You have been selected out of a hundred or so candidates for a roll! They sent you the script, given you your call time (time you arrive on set), and now it’s up to you to learn your lines.
Learn them. Record them. Work with someone who will do dialogue with you. This is key to remaining natural throughout the shoot. Now you are almost ready to work.
Developing a Character
When a writer writes a play or a movie, they need people to bring the story to life. This is the actor’s job. It is up to you to breathe life into the script.
“How do you take, often times, sterile lines, and make them come alive…”
So how do you go about playing your part? How do you take, often times, sterile lines, and make them come alive, surprising the writer hopefully in the process? You can’t change the words; they are sacred to the playwright or screenwriter. But, when it comes to acting, the way you move, the way you speak, the pauses and the joy, and pain you feel are all yours!
Rejoice, cause you are free! Save for a little direction, and the rule of the word on the page, it is essentially you on the stage or in front of the camera.
And all eyes are on you.
So how do you keep the eyes on you? What tricks are there that allow you as an actor to get lost in the words.
One trick is becoming a character.
There are few actors out there that play somebody different in every movie they are in. Gary Oldman has transformed into a variety of different characters during his long career in film, from ‘Sid and Nancy’ where he played the notorious rock and roller Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, to Shelly Runyon, the evil Senator from the movie ‘The contender.’ His choice to change his appearance is legendary.
Many other actors like Kristen Wigg, Christian Bale or Jared Leto, have changed their appearance and mannerisms to take people out of their own lives for a few hours.
If done right, the characters you develop will have a life of their own. Somebody everyone can relate to.
Is there anyone in your life that you can imitate? Maybe a funny grandpa, a grumpy mother, or a weird uncle or friend? Maybe something stands out to you. Me and my friends imitate other actors. Christian Slater started his career doing an impersonation of Jack Nicholson. Over the years, he began to come into his own.
“…pick up on certain attributes that come natural…”
Sit on a park bench, and watch people. Don’t be creepy, you don’t need you to get beat up, but observe someone. Strangers make great sources for material. In this exercise, I want you to watch an old person. Watch the way they walk, if they use a walker, watch how they shuffle and place the walker on the ground with each step. Watch their muscles, their eyes, the shaking of their hands, the way they stiffen up when cautious.
Now, go home and try to remember everything you saw. Then repeat it with your body. Be as truthful as you can to your memory. Try to become that person for a bit. If you have some lines memorized, say them as the old person you are emulating. It’s simple, and takes a bit of work, but like everything, practice makes perfect.
Hopefully one day, I will see you up on the screen disappear right before my eyes!!