU – as if. Not another.

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About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.