Written By Sara Sue Vallee
Okay, so you’ve booked a role in a play, movie or TV series, and now it is time for you to build this unique character. Building an authentic character takes time, patience and dedication. One must be willing to delve into all phases of the process in order to bring the character to life.
Step One: The Period of Study
To begin, one must get familiar with the text and the playwright or director’s work in order to find the right angle when it will be time to step into performance. You can study the themes often explored in their work, define the genre, read or watch their previous work and take note of the key elements that come back repeatedly. It’s easier to begin from a wider standpoint to then dive in more specifically afterwards. Slowly, you will narrow down your research and focus solely on the project at hand and your character’s development. This means to read the text multiple times to target the major turning points of your character’s storyline, the way they think, behave, react, talk, interact with other characters and what other characters say about them. It’s also important to acknowledge any personal connection to specific moments in the text, as this will become a valuable tool in the process ahead.
Step Two: The Period of Emotional Experience
Now that you’ve done a wide analysis of the play or script, it is time for you to build a strong emotional connection to the story and character. When I talk about emotional connection, I’m referring to the emotional chain one must build for each moment of the story. An emotional chain is like a music score, it is detailed, complex and varied. This is why an actor must dig into their personal experiences, knowledge and emotional background in order to bring as much truth and spiritual essence to the character. It is important to mention here that one must not impose themselves onto the character presented; but rather acknowledge the connection that already exists and use it as a foundation to build upon. Your goal is to have meaningful images and thoughts that will become part of the character’s internal life. A character must be created from the inside out. The more you establish strong and vivid images for each moment of the story, the more depth will transpire into your physicality afterwards.
Step Three: The Period of Physical Embodiment
The last phase is all about bodily incarnation which includes the voice, the walk, gestures, mannerisms and behaviours. Of course, the physical embodiment always starts from an intellectual and imaginative place before integrating the physical sphere. This is a phase of exploration and experimentation. The actor must be willing to try things out based on his or her knowledge of the text and the character and adjust accordingly upon reception in the physical world. One must find balance between the emotional, intellectual and physical portrayal of his or her character in order to serve and tell the story truthfully. Your goal is to complement and present the story through your character’s perspective without overpowering the project. You are a piece of the puzzle in this bigger picture, so remember that you must remain at the service of the story because the story always prevails, not a specific character alone.
Sara Sue Vallee is a bilingual actress working in both Film and Television. After graduation, she began her journey in independent productions; allowing her to shape a career in the film industry. She is also writing and producing her own content which allows her to understand the world behind the camera better. In her articles for StudentFilmmakers magazine, Sara explores the world of acting in an attempt to guide new actors and filmmakers.