How Do I Bring My Own Take to an Already-Written Character?
By Erin Cronican | Posted Jan. 29, 2018, 8:30 a.m.
Q: What’s the best way to bring your own take to a character that’s already written? Should you stick to the script or try to make it your own? —Mike W.
I firmly believe that what makes an actor stand out is not her talent, training, experiences, or connections. Instead, we get hired because of our unique interpretation of the text, a skill that comes from our years on the planet coupled with our life experiences. The more empathic and curious an actor can be, the more interested she is in learning about others, which will make it easier for her to bring her own take to a character.
When it comes to how to do this, it depends on how the material is being used. There’s some wiggle room when using established text in an audition, because the actor’s job is to take a scene and create an arc as though it’s a stand-alone piece. There are liberties an actor can take with her imagination, answering questions like:
Who is the character talking to? What’s happening in the scene? How does it mirror something that has happened in my life that I can relate to? What problem is the character facing and how can she overcome it? By choosing this piece, what do I want to say about who I am as an artist?
When working an established text as a project, an actor can ask herself similar questions. But then she advances, finding clues and filling in gaps for anything not answered. So in addition to the above questions, an actor can add:
What are the relationships in this piece? How do they mirror relationships I have had in my life, which might be useful for my imagination? What problem is the character walking into each scene with? Which tactics does she use to overcome the problem and get what she wants?
You might think that answering these questions means the actor is giving in to the writer’s wants and not her own, but the act of answering them gives the actor great power in blending her perspective with the writer’s story, which is a beautiful artistic collaboration.
Erin Cronican is a professional actor (SAG-AFTRA/AEA) with over 20 years of experience performing in film, TV, plays, and musicals (NYC, LA, regionally.) She also produces and directs with The Seeing Place Theater, a critically acclaimed non-profit, indie company in NYC. Passionate about sharing her knowledge with other actors, Erin is the lead coach and founder of The Actors' Enterprise, one-on-one coaching service that provides affordable career coaching to actors who want to feel more fulfilled and in control of their careers. She helps actors set goals, design their materials, organize their business, and create a plan of action with easy tools that can take them to the next level with an emphasis on feeling empowered and working smarter, not harder. The first consultation is always free. Follow her on Twitter @ErinCronican and like her on Facebook.