How to create a character in acting: Step One:
It’s easy to jump ahead in acting. We get excited about the story, the character we’re playing, a specific juicy scene…and we sometimes dive into rehearsing/playing certain moments before we are ready.
Before you do anything else: Read and study the entire script.
This may seem obvious, but I see it often enough in my work with (even experienced) actors that it warrants a reminder. Whether you’re working on a play, movie or tv show you have to start here. Good writers have given you a lot of information that will be vital to your understanding of how to play this role. Even scenes you aren’t in. Sometimes the other characters will talk about your character and give you information. There are also certain rhythms to get a sense of, plot points, themes…so many clues you cannot ignore.
A student of mine shared a story about auditioning with a monologue from a play she hadn’t read. She had the great misfortune of not only totally missing a giant piece of information (the character was pregnant), but the writer of that particular play happened to be in the room and called her on it. Oops.
Yesterday I was working with a really smart actor who almost missed a major piece of character information because it was in the scene directions and not the dialogue. Even great actors miss these things when they rush and forget to start with the basics. It’s way more important to understand the scene deeply than to be totally off book. If you don’t include these important elements, you are not doing your job and telling the story as the writer wrote it. (And you definitely won’t be getting that part, either.)
So after you have read it for the first time and gotten a sense of it, go back and play detective– look for clues like: age, social class and any physical descriptions. Write down everything that is said about you–by you, by another character or in the stage directions. You are building a map.
So this is just step one to building a character–read and study the entire script, even if you only have three pages of sides. You can’t add anything on or make choices unless these choices are totally supported by the story. Don’t. Miss. Anything. And don’t wait for your acting coach or the director to find it for you. This is your job.