Developing a character can serve two types of people: (1) actors who want to deliver a masterpiece performance and (2) anyone looking to take their life and turn it into a masterpiece. If you are the later, start here.
Note: at the bottom of this article, I’ll share how to apply this acting technique to YOU and supercharge your life. I’m going to go about this article from an acting standpoint.
Getting to know the character you are playing can be challenging. Sometimes, the role that you are playing has a very different personality than you do. We need to figure out how to get into the minds of our character. This is vital because if we don’t do this, our character will appear to be a “flat character” as opposed to being a “round character.”
The terms “round character” (AKA three-dimensional) and “flat character” (AKA two-dimensional or stock character) comes from the field of literature. In short, a round character is developed and has a personality. A flat character is not developed and does not have personality, and is not pertinent to the overall story. Most extras and very minor roles have the danger of being played “flat.”
More Round Characters, please!
When it comes to the acting stage, the majority of characters should be round characters. You can do this by building your character’s personality in order to project the depth of your character, no matter how large or small a role you play. If you take the time to develop the character you are playing on stage into a round character, you will come off as more genuine and ultimately deliver masterpiece performances. After all, every role you play deserves a shot at being a masterpiece. I’ll even wager to say that talent agents aren’t as concerned with the part you are playing, but more so how well you are playing it.
Here are my techniques that help me get into the mind of the roles that I play:
1) Read the whole script
Though it can be tedious at first, reading the whole entire script is essential! This is the foundation of your role.
You need to know who your character is. Your primary objective while going through the script should not be to plow through it, it should be to look for one specific thing. Who is my character? Likes, dislikes, actions, abilities, skills, relationships to various people, places, objects, etc. What are other characters in the story saying about your character? Do people generally like you? Or do only a few people admire you?
Be sure to take mental notes of what your character is saying and doing, what other characters are saying, and what the story is saying about your character.
It is okay to speed read. Block out 2 hours, find a cozy seat where you won’t be bothered and hammer through the script.
2) Interview your character
The next step is to interview your character. Ask lots of questions and answer every single one of them.
This is one of the fastest and best techniques for really developing your character role. I would use a list of 20 or so questions when I was in acting school that would help me develop my characters.
Think of yourself as a journalist that knows a bit about your character but has a lot of questions for him/her. This will benefit you coming out of the interview with some RICH answers that really help you to make great choices on stage.
The best guideline for good questions is to keep the questions open ended, meaning no yes or no questions. Ie. What do you consider a treat? Tell me about an experience involving that treat.
Write everything down. During this process you are better off playing two roles: a journalist and your character. You can use note taking software or a sheet of paper, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you can review your notes later. Writing down these questions is key for dissecting the psychology of your character role.
Here is a short list of questions you can ask your character:
- Who are your closest friends?
- When and where are you the happiest?
- What types of things do you think about most?
Also if you really want to get into this exercise, you can think of yourself as a journalist that knows a bit about your character but has a lot of questions for him/her. This will benefit you coming out of the interview with some RICH answers that really help you to make great choices on stage.
The best guideline for good questions is to keep the questions open ended, meaning no questions that have one word answers.
3) Spend time as your character off the stage
This will allow you to make choices as your character based on all the previous work you have done so far.
This is by far my favorite part in this whole process. Embodying your character brings your character to life in a way that saying memorized lines can never do. Basically what you will be doing is acting as your character in an improvisational manner. Whether that means having a phone conversation as your character with your credit card company or strolling through a shopping mall as your character, there is no better way to get into the mind of your character than being your character.
If you are able to do this with another actor who is also playing a part in the play, even better. For example, if you are playing Danny Zuko in Grease, take the actress playing Sandy Borkowski on a date. Pretend that you are Danny and Sandy going to the beach. Splashing in the sand like in their first duet together. The added benefit with going out with another actor is that you won’t feel as foolish when someone else is improvising as you.
Spending time as your character is extremely powerful. The benefits are bigger than just, masterpiece performances. Doing this will also help you for when you are forced to improvise on stage when someone else forgets their lines.
Apply these techniques to your life
The techniques used to develop a round character for masterpiece performance don’t only apply to the stage. These these 3 steps are the BEST steps in professional development, social development, and over-all personal development. The goal is aimed at developing YOU into who you want to be.
Going back over the steps:
- Read the whole script
- Interview your character
- Spend time as your character off the stage
Do these instead:
- Visualize your best case scenario self (like a super future self)
- Interview your imagined future self
- Learn to know your future self by acting like your future self
Instead of “Read the whole script,” take inventory of who you are and then visualize. Ask yourself, who do you want to be. Are you trying to get a promotion? Do you have a goal to be more friendly? Do you want to be a leader? Think about who you must be to get these things. What character traits, skills, attitudes, habits, behaviors do you have to have to achieve your dreams?
Next interview who you want to become and finally start taking actions that your ideal self would take. There is no better way than visualizing who you want to become and then modeling it. Pretty soon you will notice your life changing into the destiny that you have created through this exercise. We have a great capacity for imagination and action. These character development acting techniques can help you define who you want to become in real life. I share my example of going through this very same exercise in my first podcast episode.
Masterpiece performances and masterpiece lives do not happen by chance. Take control and reach out and grab hold of your full potential.
Thanks for reading!
Get the full list of 20 Questions to Define Your Character and Life. This list also has 7 bonus questions to keep your priorities straight as you are performing in your Life Scene (ie. speech, sales appointment, difficult conversation, coffee date, interview, customer service interaction, price negotiation, employee review, etc.).