An Actor’s Notebook: How to Play a Character

This is part 3 in a three part series.  Part 1 and Part 2 are here…

As an actor, how do you play a character you don’t agree with?

It’s a question I’ve been asked before and it’s a problem every actor has to solve.  All actors have to get into the minds of another person and try to figure out HOW and WHY they dress, act and talk like they do.*  For example, in our upcoming play, Interval**,

INT 2Alan is a Jesus follower dealing with anger issues because of the death of his son.  He is also separated from his wife.

Lenore isn’t a Christian, but doesn’t know what she believes.  She describes herself as a latent Hindu, Moonie or possibly a Universalist.  

“I don’t know what you are that may be a Universalist.” Alan says.

“Well, I don’t know what a Universalist is either.” says Lenore, “But I may be one!”

So how?  How do you play a hindu/latent Moonie/Universalist?  I think it comes down to empathy.  Or as the old saying goes, “Walk a mile in their shoes”.  And this is a good life lesson too.

It’s easy to be condescending.

It’s easy to turn others into villains.

It’s easy to only see your perspective.

But as believers, we are called to identify with others.  We are called to have empathy because we have been shown so much grace by the Son of God who identified with us as sinners on the cross.  So practically, here are three suggestions…

  1. Have empathy with your character.  As I said already, work to understand them and what makes them tick.  This is empathy and the root of acting.
  2. Don’t be smarter than your character.  It’s easy to look down on others.  Instead, realize that all of us have warts and all of us go to the bathroom.  And more importantly, all of us are sinners in need of grace.
  3. Life is full of obstacles and we all need help.  Life is never easy.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.  So come alongside others and help them overcome obstacles.  Serve them instead of demanding to be served.

Lastly, playing a character we don’t agree with can help tell the bigger story of God.  As acting teacher and filmmaker Kristen Tretbar writes,

Keep this in mind when reading a script.  Do the actions [of your character] actually help to tell a bigger story that you and your heart can believe in?  Will your part show a juxtaposition between good and evil?  If so, then take it!  Remember: even the Bible had villains.  Through the evil in the world, we will come to understand forgiveness and redemption.  It’s the eternal hero’s quest, sinning, asking for forgiveness, surrendering to God’s will, and then, being reborn.  And it’s a story/plot line not only in the Bible, but also in every good script!***

And again, it’s a good life lesson for believers.  Ask yourself these two questions:  Are you showing empathy?  Is your life telling God’s bigger story?

If not, maybe you should take up acting?

Sam-Alan

*This is part 3 of the Actor’s Notebook series.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 2

**Interval is part murder-mystery and part romantic-comedy.  The afO Fort Wayne premier takes place Sept 19-21 at the ACPL library theatre downtown.  Call (260) 622-4610 to reserve your tickets.

Early Bird Discount Tickets: Available up to Thursday before opening performance
Adult $15, Senior (60+) $12, Students $10, Groups of 10+ $10 ea.

At the Door Tickets: Prices take effect opening performance Friday
Adult $18, Senior (60+) $15, Student $10.
Group tickets are not available for At the Door purchase.

Performance Times:
Friday & Saturday performances begin at 7:30 PM. Doors open at 7:00 PM
Sunday performance begin at 2:30 PM. Doors open at 2:00 PM

***Quote taken from http://theactingroom.com/2008/03/10/being-a-christian-in-the-acting-game-part-2/ on Sept 12, 14

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