How to develop a character in acting
How to develop a character in acting? This question is the most essential question for any actor who wish to make descent career of acting.
But before that you must understand acting is not an easy job….
It’s not all cramming bunch of lines and spitting out in front of a camera or audience. There is lot of work that goes into it. Without required work, no way your performance will make impression on your audience.
I would go ahead and say it, without working on given character you are not going to crack any audition, even if you look like a Greek god, no serious filmmaker will hire you.
Because they want someone who can be the character they want to portray on the screen or on the stage. They do not want you.
Yes, you would say, if character is like you, you could play yourself. But ask yourself, in how many auditions, you have come across a character who is just like you? I bet not many. That’s why knowing how to develop a character in acting is necessary.
So how to develop a character in acting?
Developing a character is an elaborate process. Initially, you would find this process a bit tedious, as it is more sort of a research work rather than performing.
And you would be devoting a quite bit of time developing a character. For example, you are suppose to play a character in play and you have been designated 30 days prepare for it including rehearsals. You would have to denote 5-6 days just for developing a character.
However, as you grow as an actor, you learn to love this process of how to develop a character.
My acting coach used to tell me, once you find the character and be the character, playing scenes and learning lines becomes much easier.
Here I am offering the steps that I use and these steps uses different method acting techniques. This is my custom process. If you want you can mold these steps according to your needs.
So here are the steps that you must follow while developing the character
Step 1: Read the script
You would say, of course! Every actors knows that they must read the script. Yes, everyone knows, but how many of you actually read the script? I mean really reading the script!
If you are asking how to develop a character in acting, first thing I would suggest is read the script…!
Script is like a painting that brings about different emotions and values on blank piece of paper. Often the line the say something but subtext is something different. Its these subtexts that tells you lot about the character.
Also read those scenes of which your character is not part of. May be other characters in the script talk about your character. They talk about something that even your character is not aware or he or she is ignorant.
This again offers a different shade of character.
I would say read your script again and again, until you know everything that is to know about the story.
Note, I am saying story, not your character. Because story makes the world in which your character lives, and once you have the world of your character, it would be easier for you to understand your character.
Step 2: Ask questions to your character
How to develop a character in acting, is question and the answer also lies in asking question to your character. Once you have read the script you will learn some facts about the character. But knowing facts is not all. As an actor its important to know impulses of your character.
What I mean by impulses of character?
Well, the character may be fictional but they are real human being that you are going to portray. All human beings have their impulses. They react in certain way when in certain situations.
For example, you might run if see a lion in front of you. But your character might stand his or her ground and fight the lion. Its just an example to make you understand.
In a play or film or show, your character would face number of situations. And you would have to face those situations as your character.
So, how do you face those situations as your character? That is by finding their impulses. How do you find those impulses?
Simple, ask questions to your character.
If you have little experience with the method acting techniques, you would know that all kind of techniques provide you set of questions that would help you develop a character. Most popular of them are these two:
- Uta hagen 9 questions
- Stanislavski seven questions
I have whole one post dedicated to uta hagen 9 questions. Go check it out Answering those questions you understand lot about your character and how you play the scene. Stanislavski 7 questions are similar but they are more scene focused. I mean you have to take one scene at time and ask those questions with respect to your character.
For preparation purpose I would advice you to stick with uta hagen 9 questions. And once you start working on your scene, you can go to iStanislavski 7 questions.
Both works fine, but my absolute favorite is the 100 questions that you must ask to develop a character. It is like comprehensive guide to your character. It covers everything.
From psychology to sociology, everything. If you want you can download it. It’s in printable format.
Step 3: Physicality
When this question how to develop a character in acting, you would thought about physicality and expressions and the way you will talk. Well, thinking about the character what kills creativity of building a character. Everything comes by thinking is seen and done.
But let me tell you, when you experience and create a character, you will build something that audience have never seen before. It will be fresh and new.
Now, to do this there are different techniques that method acting coaches teach. I won’t discuss all of them, but I would give you a technique that I use.
This technique uses some elements of Michael Chekov’s technique. Let me tell, Michael Chekov acting techniques are physiological techniques. You create everything with physical action.
In order to bring your character to life follow this direction:
- First choose place which is empty where you can move freely. Empty room or studio would work.
- Now start walking in the room (do not wear any footwear).
- While walking feel the floor. Do not pretend to feel it. Actually, feel it. Know allow the floor to feel you. Do this step until you actually feel the floor.
