Taking on a role

When you act the part of somebody else you are taking on a role. That role has personality traits, qualities and specific characteristics which form its character. Without successful characterisation you can’t embody the role and bring that person to life in a three-dimensional way.

I can’t tell you what your character is because you and I are going to collaborate to make a character, to invent a character and also you will never know anything about this film except what your character knows at any stage of the proceedings.

Mike Leigh, Director

Non-verbal communication

This is what you say without using words or speech. We can learn a lot about a person from the way they stand, move and gesticulate, and by studying their facial expressions and physical characteristics. A famous study by psychologist, Professor Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s examined how we communicate. He concluded that a staggering 55% of communication is through body language, 38% is by our tone of voice, and only 7% of what we communicate is through the actual words spoken.

Even when a playwright’s characters are detailed and well-drawn, there’s much more to communicating a role than what’s to be found in the text alone. The same applies to creating and developing characters of your own.

This clip from the BBC’s Arena programme shows several well-known actors interpreting Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Can you see how their characterisations differ? Look carefully at the way the actors use their voices, movement, body language and facial expressions to interpret the character.

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Glossary
  1. characterisation To portray a role using voice and physical skills.
  2. demurely An affectation to give the appearance of calm.
  3. gesticulate To gesture with hands and arms to signify a specific meaning.
  4. idiosyncrasy A unique characteristic.
  5. physical neutrality The performer body in neutral without tension or character.
  6. posture The way you hold your upper body in position.
  7. Victorian Period of British history defined by the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837-1901.