The Elements Of Character

For an actor creating a character from scratch is a major undertaking. If you wish to achieve more than playing some variation of yourself there are many elements that go into creating a role.

After developing a solid technique you will have to learn how to break down a script. The writer provides the actor with a road map and it is the job of the actor to navigate the twists and turns of the writers vision. Actors approach their roles differently. Brando was an actor who relied heavily on his instincts and intuition to gain an understanding and feel for the character’s point of view. He was a keen observer of human nature who spent hours watching people in a variety of situations. In the latest Brando bio by Susan Mizruchi (“Brando’s Smile”) Ms. Mizruchi writes that Brando was an avid reader/researcher that would read voraciously to gain information on all aspects of the character’s nature. Annotating every script he worked on was part of an insatiable curiosity that was an integral part of his process. To gain an understanding of character he had to know why his characters were motivated to do the things they did.

Intuition is another tool that is an integral part of the process. Getting a “feeling” for what is happening “moment-to-moment” and “impulse-to-impulse” is a non-intellectual way of dealing with the written word. The actor cannot impose himself/herself on the script. In other words you don’t do the script, the script does you.

“Imagination”, said teacher/director Robert Lewis, “is the most powerful tool the actor has at their disposal.” For any artist imagination is not a luxury. It is a necessity; the fuel that ignites creativity. The actor’s choices are directly influenced by the imagination. Vivid visual images have a major impact on the actor’s choices.

Time and place cannot be ignored. Stella Adler said, “Where you are is who you are.” This not only refers to the immediate place but the economic, political, social climate of the time. Dress codes, morality, protocols, etiquette, must be addressed.

It is your job to inhabit the world of the character that you play. Their voice, walk, speech patterns, mannerisms are all part of creating the role. You must express yourself emotionally and physically as the character does. You cannot ignore the essential elements of character. It is your job to bring the character to life.

Develop your technique, respect the process, and bring all of who you are to each and every role that you play. Do not compromise any aspect of preparation. And learn how to play. It is the child in each and every one of us that gives birth to creativity.

How to Build a Character For Voice Actors

Whenever people hear a beautiful speaking voice, they say, “Oh, you should get into voiceovers — it’s easy!” Think again. Voice acting, because that is what it is, is far from easy. You don’t have scenery, fabulous lighting, dance and costumes to help get your point across — it’s all up to you and those little bits of tissue in your throat to lure your listener into a world of your creation.

So how do you go about creating a memorable character? And believe me that character better be memorable, not just for your readers, but for you. Suppose you are recording an audio book that has 5 or 10 characters — all of them you!

First, it helps to know what kind of a learner you are. Are you kinesthetic, where the physical is predominant for sense memory? Are you aural, is hearing your avenue of choice or are you a visual learner, and do your eyes paint your memories? Whatever your key learning style is start there. For example, I am visual kinesthetic so I start with how the character looks physically, how they appear to me visually, and lastly, what they sound like.

Just yesterday I was working with a UK client and she had to find the voice for a young surfer who was caught in an unforgiving wave. Because we didn’t have the full story, we had to use our imaginations. Most of the time research in your book or your short story or your ad will give you all the clues you need to gather the skeleton, the muscles, the skin, and perhaps even the clothes, of your selected character. In this case, we had to use our imaginations. You must find a way to make the character real to you to be able to impersonate him or her.

Okay, back to our surfer, we made him 15 years old, nicknamed The Wave Master, tall, slender, muscular and concave in his body stance (we chose that because body posture makes a big difference in how you breathe – and therefore in the sound of your voice). His hair was sun-streaked dirty blonde and he wore a hat inscribed, “I’m the greatest.” He was all urges and bravado. The first thing to go was the bravado as he realized this could be it — curtains — a terminal wipeout.

You see, here we have used kinesthetic and visual to flesh out our character – let’s continue. He walks with that curious combination of grace and adolescent clumsiness. Finally, his voice, changing, cracking, assured one minute, a bleating kid the next.

As you can imagine creating a voice like this demands excellent control of your instrument — especially if you’re 35-year-old woman! We will go into how to use your vocal instrument to create things like accents, differences in age and sex in further articles.

I have to physically connect with a character before I can give it life. In other words, I’m using my predominant learning styles to create a character that is memorable for me, understandable to me, because I can’t give away or create what I don’t posses.

One time on stage with Palm Beach Opera I simply couldn’t find the key to a character. The challenge was a very feminine woman becoming a very bored, wealthy and slightly cynical man, Prince Orlovsky in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. I found him when I tried on my costume; by that time I was getting mighty scared, but at last, I found him. My costars were all over 6 feet tall, I was 5 inches shorter. As the Prince, I found my short stature infuriating and that attitude was the trampoline for the rest of his character and behavior.

So you see, one little detail can bring a character to life for you. As actors, and as voice actors, your greatest learning tool is observing the humans around you. Get on a bus and watch how bodies hold themselves, listen to how people use their voices and try to imitate those voices. You have school all around you. I wish you a joyous learning experience -throw your fear out the window and go share your creations.

Adria Firestone