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Without a character, there’s no acting role. Even if the writers have carefully crafted a character with some great word choices, it takes an actor to bring that character to life. Acting is the art form that portrays a character in real-time.
Creating a character for acting is difficult. Finding a role with a character just like you is nearly impossible. You need to become that character by understanding them as well as possible. Developing a character is tricky and requires a lot of research. Creating a character for acting roles can become easier with the correct information.
There are many methods and techniques that can help you bring life to a character. Trying out different character creation methods is advised, but we’ve narrowed down some great options for you to test. Follow the steps below to learn how to create a character for acting.
READ THE SCRIPT
While obvious, there is often more to a script than meets the eye. There are various aspects you need to consider each time you read the script:
What the script clearly states about your character; their interests, age, personality, etc
The themes for your character’s story
What does your character say about themselves?
How do other characters react to your character? And what do they say about your character?
Your character’s relationship with others in the script
How your character treats side characters or no-named characters
Where did the character grow up?
What is the character’s goal or objective? What are the stakes?
What obstacles stand in your character’s way and why?
The script is a wealth of information for helping you bring a character to life. There’s a lot of information included that might not be immediately apparent. Reading between the lines will help you discover how to create a character for acting in any role.
It’s best to read the script multiple times without trying to learn your lines.
UNDERSTAND THE STORY
Understanding your character is essential, but there’s more to it. The characters’ place in the story and the world it’s set in, can add character development and personality layers. Understanding these aspects too will improve your acting ability.
Some actors find it incredibly helpful to know the background of their characters. Answering the “Who”, “Where”, “When”, “Why?” and “How” questions about the overall story will help you see a clear picture of that character in relation to everything else.
WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN
It might seem strange, but writing the information down from the script can help your creative process as an actor. Reading the script is essential, but writing down the information can help to solidify everything in your brain and make it easier to remember.
Taking notes while reading the script also lets you make a “character cheat sheet” that you can refer to at any point later. Having a character page like this can make acting easier since it will contain everything you need to know about that character. It can help you create a more believable character.
A “character cheat sheet” would also contain details about how that character physically reacts to different events and how they walk, sit, speak, and act during specific moments in the script.
SPEAK TO YOUR CHARACTER
Speaking to a fictional person might seem strange when deciding how to create a character for acting, but many actors swear by this. Having a conversation with that character can reveal certain aspects about them. The most common method for this is to ask them questions.
Even though the characters might be fictional, you need to portray them like real people. If a character was once a person in history, you could still take some creative liberties for your acting role. Even most “based on true events” films and other media can be inaccurate about the events.
Acting requires you to understand a character; an excellent way to do this is to ask them questions. The questions depend on the role and might change as the role progresses. A static character is unrealistic and dull. Your character will evolve throughout the recording or show.
What to Ask Your Character
While the questions may change over time, these are a good starting point:
What do you want here? (From this person, from this goal/mission, etc.)
Who are you?
Do you have any physical disabilities or limitations?
Which of your physical and mental qualities stands out the most?
What do you fear?
How will you get what you want?
Being able to answer these questions can take time. Depending on the role, it could be hours before you’ve answered them thoroughly. This can be draining, but putting in the work will give you a greater understanding of the character.
Taking the time to learn them will make it easier to portray them realistically.
THE ARCHETYPE OF YOUR CHARACTER
Sometimes it can be challenging to create a character, even with a script. Archetypes are stereotypical character types/roles often seen in different forms of entertainment. Comparing your character against these can help.
Archetypes can also explain where a character fits in among the others in a group. Using one of these can help provide you with a base to build a character.
Your character could be a:
Outlaw / Rogue Hero
Innocent / Child
And many more.
Characters can move between archetypes as the story progresses. The names of these archetypes can change, but they usually refer to a person of the same type. However, the type doesn’t determine the character’s role in entertainment.
Characters can be two or more archetypes, but there’s usually only one dominant element at a time. Characters might even change archetypes depending on who they are with. A ferocious outlaw may be a caregiver to their family and a mentor to another character.
Recognizing the archetypes demonstrated by your character can help you perform better as an actor. Knowing what type they are during the scene allows you to portray it to the audience better.
Creating and developing your character can be a very personal task. There’s no right way to do this, but understanding different methods like the ones listed above will help to make this process easier. The key to acting lies in understanding your character and being able to immerse yourself in his or her perspective. And the more detailed you can be in developing your character, the easier this will be.
If you are interested in acting but have no idea where to start, this FREE Actors’ Toolkit from the acting coach Laura Mac is an excellent place to start. Here, you will find information about the different elements of character development and ways for you to track your progress throughout your acting journey.
Additionally, you can enroll in her Foundations program, which covers all aspects of being a successful actor.