One of the things I don't like is watching a film and being struck with some version of, "She wouldn't do that."
So I started evaluating, trying to figure out what gets that reaction from me. Part of it is unrealistic circumstances created by the writing, direction, or editing, which arguably are outside the control of the actor. Other times, though, I'm realizing the disconnect occurs when the actor slips between why the character would do something, and why the actor would do something. In a couple of instances, it's because their was a switch between what the character in the current project would do, and what the actor had done as another character (or another character type) in a previous project that I suspect they were more connected to or comfortable with than the current moment's character.
So how do I avoid that? How do I find out that character core, that framework on which to hang my performance?
It's called a lot of things, but for me, it's come down to figuring out my character's "spine". Spine works so well for me as a metaphor, because it's the component of the body without which there isn't dynamic physical movement, it describes the moral character and attributes of a person, and it's the binding that holds a book -- the whole story -- together.
Early in my acting, I received a wealth of good coaching advice from my film coach Van Brooks. One of the pieces that stuck with me particularly was, "Don't judge your character". (The particular scene was me as a guy who may or may not have killed his ex-girlfriend.)
This came back to mind a few weeks ago when I was struggling with one line of dialog when getting ready for a cold read. My character said, "Darn" -- all by itself, in a cast-off way -- and it felt weird. The self-talk sequence that came to mind was bit like this:
- "Darn"? He says "Darn"? Who says "darn"?
- "Don't judge your character."
- Who says, "Darn"? I do.
When I did the cold read, I nailed "darn". It wasn't punched, it was cast-off, I didn't think about it, and I sold it. My coach and peers called it out after the cold read as an example as to why selling the most insignificant word in a believable, organic way, creates good, unexpected moments.
Later in the evening (interestingly), my coach (Steve) had a discussion with all of us about weird dialog (someone else had some funky phrasing like "you're toast" that was causing similar trip-ups).
He actually even said, "Who says that kind of stuff? Your character does."
(Which was validating and freaky at the same time; he's in my head!)
So, one of my recent tools is I've stopped "judging" my character's dialog. That doesn't mean I don't try to figure out why he or she is saying what she's saying, and why it's being said at that time. But I shelf any useless judgements (like, "That sounds stupid", and so on). I can't replicate the "darn" by thinking about it, or trying to sell it. It works or it doesn't.
Oh, and a side-effect of not judging my character is I make more dangerous, interesting choices, which come through on the audition or cold read. ("Did I kill my ex-girlfriend? Yes, yes I did.")
Mheh. The process was more interesting as I worked through it than it probably reads here.