The Actors Centre

There's No Such THing As Character

5 February 2016


There is only action.

"For an actor there is no such thing as character. There is only action; a series of events designed by the writer and – ultimately – judged by an audience. To act is to be judged for money."

This thought struck me like a lightning bolt last year.

After a ten year journey from the beginning of my drama school training, all the way until the release of my first lead role in a film a couple of years ago, I'd made it along on instinct and intuition. I'd never stopped to work out what I was doing or how I was doing it. And, I'd stopped enjoying my work.

Now, as an actor, I'm well aware that I'm not saving lives, and the job is nowhere near as hard as some of the work I have had to do pre-drama school, so when I say 'enjoy' don't get me wrong. I don't mean I expect to get joy from the work. I mean; if I'm lucky enough to make a living doing this job then the least I can do is enjoy it.

So, in the hope of making that happen, I stopped. I sat down and picked apart the whole ten years. What worked, what didn't, what I did well, what I failed at, what helped me and what held me back. Teaching at the Actors Centre helped me do this. To teach I first have to define the method. Then, choose the language that will best communicate it.

Recently, I have returned to acting full time and this has created a feedback between what I'm teaching in class and what I'm doing on set or in meetings. And it's also created a test do

My methods work? Well, so far so good.

Each Saturday morning I now teach a regular class called There's No Such Thing As Character. In it I have defined my method and found the language to communicate it. I'll expand on what I mean by that in a series of blogs over the coming months. In the meantime, I'll leave you with my opening gambit – and a small extension – for you to think over.

"For an actor there is no such thing as character. There is only action; a series of events designed by the writer and – ultimately – judged by an audience. To act is to be judged for money.

A character is the illusion created within an audience's mind from the mental addition of actions witnessed. For example –

A woman walks into a room – Slams the door behind her – Apologises to the door for slamming it.

Three actions, designed and received. As an audience we attach a character. We consider have we seen this before? This behaviour? This kind of person? If not, what do we make of it? A judgement is made and a narrative is defined.

For the actor, though, it is just three actions. Entirely separate from one another. Performed without spin. Without trying to tell a story. Just an actor, in action and open to judgment."

 

Chris New - Actor and Tutor at the Actors Centre