Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Character

When actors talk about their various roles in shows and films they invariably refer to their “characters.” “My character has this personality," or "My character comes from this back ground;” the list goes on and on. But is that really what the acting process entails? Creating a character in an attempt to portray reality?

I used to think of acting as an escape from reality. It was a time for me to put on a mask and become someone else, to leave my everyday life behind and be someone exciting and new! Acting allowed me to be someone different from who I was in everyday life, and for that I was eternally grateful.

I have recently come to realize, however, that acting is not about becoming someone else; it is not about putting on a mask and entering an alternate reality. In the words of my acting professor Christina, acting is about opening up your chest, ripping out your heart and putting it on display for the world to see. In other words, acting is making yourself vulnerable and sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, and desires with a room full of people.

Michael Shurtleff puts it well in his book Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part. According to Shurtleff, “Most people go into acting to get out of themselves, to get away from their everyday humdrum selves and become someone else who is glamorous, romantic unusual, different,.And what does acting turn out to be? Using your own self. Working from what’s inside you. Not being someone else, but being you in different situations and contexts. Not escaping you, but using yourself naked and exposed up there on the stage or the silver screen.”

This makes sense to me. At the beginning of my acting career I relished the idea that I had this escape from reality, that I pretend that I was someone else. But how on earth can one expect to create a realistic and believable character without drawing on ones own feelings and experiences. It is like trying to tell the life story of someone you’ve never met. Sure you can look up some details on the Internet and fake your way though it, but there will be no realistic integrity in your story; it will be a characture of what that person’s life is really like.

Now, you may be saying, “wait a minute! Isn’t acing all about telling someone else’s story?” You would be correct. Acting is about telling someone else’s story, but in the most believable way possible. That is where this idea of creating a “character” can lead some actors down the wrong path. The actor or actress needs to work from what’s inside of him or her to begin with to have any hope of creating a believable stage personality. As Ed Hookes so eloquently put it, “Acting is not about hiding behind a character; it is about exposing yourself through one.”

In that vein, I would like to encourage all of my fellow actors and actresses to think carefully on this concept. It is not an earth shattering new technique, but it is a mindset that I believe will help many people create more realistic and believable “characters.”


  1. You are quite the character


  2. I think you are able to express yourself like your yourself playing yourself sometimes...