“With every part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting. It’s lying.” — Johnny Depp
The first movie that I ever saw with Johnny Depp was Pirates of the Caribbean. I was immediately enthralled with the characterization Depp brought to Jack Sparrow: so unique and real. This caused me to dive deep into his other works. I was, and still am, truly amazed at how brilliant of an actor he is. But, what makes him brilliant? When I saw this quote, the answer clicked into place. Ever since, these words have been so pertinent in my life. They have helped me to grow immensely as an actor and as a person.
In my opinion, the most successful actors “sink” themselves in their character. What I mean is, you know who the actor playing the character is, but they play it so well that you see the character before you see the actor. Part of the reason this is, is because of how much of themselves they find in each of the characters they play. They find the truth in their character.
Finding vulnerability is the most important thing in the creation of a character. This vulnerability needs to be just as much you as it is the character. As Meryl Streep said:
“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s about finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”
The differences you find are not the most important parts to developing a character; it’s about finding similarities and parallels to your life experiences.
How do you do this? It’s difficult, but not impossible.
Thus far, my training as an actor has helped me to develop some ways to get to the point of full vulnerability. Honestly, it was really hard on my emotions for a while. For some things, I had to dig to the lowest, most upsetting memories to really draw from my life experience. I recall one of the first workshops I had attended in school; the instructor told us to vizualize a window that we knew well (i.e. one that we had seen before) and could describe in detail. He then proceeded to ask us how that particular window made us feel…what was the significance of that particular window. At first, I was picturing a window at my grandparents house. But then, without warning, the instructor said something that changed the direction of my memory completely. I went from calm to absolutely terrified; I was reliving a significant event from my past. I won’t go into detail, but I did have to leave the room because I was bawling.
At that point in time, I had no idea how to lift myself out of my own past emotions properly. What this instructor was teaching us was called “method acting”. This is why we see a lot of actors get seriously hurt or even killed because of the role they are playing. They go to such depths to get the character just right. Personally, I don’t use method acting very often. It makes it so you get lost in the character rather than finding your similarities and differences in the character.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from that workshop; it made me realize that there is a huge difference between full-on method acting and vulnerability in a character. Vulnerability is an amazing tool and really helpful when it comes finding out who you are in your character. Yes, sometimes you have to dig deep to feel what your character is feeling. But the upside is that you can draw from your happiest, most intimate and pivotal memories as well. You discover habits, find out what makes them tick, and are able to see how they develop and handle relationships within the world of the play. Once you are able to find that, you give in to your vulnerability.
With that being said, I want to leave you with some tips that have always helped me to get out of the character headspace. The first is something that you can do within the rehearsal process and that is checking in with yourself. Make sure that how you are approaching the character is healthy and you have a way out of it. The second is separation: completely separate yourself from everyone who is involved in the production. You need to get away from the world your character lives in as well as the people in that world. Go to a quiet place where no one can disturb you. Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes to breathe…just close your eyes and breathe. The third is having something nearby that makes you feel like you, whether it be a book you’re invested in, a picture, or some other token that brings you back to reality and calms you. You could even exercise or call a loved one (after you take some time for yourself). Finally, because I am a Christian, I personally like to find a core verse to meditate on. This usually changes from show to show. I get my yoga mat and blocks out, prop myself up on one of the blocks, close my eyes, and just sit for ten minutes with my eyes closed, only thinking about that verse.
Vulnerability is nothing to be scared of. When you become vulnerable, you develop a sense of truth and empathy in the character you are creating. You are able to feel and relate to your character as well as the characters you have relationships with in the world of the play. Do you want to know what the best thing about it is? Everyone is different. They all have different ways to access their vulnerability and come out of it.
When you are on stage, you are exposed to a world that does not know you. It can be tough to break through. But it’s not impossible. Keep your chin up, keep training, and keep fighting.