"Believability and Complexity"

It’s a fundamental of performance process that a character’s believability relates significantly to the character’s levels of complexity. Some characters are very complex, others are not so complex but they are never without complexity. Sometimes actors quest a truthful complexity through trusting random impulses that emerge from their own individual complexity. This can create great complexity in the character but it will often create great confusion, too. This confusion arises because the character’s actions and choices aren’t bound together by unifying purpose. In life our choices are bound together by our individual life experience and psychological desires. The same should be the case for the characters we play.

Creating a Complex Character
Psychological desire or ‘need’ is the fundamental ingredient that brings a manageable complexity to the characters we create. The Rehearsal Room has a simple way of going about this. The basic principle is this – “choose a ‘need’ from The Rehearsal Room list of verbs which is separate from (different to) the text. It is this simple choice that brings a unified complexity to the character’s actions.

A Challenging Recording Session
Last week while recording character voices for a video game we often found that it was a challenging task to keep the characters real. The element that created this difficulty was the fairly predictable dialogue that had been written in haste by a game designer with little experience as a scriptwriter. When confronted by the difficult task of delivering a lengthy speech for a mortally wounded commander, actor PETER DAVENPORT made an amazingly simple choice.

Rather than summoning up great quantities of painful experiences and squeezing as much power as he could into feelings of anguish, Peter returned to Rehearsal Room basics. He spent a moment mentally sifting through The Rehearsal Room list of verbs and then selected “to be loved” as his character’s primary psychological ‘need’(intention). Despite the fact that he was playing a man dying in a military world, entirely surrounded by confused and frightened men PETER chose that simple and powerful ‘need’ as his character’s subtext. Having done so, he walked into the booth and nailed the speech in one very impressive take.

Keeping It Simple
It is always amazing how often acting doesn’t need to be made more difficult than that. Of course there can be much more complex paths to achieving such goals and occasionally these paths may be more affective than the way PETER chose. However it is not often that the rewards will be significantly better. If acting choices have to be made quickly, and often they do under screen performance schedules, there is no more productive way than the one PETER chose.

The Same But Different
Later in the day another actor had a similar task. Here again was a dying man’s monologue. The writing was functional at best. Take one was pretty mundane. The actor, bemoaning the difficulty of this challenge, asked for help. Based on PETER’S elegantly simple choice earlier in the day the director suggested that this time the character’s psychological subtext be “to please”. As with PETER it was a choice well removed from the content and the immediate context of the story. The actor returned to the booth and the next take was a ‘knockout’.

These actors successfully turned very basic dialogue into very effective performance by bringing a believable complexity to their characters. The complexity was unified by a fundamental psychological ‘need’ that was then trusted and monitored second by second by the actor’s own impulses and active listening.

Being believably complex is what makes a character real.

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2006. All rights Reserved.



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