*this post was originally published in March 2020 and has been rewritten and updated
We’ve all had that experience of meeting an actor in real life or seeing them in an interview and realizing that they are not the same person as the character they are playing. It can be both magical or oddly pierce our illusions. Bringing the words to life and lifting them off the page as a new person, complete with a life, habits – both good and bad, hopes, fears, dreams, a past and a future, takes skill. That is both art and being masterful at the craft. But learning this as a new actor can be daunting; where do you begin?
There are many different ways to prepare and create your character. There are the classics, such as Meisner, The Method and Uta Hagen’s Famous 9 Questions, but the art form is by nature a living breathing one that is evolving everyday. As more actors study the craft, and develop intricate skill sets and ‘tricks’ to get to know the characters they are playing, new methods and techniques come about.
For experienced actors, creating the character is almost second nature. Yes, there is time and work involved, but just like anything else you practice daily, you become more adept at it and the process becomes easier, smoother and very much muscle memory – it’s almost like driving a car, something you can do without thinking about it.
To help you with this, I’ve put together a list of some of the most frequently used and thought-provoking questions for you to consider as an actor. Read through them, ponder, contemplate, journal the answers, record them or write them out. Find what works best for YOU and your creative process; you are creating art – structure is useful but rigidity seldom helps.
Getting Into Character: 50 Killer Question to Help You Prepare as an Actor
YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THIS CHARACTER
- What is their general Personality Type?
- What do you love about this character?
- Where are you similar? i.e. “How are they just like Me?”
- What makes you uncomfortable about playing this part?
FAMILY & EDUCATION BACKGROUND
- Who was this person’s parents? And did they grow up with both parents?
- Were they closer to their mother or their father?
- Do they have siblings? Are they close? Why or why not?
- What role did she play with her family as a child?
- Where did they grow up? If they left, why?
- If they went to post secondary school, where did they go to school?
- What did they major in? Why did they choose that major?
- Did they enjoy it? Was it easy or hard for them?
- Did they pay for their own schooling? Do they have debt?
JOB / CAREER
- What do they do for a living? And how do they feel about it?
- How long have they been doing this?
- What are they an expert at?
- What do other people say they’re really good at at?
MONEY + FINANCES
- How much money do they make a year?
- Are they content with this, or do they want more?
- Do they have savings? Investments? or are they living pay check to pay check?
LIFESTYLE + PERSONALITY TRAITS
- Married? Single? Live alone? Or with someone?
- Do they have pets? Plants? If so, what kind, and why?
- Where do they live? What area of town? What type of dwelling?
- What gets him or her up in the morning? What motivates them?
- What is their morning routine like?
- Are they a late night person or a morning person?
- Do they workout? If so what do they do?
- What is their typical daily diet like? (Donuts or Salads?
- Do they drink, smoke or do drugs?
- What is it that they just cannot resit?
- Why type of shows do they watch on Netflix?
- What does she or he do to unwind?
- Are they in a serious relationship right now? If so, is it good or bad? How do they treat each other?
- How did they meet?
- If they live alone, is it single by choice? Divorced? Widowed?
- Who are the most important people in his or her life?
- Who (or what) broke this person’s heart?
DREAMS, FEARS, HOPES + ASPIRATIONS
- What are they passionate about?
- What do they hide from world?
- Where is he or she strong? Where are they weak?
- Where are they overly confident or optimistic, not just being realistic?
- Where do they sell themselves short?
- Where are they out of balance?
- What does their inner critic usually say?
- What makes them laugh privately?
- If he or she had lunch / drinks / coffee with their best friend today, what would they talk about?
- How does she or he experience the world? Is it a good place? Happy, fun, sad hard?
- What happens when they sit quietly for 5 minutes? Can they?
- Name one experience that changed this person’s life?
- What does he or she want to do before they die?
“It’s important to say that the more challenging a scene is, in a way, the more fun it is because the more of my job I get to do.” — Daniel Radcliffe