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How to analyse a character for actors & voice actors

Updated: May 4


When I was younger, I’m talking senior school level, I used to think that I could just be a character (Oh, how foolish and naive I was!). Whether it was Petruchio from ‘Taming of the Shrew’ with his loud and churlish manner or Arkadina from ‘The Seagull’ who was an eccentric but aging actor who I thought I could just base off of Eddie from ‘Ab Fab’. I didn’t consider they had a life before the play or really think about what lead them to do the things they did.

My acting was okay, but looking back it was very performative and I would show the audience how the character was feeling rather than actually being the character, feeling how they felt in the situation they were in and trusting that it would translate to an audience.


It was only when I was training that I fully understood how powerful character analysis was and how transformative it would be for my work.

So, today I’m going to share with you 3 steps I take to get to the root of any character.


These steps will give your characters depth, meaning and a full life on stage, screen or VO.


1. Motivation/Objectives

Depending on the practitioner you learn from, will depend on which term they use, but motivations and objectives are essentially the same thing. They are your character wants and desires.

The easiest way to write a motivation when analysing is:

‘I want ______’

You need to fill in the blank with what your character wants. The easiest example I can give is if my character is dehydrated, my motivation would be ‘I want a glass of water’. This would then move my character to get a glass of water. The way in which I pursue this depends on the circumstances.

If I’ve been lost in the desert for 5 days and on day 2 I’ve run out of water, this will be a desperate want. However, if I am dehydrated because I ate some fast food earlier, I’ll still want the water but it will be only slightly pressing as opposed to an urgent need. Consequently, when I eventually do get the water, it won’t be as euphoric as in the first scenario.

To find your motivations/objectives, go through each scene your character is in and ask yourself:

‘What does my character want most in this scene?’

Your character may have more than one motivation/objective per scene and they may change throughout the scene depending on whether those objectives are being met.

2. Backstory

There are two parts to creating your characters backstory. The first is everything you know from the text, the second is filling in the blanks in your characters history through the use of your imagination.

Everything you know from the text:

It’s important that you read the text in it’s entirety before creating your backstory.


Once you have finished reading, go through the text and note down anything that is said about your character - either by your character, by other characters or from the stage directions.

You then want to determine what is absolutely true and what is perhaps made up by other characters because of their opinion of you. Never take opinions from other characters as fact, unless backed up by your own character.


For example, lets use A as your character and B as your characters enemy:


A: Why did you do this?

B: Because you’re a liar and a cheat. Someone needs to show them justice.


Just because B thinks you’re “a liar and a cheat” doesn’t mean you are, that is just B’s opinion and view of you.


If however the conversation went like this:


A: Why did you do this?

B: Because you’re a liar and a cheat. Someone needs to show them justice.

A: You’re right, I am. I still don’t understand why you did this though?


You’re character is confirming that they are “a liar and a cheat”, so that would be noted down as a fact.

Creating your characters backstory:


Once you have gained as much knowledge as you can from the text, you then must fill in the blanks to make your character whole. You want to give them as much history as you can so you can create a fully formed human to play.


You want to note down everything from when their birthday is, the relationship they have with key members of their family, the neighbourhood they grew up in, the first pet they have (or did they not have a pet, if so why?) and everything else in between.

The point of creating a backstory is so you can understand as much about them as you do yourself. It allows you to have a deeper understanding of why they want the things they want (motivations/objectives) and the actions they take throughout the story to get those needs met.

3. Substitution

“My strength as an actor rested on the unshakeable faith I had in making believe. I made myself believe the characters I was allowed to play and the circumstances of the characters’ lives in the events of the play. I use substitution to ‘make believe’ in its literal sense—to make me believe.


- Uta Hagen

Substitution, sometimes known as transference, is a technique of using aspects of your own personal life and circumstances and placing them onto the characters in order to help you find truth in your work.

Substitution is not necessary for every actor to use… some actors are lucky enough to have a beautiful vivid imagination with a bucket load of empathy and can work without having to substitute anything from their personal life.


However, in order to feel true emotion through the character, most actors need a connection to their personal life in order to get them to a place of truth.


Here’s an example of how substitution works:

Your character has suffered the loss of their mother, however your own mother is alive and well.


In order to truthfully bring about these emotions, you may choose to use a different relative or loved one who is no longer with you and place this onto the mother your character has lost in order to connect to the truth.

 

These are 3 of my favourite ways to analyse a character and build a true, three dimensional human being on stage, screen or for voice overs.

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As always if you have any questions on anything I’ve mentioned in todays blog, please email me on katsiggerscreative@gmail.com


Coach Kat x


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