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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making It Your Own

One of the hardest things we have to do as actors is to maintain a sense of individuality while creating characters. It is so easy to lose yourself in a role, especially since many of us have been trained from an early age that “acting” is when you become someone totally different than yourself. I remember an acting teacher once asking me, “When you put your hands on your hips- was it Erin doing that, or was it the character?” According to this teacher, if the action wasn’t planned out in advance as something that character does, it was an unacceptable action. There was no room for organic movement, or for instincts. In my opinion, it is a useful tool to have in the actor’s toolbelt, but not as an overarching technique. It wasn’t until I got out into the real world that I started to see that there are many different ways to reach the truthful expression of character.

Still, you find that in Hollywood and on the Great White Way there is some emphasis on the carbon copy performer: big belty voices, perfect teeth, cookie-cutter bodies, formulaic scripts, generic line reads... the list goes on and on.

Which is why I was so refreshed to read this news bite that Maggie Gyllenhaal wanted to make sure she could put her own stamp on her role in the new Batman flick before accepting it (it was played by Katie Holmes in the previous release.)

You don’t need to be a superstar to make sure your unique perspective on a character is seen, but you do need to have insight and you must have courage. Insight is required to know exactly what it is that makes you special as a performer. Clearly, Maggie knew herself well enough to know that Katie’s portrayal was unique and could not (and should not) be duplicated. But she also had to have the courage to tell the producers (and Katie), “I want to do this my own way.” Notice also that this courageous move was also very business savvy. She was conscientious about how changing the role to suit her unique style might look in the industry (as a slight to the previous performer) and she held off rumors by contacting Katie in advance and getting her “blessing” while also being up front with the media about what had transpired.

Another thing to note after reading this news bite... I am reminded of how many people get roles even when they are not the first choice. Katie was the first choice for this role, and Maggie is the one who ultimately played it (and we do not know how many actors were considered before they went with Maggie.) Think about all of the auditions you’ve had where you felt like you nailed it but did not end up being cast. You may have been inches away from getting the part, except their 1st choice ended up saying yes. Does that make you less talented, or make your audition less good than their #1 choice? Is Katie better than Maggie because she was #1?

Truly, I think it is impossible to compare one actor to another. There are so many reasons why an actor falls into choice #1 or #2 slots (or 3 or 4), many of which have nothing to do with anything the actor did in the audition room. The difference between feeling great about your audition and feeling terrible is all in your perspective. Fact: there are not enough roles out there for the many, many talented actors vying for them. For the roles you don’t get, chalk it up to timing and logistics- neither of which are in your control. What you can control is being prepared and playing full out. If you have to judge yourself, judge on these criteria alone!

And when you do get that part, really own it. Take a chance and reveal yourself deeply in the role, as much as you can, while still serving the script and the world that the writers, producers and director have created with you. Be courageous!

Do you have any stories about how you have made a role your own? Or, simply have a question? Leaving a comment and I will address your response in an upcoming blog!

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