Don’t Play a Nun
This past weekend I gave a student in my workshop a scene from the screenplay, Doubt. It is a 3-person scene and all three actors assigned to it are talented, driven performers. The actress reading Sister Aloysius, the older nun, was very precise and her intention was clear, but she was so formal in her read that it seemed she was “playing a nun” or what her idea of a nun would be like, sound like, act like. I asked her to drop the “sister act” and just use herself within these imaginary circumstances. She knew exactly what I meant and read the scene again giving the character all of her own humanity. It was engaged, passionate, conflicted, and super fun to watch. She made her own discovery in our discussion afterward that the costume itself (if she was hired to play this role) would be enough to indicate “nun” and that she didn’t have to help sell it in the scene. Exactly!
I believe it is always best to start with what you know and to use yourself. Of course part of the fun of shaping a character is playing with physicality, voice, mannerisms, etc., but I believe those things come after you connect with the humanity of the character. Start out playing the scene as you in the circumstances so you can really feel and understand the heart of the character and then begin playing with the outer layers to shape and form the differences between you.
Do you feel like you step into the shoes of a character right away or do you work from the inside out? Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!