5 Small Ways to Get Into (And Embrace) Your Character

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

March 15, 2018

You’re in the early stages of rehearsal (or maybe even the late), and you’re having some issues getting into character. Not to worry. Check out these five tips for getting into character when your character’s giving you trouble.

1. Journal with core facts and key phrases.

An actor/director friend of mine, Monica Mulder, recently used the “Core Facts / Key Phrases” tool in a show we did together. The idea is to locate core facts about the play (where, when) and your character (name, age, job, relationships, past, history); and then locate key phrases that your character says that defines who they are at their core (“I’m not that kind of person.” or “I hate that I have to do this.” kind of phrases that define a character).

Then, while journaling, choose one of these key phrases and begin to free write for at least five minutes. Discover what journalling about this key phrase does for your understanding of the character. Does this key phrase lead to you finding out why your character has said this? Why are they this kind of person? If they say, “I’m a terrible friend,” what makes them think this? What have they done in the past? Journaling does so much for character development and discoveries in the long run.

2. Pick an animal that you think your character might identify with.

This isn’t as easy choosing an animal that only matches your character physically. GO MORE IN DEPTH. Research several animals and their social habits to determine how your character is similar to them. If your character is a predator, what KIND of predator are they? A wolf? Bear? Hawk? If you choose a cheetah, be prepared to look into the way they interact with other cheetahs. Does your character have lots of friends? If so, choose an animal that moves with its pack. Play around with adding part of your character’s physicality to your character’s own walk.

3. Walk like your character would walk.

When you’re walking home from school, around campus, or taking a walk to clear your head, consider the way your character may walk (and consider the animal you may have chosen). What makes them walk this way? Are they handicapped? Do they have big, long, confident steps or meek, quick, small steps? Do they lead with their head or their hips? How does the animal walk factor into this? Character physicality is all about layering.

As an example, I recently played a playful character who was in her 30s but was also childlike when she became unsure or frightened. I chose a raccoon for my animal, as well. I began with quick long strides that were accentuated with a slight bounce, hands held near lower sternum when confident and playful, but transitioned to shortened steps and toes pointed inward with hands held at upper sternum when unsure and uncomfortable. The baseline for the stride come from the way humans commonly walk, but the nuances like bouncing and holding hands above the waist came from the raccoon’s physicality. Raccoons typically hold their hands close to their faces while at rest and have a bouncy wobble when they move about.

4. Think of the best and worst possible futures for your character.

First, figure out how your character’s life would be different if they did not achieve what they want in the play. Would their life fall to ruin? Would they lose their job? Would they lose the love of their life? How would this affect the rest of their life? Then, figure out how your character’s life would be different if they achieved everything they wanted in the play. How do they progress after this? Do they find solace? Do they have a child? Are they able to move to a different city? Figuring these answers out helps raise the stakes for your character.

Ashleigh Gardner received her MA in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies (with concentrations in Film, Gender Studies, and Psychoanalytic Theory) and her BA in English Literature (with concentrations in Victorian, Gothic, and Early American Literature and Gender Studies) from the University of Central Florida; she received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College. She is a playwright, an actor, and PerformerStuff.com’s Editor.