Lauren and I have been studying acting for almost two years together. No one asks Lauren how serious she is about her acting career. Everyone asks me.
I wrote a post about it on Medium, but here, I just wanted to share my process for preparing for a single scene. Like many budding actors, I’ve originally vastly underestimated the amount work required to appear like you are acting at all.
Here’s what I do today.
What’s the story?
Is this story contemporary or historical?
What can I learn about this period? How does it differ from today? I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia.
Is there a subject matter that relates to my character, their profession or what they’ve experienced in the script? I’ll watch documentaries, and if possible, talk to people who have the same profession.
What kind of characters does the writer usually create? Is there a common theme?
What do I know about my character?
Is this character like me? What are our similarities? Opposites? Are there things that I would never do that my character does? Am I a ‘normal’ person? I think about my character a lot, every day.
If the character is very dissimilar from me, is there anyone in my life that I know who is like that? If not in my life, another similar character? At this point I may watch some TV shows and movies to inform my ideas.
Does my character remind me of an animal or a bird? Does it have any of their traits?
What’s my social status? Upper class, middle class, white collar, blue collar, white trash? What did/do my parents do? Where do I stand economically today?
Did I have a happy childhood? What are the things that I remember? Were my parents good to me? Did I have friends? Best friend?
Mini biography. How old am I? Do I feel that age? Where was I born? Did I move a lot? What did my family look like? Siblings? Was I the favorite child? What did I want to be when I grew up, and did I achieve this goal? What do I do now? Where do I live now, and do I like it?
What am I like as a person towards other people? Friendly, dismissive, shy?
What role does sex play in my life? Love it, embrace it, not interested, detest it?
What makes me smile, and what do I like doing? Favorites: music, film, books, TV, artists.
How do I feel about myself at this particular moment? Do I have any regrets? Do I feel like my life should’ve been different? Am I living the dream?
What am I scared of?
What am I afraid that people could find out about me?
What drives my character?
What is my pain, my problem at this very moment? What do I need?
What is my obstacle for solving this problem?
What is my relationship to the other character in the scene? Are they here to help me or hamper my efforts? Can I use them?
What happened just before the scene? How does that make me feel? What’s the first thing that I need?
Do I discover anything in the scene that I wasn’t aware of before?
And then I’m breaking it down into tiny little pieces:
What does each of the lines really mean to me? What am I actually saying and thinking? I write it down on the right hand side of each sentence.
What action is associated with each of the lines? Do I patronize or encourage or mock or shock? I’ve recently discovered ‘Actions. The Actors’ Thesaurus’. It’s a life saver. I annotate each sentence with an action on the left hand side.
What will this scene look like in a physical world?
Where are we, what time of day it is?
What’s my current state? Am I awake? Sleepy? Drunk? Ill?
What actually happens in this scene? Can I describe it in a single sentence?
What’s in front of me? My imaginary wall. Does it inform the scene? Can it help with the scene?
What are my props? What’s my costume? How can I use them to strengthen my actions? What activities can I perform? I love referring back to Seth Barrish’s ‘An Actor’s Companion’ at this stage.
Will I need to use any substitutions, endowments, sense memory, emotional memory, imagination? All the good stuff that Uta Hagen covers so beautifully in her ‘Respect for Acting’.
Am I having any inner thoughts or inner monologues in this scene?
The lines, where do I get to the lines?
I read the script twice, sometimes three times.
I read my scene one or twice a day.
I write down my lines as I remember them and then I try to memorize them.
I never say my lines out loud unless it’s a monologue or they need to be delivered in a specific accent.
And I never say them in front of a mirror.
And then, I forget it all and do the scene. Next character — Nic from ‘The Kids are Alright’ played by the mighty Annette Bening.