Staying in Character (Video Acting Lesson)
Take a great audition tip—staying in character is a big way seasoned actors stand apart from beginners. You can give your auditions and career a huge competitive edge by staying in character, especially in those all-important spaces between your lines. Take a look at this video of teens applying this audition tip, staying in character, in their kids acting class in Los Angeles:
When actors are cast in any role, they often go through their script and count their lines with the assumption the more lines, the more important the role. However, much of what makes for great, memorable performances is what happens between an actor’s lines. It is the between-lines moments where we really see characters react, think, feel, and decide.
Good acting comes with many memorable, unspoken moments because good actors stay in character.
Consider some of your favorite TV shows or movies. Do you find yourself watching the actions and reactions of your favorite characters, even when they’re not talking? That’s because those actors are staying in character. Unspoken moments reveal what characters feel and think on the inside, which is often much more intriguing than anything they say or do. When we watch an actor reacting in character to others in the scene, we get an inside peek at the character. It’s like being in on a secret, and it’s really fun to watch.
Staying in character is also generous to any scene partner you may have. Staying in character and reacting gives other actors more to work with and respond to. If you are attentive and giving as an actor and are fortunate to be paired with someone investing similar effort, it elevates both performances. And for actors, this creative give-and-take is also very fun and tremendously rewarding.
What does it mean to “stay in character”? And how do you stay in character between your lines?
Take the audition tip, staying in character, and break it down. Staying in character is extending the moment and maintaining the illusion that the scene you’re in is real. An actor’s investment in that sustained moment suspends the audience’s disbelief. It helps your audience forget their errands and jobs and to-do lists, and invites them into the world of your performance.
Staying in character keeps them there, which is the key to making your audience feel something. If you make the casting director you audition for feel something, you will be cast. It may be for a different project, but that is what all casting directors are looking for, and you will be remembered for it.
This is true for the grittiest, most realistic drama as well as for the silliest television commercial. The actor’s challenge is to invest equally in either type of role. Actor, director, writer and producer Paul Marcarelli is best known as the “Can You Hear Me Now?” Verizon guy. He starred in dozens of commercials delivering the same line, “Can you hear me now?” while testing his cell phone connection on sets and locations all around the world. For that one repeating line, Paul created and stayed in an accessible, endearing character that was so well-liked, that one national commercial turned into a nine-year, multi-national advertising campaign and a very lucrative career move for Paul.
Consider the crazy antics on Disney Channel’s Jessie. Debby Ryan, Peyton List, Cameron Boyce, Karan Brar and Skai Jackson commit and stay in character through every wild story-line week after week. We really feel for Sue Heck when she’s passed-over and ignored for years at a time on ABC’s hit sitcom The Middle. And what about Nickelodeon’s Haunted Hathaways? Amber Montana, Curtis Harris, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Breanna Yde sometimes have to act and react in near-isolation for the show’s green screened ghost effects.
The roles you audition for will vary widely. You may be going out for a kid whose parents are divorcing or who is bullied at school, or is a bully at school, or who has lost a puppy… Or you may be auditioning to play a talking amoeba, a space alien, an over-the-top surfer-dude, a ghost, a dryer sheet… Whatever the role, whatever your lines, keep that character live and active throughout your audition.
Watch the above video of the kids acting class for teens again. Pick out any of the actors and watch that actor throughout the take. Even though each teen actor has only two lines or so, every one of them establishes and stays in a character. When they are not speaking, they are listening and reacting to the other speakers and lines. Each is doing something different, something unique, and each succeeds in creating a compelling performance. The character each was asked to play is over-the-top and hyper-real. Even so, each actor commits to and stays in character, which makes the take, however silly, eminently watchable and entertaining.
Of course it’s easiest to stay in character once you have a strong grasp of the role you’re playing, the context of the scene, your objectives, etc. As an actor, your auditions will be better if you can memorize your lines quickly to get off-book, because that frees you to focus on making strong choices in your performance. However, even holding the script in your hand and spot-checking or reading your lines, your audition will be stronger if you can stay in character between your lines.
In fact, just like being off-book, you are equally free of the burden of words in those moments between your lines. Maximize that golden opportunity by reacting and responding in character. You will connect better with your audience, whether it be a casting director, director, or scene partner. And you will be called back and cast more often as a result.
Remember, the camera can get the audience right up close to your face, your eyes, where they get to see the most subtle, nuanced change in expression or attitude. Often, just a shift in thought can be enough to produce an exquisite, true moment for camera. Directors live for capturing those moments, and casting directors live for finding actors who can be counted on to create them.
In the transition from the stage and Vaudeville to on-camera acting way back when, on-screen techniques evolved and favored an increasingly subtle, internal, “real” performance style. One of the ground-breaking super-stars of that early era who helped define that new style of acting was Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper was famously criticized on a film set for “doing nothing.” Gary’s “acting” seemed nearly invisible to some of the other actors on set, whose experiences were more rooted in stage acting. What Gary was doing as an actor was extremely visible to the camera, however. In close-up, the camera can catch even tiny shift and micro-expression.
As actors, we must be open to a wide array of characters we might perform. When you go out for a role, you may find it easy to identify with the character you’re cast to play, or you may have to work at getting a comfortable feel for the role. Whatever the part, stay in character throughout your audition or performance, and watch your reputation and career grow.
image 1 credit: eg-img.com/paul-marcarelli
image 2 credit: comicbook.com
image 3 credit: jessie.wikia.com