Realism – Portraying with conviction

@labrug How to make a character so convincing your audience believes you are going through what you are portraying? 😉
25/02/2014 7:26 pm

This is a hard one to answer. Ultimately, it is a very personal choice as to how far an actor is prepared to go in portraying your character. You see, when you get in to character, really get in to character, it affects you. It sort of blurs I guess with your own self. So there is a real risk with something I am going to term Emotional Bleed.

Sometimes, as an actor, we can be asked to play something deep, dark and dangerous. Our job as an actor is to portray this in a manner that the audience will understand, or connect with. The darker the emotion, the deeper one must dig. Yet as real people, we may not have experienced anything like what the character is supposed to be going through. Part of character development is to find that feeling and experience.

There are tales of what some professional actors have done in order to be able to create their characters; spend time with real life people living the life similar to the one they are to portray, or put themselves through physically and emotionally challenging trials. Basically, they do extreme research.

Ultimately, it is about developing some way to actually be in that experience, be that character. It becomes not about acting, but about being. The actor IS that person. They have gone through a lifetime of events that have brought them to this point in time, to be the person they are, in this moment, and to be able to be in that moment as many times as it takes.

In theatre, you repeat the whole story from beginning to end, night after night, for weeks on end. In film, you may need to repeat your performance in pieces, several times over. Either way, being able to easily return to this dark place is essential.

It means knowing your character like they were you.

For me, it is about finding the reasons and motivations that you make me, who I am today, be the person I need to portray. This means that the back-story I develop for my character is not just a character guide, it is a program, or a software, that I load. It helps me to connect to my character.

It is something that I only, really appreciated some years after doing a lot of theatre. When I was cast as Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet), my director really had me get dirty with my character, both figuratively and literally. I really felt like I was Mercutio. The there was his famous monologue, “Then I see that queen Mab…”

Up until I did this play, I had always seen this character as light-hearted, almost arrogant clown. He was skilled and a charmer. As my director worked and reworked this particular piece, I learnt far more about the man Mercutio. I found an appreciation for why he played the arrogant clown, and I began to connect with him. I realised that had I gone through his life experiences, I may very well have had his same outlook on life. In going through this process, I and Mercutio became one and the same.

In my earlier post, The Capacity of a Grudge, I do discuss this process in a little more detail. Simply put, if I cannot find reason in me to do the things that my characters do, then I am not being real and honest to the role. Realism is the ability to deliver the lines, the emotion, the motivation, and the heart-felt truth in everything.

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