Written by Annette Lange.
“Creating a character is like getting to know a person.”
I remember Marion Cotillard saying this in one of her interviews. She briefly mentioned it before she continued to answer other questions, but that statement stuck with me – as if the penny dropped for the first time.
And it’s true.
When you act and see yourself on screen, your character looks the same as you, but you are completely different.
When I think about the way I get to know people, I like hearing their story first. I understand them much better once I’m aware of their background and can trace why they behave in the ways they do.
As a matter of fact, I’ve realized it catches people off guard when I ask what their story is, after we’ve met only once. I might have to rethink my strategy…
When it comes to creating characters for acting, there always seems to be a wall. I still have a hard time getting into the character completely, because I tend to distance myself from the character.
Yes, I realize this also has to do with lack of confidence, but mainly I think it’s because I judged them and didn’t treat my characters as people. They aren’t (don’t worry, I do understand the concept of acting), but every character reflects humanity in many ways.
If there is one thing I’ve learned after 3 years of travelling, meeting people from all over the world and hearing their stories, it’s that I have no right to judge anyone, because I have no idea what they’ve gone through.
We all act out of a place of hurt – our emotional baggage. We all have filters. So many things influence us and shape us into the person we are right now – and the same applies to your characters.
Viewing your character as a project creates a distance, but if you think of him/her as a person you can get to know intimately – it clearly shifts the perspective.
It shifted mine and lifted off a lot of pressure because I can empathize with where they’re coming from.
This is why I fell in love with acting in the first place – you have the freedom to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and discover the intricacies of humanity.
You are challenged to understand and love people you would normally not want to understand and love.
We, as actors, writers, artists, filmmakers get to create.
As actors, a backstory is one of the things we need to create to make our characters believable. You have probably heard that many times before and know that it’s important to create one. And one that fits and adds to the story.
I have definitely caught myself being more concerned about the way my performance comes across rather than being concerned about who my character is. And I don’t like it.
But, I want to encourage you, to create a character out of a place of curiosity and love for the hurting individual you are creating.
Focus on who your character is, rather than what he/she does. Because if you know your character inside out, the physical actions will follow automatically. This also prevents emotional mapping, e.g. planning beforehand when your character will cry or burst out in anger instead of responding to the given circumstances (which I am also guilty of).
What questions would you ask your character if you were to meet up with them for coffee? What’s their story? What emotional baggage are they carrying around and why? What happened in their life that led up to the situation they’re in now?
Questions you should always address about your character are:
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- When is it?
- Where have I just come from?
- What do I want?
- Why do I want it?
- Why do I want it now?
- What will happen if I don’t get it now?
- How will I get what I want by doing what?
- What must I overcome?*
And this is not only applicable to the characters we create, but rather everyone we meet. The people you dislike, that get on your nerves. The people you find hard to love – do you know they’re background? Have you put yourself in their shoes?
That ability helped me a lot in my interaction with people, and I want to apply it to my characters too. Everyone is lovable. At the heart of every person is the desire to be loved and accepted in a world full of hurt.