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HOW DOES CHARACTER BREAKDOWN HELP YOU AS AN ACTOR?

Gerald Langiri
January 26 / 2012

Character breakdown is a very important exercise if you want to play your role believably. You pick up a script and you notice the writer gives you basic guidelines about who you are:

♠ Rachel mid 20’s, tall and pretty. She is dressed in a simple flowered dress that highlights her plump hips. She stares angrily at Mugambi.....

♠ Mugambi, early 30’s, handsome with a prominent chin. His eyes dart about and he nervously shifts his weight from one foot to another, never standing still.

So you get that if you are playing Rachel, then hey: you have to be angry, or if you are playing Mugambi then you have be a shifty nervous guy. Why? Well because the script says so.

So you visualise anger or nervousness, and you wait for it.... ACTION!

You brow creases, your mouth turns down and you act angry.

CUT!

Your brow un-creases, you mouth relaxes and you can chill and wait for take 2.

Now here is scenario 2, how about you play Rachel and yes you are angry, but you have done your homework on Character breakdown. You understand why Rachel is angry, you know what happened prior to this scene to make Rachel angry and you know what kind of person Rachel is when she is angry?

That’s where character breakdown comes in. This is where you make Rachel more than just a shell that’s angry when the director calls action. She takes form and shape and becomes to you a complete person with a family, friends, desires, ambitions... and all the aspects that make each of us complete as human beings.

Here are some basic guidelines in character breakdown.

1. Read the ENTIRE script, not once but a couple of times. Highlight or underline any mention of your character. This includes the scene directions what other characters say about you.

2. Write some questions on the back of the script or a separate paper. How old am I? Where was I born? What do I do? Where did I grow up? Your questions should cover family, education, social life, habits, flaws, skills, hobbies, fears. Read the script answering those questions, and if you don’t find the answer in the script then create it out of your own imagination.

Please note that you should start to refer to your character in the 1st person: I, not he or she

3. Write down the other characters in the script that you come into contact with whether face to face or in reference. You may have a line of dialogue where you say:

RACHEL
I don’t like it when you hang out with Mike.

Yet you may never actually be in any scene with Mike. But because you referred to him, you need to put his name down. Note 2 or 3 things about the characters whose names you’ve put down. Write down how you feel about them, what your relationship is and what you want from them.

4. Read the script again and ask who am I in the script? Am I a main, supporting or featured? What is my purpose in the story? What is my motivation and how do I go about achieving that purpose? Do I manipulate, take by force, coerce, seduce? Why do I desire this, why is it so important to me?

When you read through all the information you have put down, this character becomes a real person to you. Now go back to the top of the article where the scene description said... She stares angrily at Mugambi..... You will know what your motivation is; you will know what kind of person Rachel is when she is angry.

©Nini Wacera - Actress/Casting Director (2012)

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