For most acting roles, there’s a time of transition from being the actor to being the character. You may arrive on set hours before shooting anything because you have to go through makeup and wardrobe and wait for the director and crew to be ready for you. On occasion, if you’re lucky, you might have the opportunity to do something very, very different and arrive on set in character.
I had an experience like that in 2011 when living in the Dallas area. It wasn’t a commercial or film though. It was a live event for a travel website. I was hired to play a client. They gave me a name, a profession, and a company. I became a regional sales manager for Dr Pepper Snapple, which is headquartered in DFW.
The travel website company hosted an anniversary party and introduced the “clients” during the event. Each of us spoke about our travel experience and also mingled with the staff. I felt like a good challenge at the time, especially due to the face-to-face time we had with employees who believed we were actually clients. We had to think quickly and respond to questions from the employees, while staying in character from the time we arrived at a North Dallas restaurant to the time we left.
A similar experience is coming up for me in Dallas this week. I get to arrive on set in character and remain in character the entire time. Also, like the “Dr Pepper Snapple” role, this one will be unscripted, but it will be a shoot rather than a live gig.
To help make my performance more interesting, nuanced, and consistent, I am developing a strong backstory for the role. I already have the character name and his profession. I also have a birthplace for him and some other memorable experiences he’s had on the job. I will continue to flesh out his background in the next couple of days so I have a clear image in my mind of who he truly is and where he’s been. I’ll need every asset I can create in order to comfortably step into his shoes on Thursday.
For the new and inexperienced actor, here are 10 questions I like to answer in these situation. These are open-ended questions so a simple “yes” or “no” will no be sufficient. Keep in mind, you’re welcome to marry real-life experiences with your imagination when coming up with answers for your particular characters.
1. What was his first word?
2. How did his high school classmates view him?
3. Why did his relationship with his first girlfriend end?
4. If married, how did he propose?
5. What is his single biggest regret?
6. What advice for others does he repeat over and over?
7. What is his favorite ritual?
8. What secret has he never told anyone?
9. What meal does he order or make for himself most often and why?
10. When he dies, does he want to be buried or cremated? Why?