Whenever I speak to actors about what they struggle with, the main issue that crops up is knowing how to create an authentic character. Rather than focusing on the person they are to breathe life into, many actors focus on themselves; what they did wrong, whether they looked stupid, whether they got all the lines right… among other *issues*. We’re going to dive straight in today and discover the 5 acting mistakes to avoid, which hinder character development.
5 ACTING MISTAKES TO AVOID
- CHANGING LINES – More actors than you may realise are guilty of this. Changing lines starts with adding in small words such as a ‘like’ or ‘yeah’ or any other word at the beginning, end or middle of sentences. Once you start adding in words, which lots of actors don’t realise they’re doing until it’s pointed out, sentences slowly start to become paraphrased. The reason actors do this is because they’re trying to make the sentence feel normal to them as if it was their own words. The problem is this – each word has been written by the writer for a specific reason. Within those very specific words there is a rhythm; and each character has their own set of beats. Moving away from this starts to take the character away from their foundations and their rhythm. My advice is to be disciplined; stick to the words as they are written unless the director agrees it is ok to change them.
- IGNORING THE CLUES – What I mean by this is actors ignore the clues in the scene that are integral to who the character is and what is at the core of them and replacing those clues with themselves. Of course there is a certain amount of yourself in any role you play, but you don’t solely play you in every role, you play a specific person within a specific set of circumstances. instead of using the clues given throughout the script, the actor may say something along the lines of “Well, I’ve experienced this before and this is how I did it so it makes sense to do it this way”. Sound familiar? The problem with this is that the energy and characteristics of the person you’re playing are lost in you. It also means the motivations of the character are quickly blurred with you, and the role can end up becoming about the actor rather than the role. Use the fact that you’ve experienced similar things to empathise with the role, but find the behaviour of the character in the circumstances. A great piece of advice I received from my tutor at The Actors Studio, New York, was that actors run the risk of reducing the greatness of the character down to the smallness of themselves when thinking only of how they would respond in a situation, and I agree with it.
- FOCUSING SOLELY ON LINES – Actors go back to how to say the lines for many reasons, one of which is that they’re struggling to connect to the line. The problem with this is that it takes the actor away from who they’re playing and the motivation for saying those particular set of words, it also hinders the actor finding the depth of the role. Focusing on how to say a line can quickly escalate into a mechanical performance. Rather than focusing on how to say something, unearth the character’s behaviour in the scene (with other people and in each event) and discover what they want. When you start to find out what they want and what drives them to get what they need, you begin to find the personality of the role, so the “how” to say the lines becomes a truthful response within the moment.
- FOCUSING SOLELY ON EMOTIONS – Actors are taught to put feeling into roles, to express themselves truthfully, but when the actor focuses only on the emotion they take away any choice the character had over the emotion. An amazing piece of advice I received from Stephen Graham, who I worked with (both coaching him and acting with him) was that when an emotion arises you always have a choice; you can follow through with that emotion or suppress it. The most interesting choice to make is to suppress the emotion (as we do in life), because within that suppression you reveal the BEHAVIOUR of the character you’re playing.
- LACK OF RESEARCH – Experiences shape people (and characters). Essentially actors are sharing the pains, fears, frustrations, desires and hopes of the human condition, so research is a no-brainer. Without researching the differences between the actor and the role, the actor leaves themselves vulnerable to missing key components of the character and giving a 1 dimensional performance of what should be a complex human being. Research can help you find the core of the character.
ONE BIG PIECE OF ADVICE
Never ever deviate away from the script. ALL the clues you will ever need to develop a role and create truth are in there waiting to be found. Read the script over and over and over and over again. When you do this you take the focus away from yourself and can concentrate wholly on piecing together all of the clues left by the script writer to find the voice, idiosyncrasies, walk, behaviour and motivations of the person you are to give life to.
Has this been useful?
Let me know in the comments box below, or share with an actor friend who could use some help with their craft.
Here’s to your success!
Don’t give up, just keep learning.
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Louise O’Leary is a professional actress, method acting coach and Artistic Director of StandBy Method Acting Studio. Her mission is to help as many actors as she can launch their careers and become the best actor they can be.
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