Why you need to stop playing a caricature and start creating a real character
Sometimes when I’m watching a scene it feels like I’m watching an actor playing a caricature of a role vs having an experience of that character as a living, breathing, human in a specific set of circumstances. Perhaps you’ve had this experience as well? It’s usually a let down because as an audience we can’t drop into the story, we’re too aware of the acting and ultimately it doesn’t help tell the story on the page.
Let me clarify the idea here: Playing the role as a “caricature” simply means that it feels like an imitation. It may feel exaggerated to the audience, like the actor is playing at the idea of the role rather than living it.
So, no doubt you want to avoid playing a caricature. But how?
One easy way to unintentionally slip into imitation-mode is to take the character breakdown as a set of strict rules to follow. Actors in this mode often attempt to capture the adjectives used to describe this person and start playing a caricature or imitation of those characteristics. I see actors attempt to play characteristics like “bossy,” “uptight,” “wistful,” “full of life,” etc. This can happen when reading what other characters may say about you in the text as well. “She’s a total Type A.”
Use your understanding of the role as a jumping off point. Then, get to work and make sure to listen to your instincts.
Know what you want (objective) so that you feel it in your bones, build your POPE, use your imagination to create the world and build a strong point of view, rehearse with active verbs so that you’re doing something to the other person in the scene (rather than playing mood or story), find your stakes…Your process. All of this must affect you in your body.
And you can use your own personal hooks.
What do I, the actor, personally understand about the emotional core of this scene for the role I’m playing? Is this scene about loss of control? About jealousy? What can I use to hook into that when I rehearse? Does it come from my imagination? Does it come from my real life? Is it a combination of both? If the audience’s experience of the role should indeed read as “bossy,” can I figure out why? What’s my need to control really about? What do I personally understand about wanting control?
What can I do to the other person to get what I want moment-to-moment like, bulldoze, bully, steer, trap, etc. and can I rehearse with some of those offerings?
I once coached an actor playing an “uptight” role who had fallen into the trap of playing a caricature simply because of how easy it is to conjure up ideas of uptight people. It quickly gives us images of up rigid posture, meticulous organization, perhaps even over-articulation, etc, all of which may end up being included in your rehearsal, but if you stop there, and there’s no internal undercurrent for your uptightness, if there’s no NEED under it, it doesn’t ring true. We, as the audience, don’t buy it and then the story is dead.
Can you use your imagination to build a compelling reason for why you’re so uptight that truly stirs something powerful up in you? Can you build why you feel such terror about it all falling apart? (stakes!).
These are some ideas to help you avoid the caricature trap and help you build living, breathing humans that are compelling.How do you avoid playing AT a role?
CLASS CLIP TRANSCRIPTION
Sarah: What I think was a big shift also was thinking about how you’re connecting internally to something. I’m not sure if it was the way we were working or if it was something you were using to plug in, but it looked like something was making you emotional, or just stirring something up in you, there was something activated, and that was also helping you connect to the scene in a way that you got under it, so whatever that was was activating something in you, and that’s what you’re on the lookout for when you work, you’re always investigating to figure out, “what am I gonna use to hook myself in to the circumstances? How am I gonna get under it?”
Cuz otherwise we’re just trying to mimic and play at an idea of something rather than putting it through us. We’re putting these people into us. And trying to figure out how we bring our own juice into it, rather than try to pretend we are them.