Shut-up. It is not necessary to talk as much as we do. It is not necessary to explain your actions. Why explain yourself? It is almost as if the only way most of us can substantiate our lives is if we talk ourselves into existence. Our actions truly speak louder than our words. If someone doesn’t understand you through your behavior, he won’t understand you by your words.
This says something very important to us about our acting. If we have to explain our character to someone before that person understands him, then we are not doing a good job. Your character’s actions should speak for themselves. If you are off track you should know it by your explanations.
I have also found that whenever I talk about a project in the midst of the project, it dissipates. It is never as strong as if I had just presented the finished product.
Let me give you an example. You tell someone a wonderful idea. She will tell you all the reasons why it won’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen. You start to doubt yourself and soon you believe that it probably wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.
I say all ideas are equally good but they can become brilliant when accomplished.
No one sees life like you do. To give them an idea which has not been fully thought through is courting disaster. It is much easier to criticize than to applaud and most people will take the easiest path. Give the person a complete performance and then go on your way without explanations. Let them decide by and for themselves if it was meaningful.
“If you cannot find the truth right where you are,
where else do you expect to find it?” Dogen
A similar Zen expression goes “The only Zen you will find at the mountaintop is the Zen you bring there.” Zen and acting are both an exploration of self. You do not have to look beyond the skin you inhabit to find everything you are looking for. Understanding comes from within you and so you must be the subject of every character investigation.
Every character, no matter how different from yourself, is easy to find. Just hold a mirror up to yourself.
Imaging – Write down a character description for three very different characters. Commit these descriptions to memory. Stand in front of a mirror and stare into your own eyes. Start to describe the first character. Try to see in your own eyes the essence of that character. Look only at your eyes. Describe the character out loud in the first person, using phrases like, “I am an alcoholic.” Try to see him in your eyes. Keep repeating the description until you feel that person. Say another description. Widen your vision to include your whole face. See that character in your face and then your body. When you feel one with the first character, close your eyes and let that character go. When you open your eyes again, see yourself. If you feel up for it, move on to the second character and then the third.
After completing this exercise, you will see that any character can be created by looking within. That is where you should begin every characterization.
“If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.” The Hsin-hsin Ming
Don’t make value judgments in relation to the characters you portray. Every character is just a person. Do not attach good and evil. That way of thinking can only lead you astray in your characterizations. Your character is just a person with a strong agenda and tries to pursue what he feels is right in the best way possible. We have to try to understand the character. We have to fall in love with the character. But the love must be a clear headed love. We must understand him for his strengths and weaknesses. Once we understand him, we can attempt to step into his shoes.
I always use the example of having to portray George Washington. Would you just try to imitate the famous painting “Crossing the Potomac?” How could you? He was a real person like you or me and had many flaws. George Washington was not always the father of our country. He had a childhood that influenced him greatly. He probably had disagreements about petty things with friends and relatives. Unbelievably, he ate, drank, slept, went to the bathroom, and fornicated pretty much the same way we do those things. To realistically portray him, we have to study the good and the bad and root him in ourselves. Anything less would result in a caricature.
The point of this is, do not make value judgments. Make an honest in-depth exploration of your character. Good and evil change with each passing day.