- Next, try to hear the sounds that you are hearing in the room. Do not imagine or try comprehend what that sound is. Just hear. This step is addition to previous step. You have to do this step together. Feel the floor. Listen to the sounds
- Now while feeling the floor and listening to the sound, bring your focus to your breath. Observe how you are breathing. Do not try to change it. Just observer.
- Once you accomplished feeling the floor, listening to the sounds and focusing on your breath. Just stop still. But keep doing the steps 3, 4 n 5 but without walking.
- Now imagine there is energy that is like a mold. A mold that takes shape of you body.
- Talk one step back. And see that mold of energy. Really see your shape in the empty space. Its important not to imagine the shape.
- Walk around the mold and see everything, clothes, hair, body, scares etc.
- Now reshape the mold into your character. Taking all the information your learnt about your character in previous steps make changes to the bold. Like if you character has longer hair, make the hair longer, if your character has defect on his left leg, make that change in the mold. Try to make changes to the smallest details. Yes, the mold is naked, you are not yet wearing any clothes, so keep the changes restricted only to body parts.
- Once you have reshaped the mold. Walk around it and look at it. Look at the changes that you have made.
- Now get into the mold. If you have followed the steps with 100 % honesty, you will notice that automatically your body adjusts itself to the changes. You feel the new scares, new hair, new defects.
- Now walk around with the new body that you have just formed. You will notice the body posture has changed. Your walk is completely changed. If any new emotions are generated, feel free to express it. But only if emotions are generated do not force it.
- Now its time to wear the clothes that you character wears. Again, these are imaginary clothes but make sure you imagine them according to the script. However, if you have access to real costumes that you are going to wear, wear them.
- Now again walk around with new body and new clothes. But now add the voice, speak anything that comes to your mind. Yes, do not try to change the voice or tone deliberately allow the new mold to bring about the voice. Trust me, if the voice isn’t different, tone or rhythm will be different.
Yes, getting use to this method takes practice but its worth it. Great thing about this method of developing a character is that you actually experience the new body in physical form.
And you have created the character’s mold by reshaping your mold. That means there is some part of you in the character. Hence, the character will always be unique and you will always feel connected to your character.
I find it much easier to create character this way than imagining features of your character in your head and then trying to imitate it.
Use the mold you have created everyday in rehearsals. Follow the above described direction.
Step 4: Learn the activities of your character
From step 1 to step 3, you have developed psychology and physicality of the character. Now you have to learn the activities that your character does.
What I mean activity is that what your character does daily. He might be working somewhere. Let’s say he is an cobbler. Cobbler knows how to shine shoes, repair shoes etc. He might also know a secret technique on how to get polish of the skin easily.
If real you has never ever shined your own shoe, there is no way you could play a cobbler convincingly?
That is why its important to know what your character does everyday for leaving and in his or her spare time. Learn those activities.
The greatest actor of your generation Daniel Day Lewis created a dress from scratch to prepare for the film Phantom Thread. He was playing a fashion designer. With all of his activities in the film, he looked like he has been fashion designer all his life.
This what you should do:
- List 15 activities that your character does in his daily routine.
- Master 5 most important of them
- Incorporate them into your rehearsals and actually do it on the stage or in front of the camera.
- When analyzing scenes, list what activity your character does in each scene. Note that activity and try to do that activity in real life.
Now with step 4 you have fully functioning character at your exposure. All you have to do is now allow your character to be the character in given circumstances.
Note I have not talked about emotions and expressions anywhere. If you have followed these steps of how to develop a character in acting carefully and with hundred percent honesty, the emotions and expressions will come naturally.
Can this process be applied to audition?
Of course! You can use this process in auditions. You feel its long process. But with auditions scripts which are usually one page or half a page, or one scene. You can do it in an hour.
With monologues, you can do this in a half hour. Yes of course, you will have to modify this process little when performing for an audition. Follow this process:
- Step 1 remains same. Read the script.
- Step 2 You won’t have time to ask 100 questions. So just stick to Uta Hagen 9 questions. They will do the job for you
- Follow the direction mentioned in the step 3 same. With practice you will perform this step much faster. It hardly takes 5-10 minutes.
- Instead of finding 15 activities just decide 1 activity that you will do during monologue or your scene in the audition.
If you like my answer to the question of how to develop a character in acting, please share it with your actor friends. I would be thankful to you….