Last fall, I had the privilege of playing Thorin in the musical production of The Hobbit. I loved this part, however it was quite challenging for multiple reasons. Namely, I was playing someone of a whole different gender, who was also much more stern and tough than I am. At first, I struggled. I thought he should be very forceful and commanding. But, he ended up seeming very angry and rude. I was asked to change this but it was a challenge to do so.
As I thought about how to best embody this character, I realized I had to become the character. As weird as it sounds, I had to let Thorin take over my brain. The advice I would give to someone else struggling in a similar situation is to think like the character at all times. What would he do? How would he react? Even when off-stage, it is important to think about the life of the character. What is his backstory? What is he doing when he is not involved in an event on stage? Ask yourself these questions, and hopefully you will become your character on stage.
So, in the case of my becoming Thorin, I proceeded by figuring out other details of his personality. He often got frustrated with the “imbeciles” in the company. I concluded from that side of him that he was easily irritable and liked everything a certain way. And, I understood his annoyance with Bilbo, because he was no help to this. Thorin was also very ambitious and frustrated with the dragon who took his land. With this, I was able to form a relatable character who was stern but not angry.
That’s another challenge with character development. Words like stern and angry are often confused. You have to be positive that you aren’t letting other feelings take over a general quality. For example, a character who is commanding should not necessarily be overly forceful. The two qualities don’t automatically go together. As an actor, you could add opposite traits such as a humorous or relaxed tone (if it suits the character) to balance out the character so he or she does his job, while still being relatable.
In conclusion, here are three simple steps to character development:
- Consider “Who is this person?”
Come up with who the person is. What do they think of what is going on in the scene? How would they react? Then, how can the next line you carry deliver that feeling?
- Carry it Out
Use the tone you have already developed when delivering lines. But take note! Some scenes may require different tones. If necessary, refer back to step one.
- Remain in Motion
Even if you don’t have a line, your expressions will take you to the next level. Play along with other characters’ lines. Think of your own in your head (but don’t say them). If you create a character that acts like someone (human or not) relatable by having clear facial expressions, you will boost your performance up to its best, a goal every actor wants to achieve.