What do I mean by “There is no CHARACTER?” Well, the quote, first of all, is paraphrased from a lecture I attended by Mark Jenkins. As far as I recall, his passion behind “there is no character” was rooted in the teachings of Stanslavski via Anisimov. It could very well be that I am pulling factoids out of the air, but I don’t think so…just bear (grrr) with me.
The reason I bring this up is because I hear actors’ talking about “getting into character.” Or complaining that the director is not focusing on “character development.” I have also heard actors say things like, “Well, I am not going to make that choice because my character would just not do that.” One of my biggest issues with over-thinking “character” when acting is when it interferes with acting performance due to limitations like these.
Now, let’s examine another popular phrase: “character actor” or “character role.” In the world of film/tv, especially, I hear a lot of talk about “character roles.” I tend to think of George and Kramer from Seinfeld as “character” roles. Does that make Seinfeld the leading man? Maybe. So, if we take for granted that George is a “character role,” do we need a “character actor” to fill it? What are the traits of the character actor? Short, tall, extreme (very tall, very short, very hairy, etc), off-beat, over-weight, balding?
If we are going to categorize people and parts, let’s ask a question: Can leading men types play character roles (Yes, Matt Damon comes t0 mind…and Tom Hanks). Can character actors play leading men (perhaps not as easily – Jim Carrey, Kevin Spacey). If we take this as true, then leading men might seem to be more “casting flexible,” if given a chance. Hopefully, there are more character roles out there…Again, IF this is true.
Another thought: What would the CHARACTER do? What would I do under the circumstances of the scene/story? Is there a difference here?
I am writing this post to challenge you to USE YOURSELF if you tend to hide behind the idea of CHARACTER or if you tend to always work from the outside in.
I have included a picture of me looking “oh so character.” I developed this guy with the help of my director, Aimee Bruneau and my costume designer, KD Schill. He had an accent, a walk, long hair, and a lot of gusto. And, of course, he loved beer. I was playing Grumio, not a character. I put myself into his shoes and behind his eyes (fashioning a “mask”) to find emotional truths which were rooted in the story, but which added a lot of “character,” through improvisation, experimentation, and collaboration.
Are you a character actor? Is talking about character getting in the way of finding emotional truth?