This is what I like to do when I am putting a character together. And just to make it a bit more accessible (and fun) I’ve noticed it lends itself very well to what you would find if you… say… logged into your character’s Facebook account! Now we aren’t building their account from scratch – no it already exists – we just need to pull it out of our script.
So lets work backwards. This huge script is a little like their newsfeed – full of things that don’t seem to make a lot of sense out of context. It can be a daunting task to search through our own feed at the best of times but all the information is there.
Imagine how you could work backwards from your newsfeed to get your timeline, your profile page and ultimately YOU (or in this case… your character).
1. Pull apart your script – Start with the basics. Pull only exact information from your script. Think of this as searching through your newsfeed. Where are you? When are you? What is (or should be) the date and location on your latest posts. Try to be as specific as possible. What are facts about your character you can pull from what you have in front of you. Look at your character description in the contents (profile picture), your lines (posts) and what the other characters say about you (where you’ve been tagged). Include major events from the show or your character’s life in your search. All the stuff that would flash up in your character’s feed over the course of the show that references your character is important and we need to sift through to find it.
2. Make a timeline – a real one but just like a Facebook timeline – I like to make a line down the side of a piece of paper and make little increments for each year the major events that have happened to this character and when. Sometimes scripts aren’t specific so you have to make some decisions. The first things I always put on my time line are the year the play is set (or years) and how old my character is next to it. I then use this to create the year they were born. Sometimes I am lucky enough to have been given this information but usually I have to use a bit of license and decision. I then place things that are important based on how long ago the play specifies or how old the character was. I would include here things like going to or leaving school, beginnings and ends of important relationships, work, life changing moments referenced etc. THEN I get out my history book and fill in the major world and regional (based on the “where” of the script and my character at the time) events that would be known to the character (Our good friend Google in a new tab works just as well).
3. Colour in and extrapolate – Make your character a profile. I like to start with their birthday. If I don’t have a date I base it around other information from the script and even star signs. I look into what was popular at the time and what they would have grown up with and if they were someone who perhaps would in fact follow those trends. I want to know their favourite things to do, their dreams, their “likes” and “relationships”. This is often a good time to make a little map of who knows who and how. What is there favourite colour? What would THEY write as their bio to introduce themselves. What kind of language would they use? How do they present themselves to the world, and can you read between the lines of what they actually THINK and FEEL.
4. Sign in – Remember that before you even open your account you are a person. As much as the person on your page is a representation of you it is not all that you are. Think about how all these events have created the life and person that you are going to portray. Sometimes it helps to take a step into their heads, actually look up the things they would have been interested in and influential people of their time. Get an idea of a few people you think may be similar to your character and see if there are any attributes you can use to bulk out what your character is. And don’t be afraid to let them surface. Try some things out and see what you find. You can always open a new account if things really aren’t working out :p
A character is more than a name. They have a life all their own and it’s your job as an actor to discover what that is. No matter how big or little that part is it is very important to know how to build a character. It is so easy for a chorus character to be undeveloped or a lead character to be two-dimensional. But that can be avoided if you do your homework. Best of luck!