|Part of the producers, actors, directors, job is to analyze the script and break it down into manageable parts. A great deal of your character study will happen during this procedure.|
The five "W's" to ask about your character:
WHO am I?
WHERE am I?
WHEN am I there?
WHAT am I DOING?
WHY am I doing it?
The answers to these questions are always stated or implied in the dialogue or given in the stage directions.
Objectives and Obstacles
Once you've asked the "what am I doing" and "why am I doing it" questions, you're already working on finding your objectives. What does the character want to achieve as a result of their actions? You can have many objectives (major and minor) throughout the film, so as you read through, ask the following questions frequently:
What do I WANT?
Why do I WANT it?
The obstacles in the play keep your character from accomplishing their objectives. They are often the cause of conflict between characters. They may also be caused by a psychological block or internal struggle within your own character. Just as there can be many objectives, there can also be many obstacles in the film. Once you know what your character wants, then you must ask:
What obstacles must I OVERCOME to get what I want?
An example of a character objective and obstacle can be found easily in your basic horror movie - the character's objective is to have a peaceful existence without fear, and their obstacle is the evil force or person who is frightening them. Other obstacles to consider might be:
Time - do you have a time limit to accomplish your objective?
Ability - are you skilled at the task needed to accomplish your objective?
Feelings - do you have to battle feelings of guilt or fear before you can accomplish your objective?
On-stage, as in life, a person's character is revealed through his actions and by his reasons for doing them. By asking these questions, the Actor begins to discover who his character is.
Consider how your character relates to the other characters in the film. Does your character like or dislike them? Do the characters share history before the time period of the film? Does a daring character make your cautious character irritable?
How does your character relate to objects in the film? For instance, if your character is ordered to drink a beer, his relation with that beer will be different than if he's thankfully quenching his thirst on a hot summer day. Objects become very good partners when they're imbued with a meaningful relationship. Objects can provide the same psychological stimulus as another character can.
A lot of these relationships will become evident through rehearsal but a few ideas beforehand will make your rehearsal process more productive.
Using the Lines
Keep in mind that behind every line of text, there is SUBTEXT. If a character says, "It's raining," the subtext might be one of these:
We'll have to move the party indoors
Now those flowers will grow very well
No, you can't go outdoors to play
I told you you ought to get the roof fixed
I love to walk in the rain
An Actor has no right to speak a line until he has discovered the reason for saying it. The subtext colors the line of text and will influence what words you stress and what your physical expressions are. As you say the text, you must always THINK the subtext just as clearly.
Finding the Beats
What a character does to accomplish each minor objective is called a beat. A beat is a unit of action and each beat is a necessary step toward the major objective. For example, if your character is a burglar, you might break the script into these beats:
Break into the house
Locate the wall safe
Open the safe
Remove the valuables
Escape from the house
An actor should always find the beats, mark the beginning and end in the script, and be able to state the objective and obstacle for each one. The actor is responsible for this work before rehearsals begin.
Break the script down into actionable beats, using an adverb and a verb at every emotional / dramatic shift within the script. Actionable verbs are essential because they are rooted in action with an objective. For instance, if a man and a woman are in an argument, we first must deduce what each of them wants to accomplish in the scene. As David Mamet said, we must also determine how each person will behave if they don’t achieve their objective. The twists and turns inbetween are the dramatic beats of the scene, and each of them has an action (verb) and a corresponding flavor / style (adverb). If the man’s objective is to get off the hook for not paying the heating bill, he might want to make up an excuse to cover up his oversight.
At the initial point of the conversation, he may be very confident in his excuse, telling it with fortitude and confidence. In an actionable beat, we can describe it has “lie” (verb) / “confidently” (adverb). This is an action that can be easily relayed to an actor, and will form the core of the direction of that scene. Everything that I tell the actor from there on out will be towards achieving that one goal, which is to “lie confidently.”
** Memorizing Lines **
Word for Word?
Many actors fail to understand why they must memorize their lines word for word as the playwright has written them. It becomes frustrating for the actor when they are faced with a difficult speech, but there are many reasons why the actor should resist the temptation to paraphrase:
Security. The only way to be sure of fluidity in your speaking is to know the words accurately. One of the most frightening things an actor can ever experience on stage is a sudden moment of forgetfulness - where your mind goes blank. And nothing can kill a punchline faster than an actor who is stumbling around because he doesn't know exactly how the line goes.
Characterization.The words of a play are music for the actors to dance to. Every word, every punctuation mark, every pause and every stage direction the playwright includes is there for a reason. Clues are given in the use of vocabulary that tell you (and the audience) important things about a character.
Integrity of the film.
The film's speed, tone and message depend on recognizing the playwrights purpose for every scene, every line and even every word. Different characters are written to speak in different ways - fast or slow, using dialect or regional jargon - and patterns are created from combinations or repetitions of words. Therefore changing words can affect the integrity of the whole film.
How to Memorize
If you don't have a photographic memory then you have to work at memorizing your lines. Here are some tips that should help you:
Highlight. Emphasize your lines in the script with a highlighter or underline with a brightly colored pen. Use a different color to mark your cues (the lines or actions just before your line). Mark stage directions with another color or don't mark them at all.
Read through. Go over all your lines (out loud) several times.
Read each line. In order, from the top of the play, read each line aloud, slowly. Concentrate on each word - especially the small words like and, or, but, if. At intervals, put the script down and check how much you remember. When that line is memorized, move onto the next until you can remember the entire speech without looking at the script. Then move onto the next speech, etc., until you've gone over them all. As you go on, the chunks of dialogue that you practice without using the script should get larger and larger. Make sure to look up words or pronunciation that you're not familiar with (once you learn it wrong, it's much more difficult to re-learn it). Don't worry about interpreting, or acting, the words at this time, just put them together in one long stream.
Read with a partner. Arrange someone to read the other character's lines so you can learn where your cues are. I've found it most helpful to record the other lines into a tape recorder, leaving silent spaces where my lines would be (hint: read the passage silently, as slowly as you can - this will give you extra time to figure out the line when you play the tape back). Run the tape or practice with the partner as often as possible.
Italian Run. When you have a solid handle on the lines, you can practice an Italian Run, or speak the lines out loud as fast as you can, in order, word perfect. As soon as you can do an Italian Run without stumbling, you've pretty much got it made. You can also do an Italian Run involving your practice partner or the rest of the cast.
The more you practice, the more you'll find it easier and easier, more fluid, and natural. In rehearsal, each line will be imbued with meanings and objectives which will also help your memory. At this point, the director can usually keep an eye on the script and call any mistakes to your attention.