“There is no charcater. Only you.”

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?

4 thoughts on ““There is no charcater. Only you.”

  1. Pingback: My 2011: An overview. « davidshogan

  2. Well said David! I constantly observe people and try to fill their shoes. I was actually just reading Ishmael the other day for practice and to see how my voice filled those words. One day I may need to play somebody like that, never know.

  3. so, so true! I think this is one of the biggest “blocks” actors can get. Who is my character???? We all must remember to put ourselves IN THE NOW, BE PRESENT, You are YOU. It’s so easy to protray a character on the outside and you are screaming inside how lost you feel. Like David said, you gotta tell the truth, start INSIDE YOURSELF and let is flow out! Don’t waste hours and hours worried about what color socks your “character” would wear or if they like shell fish 😉 YOU are the one on stage, now, tell that story. OFTEN, a Director may not help you with this process. Some just give blocking and let you go. Others work so much at the table, you don’t get it out of your head and into your body enough. OR there are Directors who want to go on about your moment before and your past and everything BUT what is in the NOW on stage. Let us all take that on as part of our job. We never really know how a Director will work from project to project. Ao YOU have got to be able to bring your A game every time. But HOW can I do that?? Again, like David has written… There is NO character, only YOU! So you always have everything you need 🙂

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