This weekend I worked with an actress who will not be writing her autobiography anytime soon. The reason I know this is true is based on what she shared with me on set. She basically said, “nothing interesting has ever happened to me.” Since I don’t know her well, I couldn’t point to any details to contradict what she said, but I did use the opportunity to make a point about storytelling.
As I explained to her, an outsider looking at her life may find meaning in details she neglects to see as interesting, important or relevant. I’m sure there are many others like her, who believe their lives fail to measure up to some misinformed standard of what is worthy of sharing. At times, I have felt the same way. Luckily, those thoughts haven’t lingered around long for me.
One of primary joys for me as an actor is having the chance to discover what’s interesting about a character, especially one that may be perceived by audiences as largely uninteresting. I ask myself, what makes this guy worth getting to know? What kind of first impression does he make? What about him would surprise people? These are great questions to ask about ourselves too.
The way the character connects—or fails to connect—to other characters is also an area of focus for me in character development. Why we are drawn to certain types of people can be interesting because it provides insight into how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us. When I was first working in radio, I was drawn to a coworker with a dynamic personality. I recognized qualities in her as a “perfomer” that I wanted to bring out in myself. She would become a strong influence in my life, so strong that I ended up marrying her.
When we’re given a script, some of us look at the dialogue first and then the action. What we say and do is what the audience sees, of course. But what is equally important for our process is understanding why a character makes the decisions within the script or connected to it. That’s where the “interesting” moments often occur. It’s the same in real life. The decision to pursue acting and producing in 2004 instead of looking for another TV news job—like many of my coworkers did—elicits a strong and positive response from a lot of people when I share the story.
While “interesting” is still a highly subjective experience, finding something relevant in our personal or professional lives can help. Our scene this weekend touched on many relevant topics, including marital problems. I’m still dealing with the impact of divorce nearly four years after it was finalized. I feel like this kind of personal connection to the character not only helps my on camera performance, it also creates an opportunity to openly discuss the material and make interesting discoveries during the collaborative process.