“I’m not sure if they want me to play this more like, quirky and weird, or more like, dry and sarcastic.”
I hear remarks to this effect from my clients around 18 times a day. In this case, they refers to the casting office, and this refers to the character the actor is auditioning for.
I know I don’t need to the tell the professional actors who read this column that’s it’s not your job—nor is it worth your time—to even let your mind wander near the neighborhood of, “I wonder what the casting director is looking for.” All you need to know is that the casting director is looking for someone to save his or her ass. So, make a fun choice and bring yourself to the role!
As I’ve expressed in other articles, it’s your job to start every scene emotionally full with a precise point of view. These two pillars are at the fundamental base of your choice.
Every actor who has completed some form of quality training has been instilled with the knowledge that it’s important to make a “strong choice.” Even so, it’s still necessary to take a long look at the interlocking factors that make up a winning choice.
What is a choice? During the process of breaking down any script and building a character, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of specific and fun choices must be considered and either accepted or discarded in order to determine the exact rhythm of your character’s heartbeat.
Here are five steps to move you forward along the path of making an Oscar-level choice:
1. What is the style of the writing? Asking this question helps you to determine what world you are in. A Sorkin universe, where everyone is educated and ready with a quick retort, is lightyears away from a punctuation and pause-specific Mamet universe.
2. What is your specific bare bones relationship to the other character in the scene?Say you’re going out for Alex, the supportive friend. No one is ever just a “friend”… they’re your best friend from childhood you’ve known for over 10 years, or they’re the friend from work you’ve known for 18 months that you just hang out with at happy hour on Thursdays, but would never spend time with out in the real world.
3. What’s your specific emotional relationship with every other character in the script?
“I like this person,” or “I just met this person.” I can’t tell you how these answers from actors really make me groan. Sure, they’re a good starting point, but answers like these are so vanilla and non-specific; they’re not really going to help you.
I like this person: OK, if it’s a friend, is there resentment anywhere? Buried? What about envy? Adoration? Emulation? A desire to please? A desire to distance oneself? A sense or worry or responsibility towards this person? Few friendships are as simple as, “I like this person.” Once you get to know someone and really care about them, things start to get a wee bit more complex, even for the most seemingly “perfect” friendships.
I just met this person: OK. Would you ever sleep with him orher? Sober? No? How many drinks would it take? Do you look at this person and feel superior? Inferior? Do you want to help this person get a new haircut and better shoes? Do you want this person to help you get a new haircut and a better pair of shoes? Think about it.
4. Where are you specifically located in time and space? You’re never just hanging out with your girlfriend at the mall… you’re the fifth customers in line waiting for a table at the sushi restaurant in the strip mall without enough available parking. You have to pee. You don’t really like California rolls, but you’re going to order one today. If you can’t see where you are,you can be 100 percent sure your audience will have no clue.
5. What am I actively doing in the moment? Forget goals and objectives and hell, let’s even forget the word action. In fact, let’s not even refer to ourselves as actors. Many “techniques” impose upon actors the need to figure out what they’re “fighting for.” When in our real lives are we only fighting for one particular thing? Quite often, scenes force us to experience other people doing things to us or pushing us to feel something.In acting, a reaction is also an action.
All of these choices will eventually culminate in a final overwhelmingly hot hook: a deeply emotional point of view to ignite the start of every scene. I speak more about finding the “hook” in my previous article, “How To Stand Out in the First Moment of a Scene.”
Remember Krysten Ritter’s very poignant and haunting recurring role on “Breaking Bad?” From the moment her character entered the storyline, she carried the quiet baggage of a woman who was fighting hard to stay sober with the chamber of horrors and complicated familial relationships that interlocked. It was a quiet level of depth that made her performance so lovely and so lingering. Ritter got to that depth, no doubt, by making a series of very specific choices which led her down the iridescent path to emotional fullness and, ultimately, an unforgettable performance.
This article was originally posted on Backstage