I’ve been playing with some character development ideas over the years. They’re based upon three years of working in a psychiatric outpatient clinic. I had some 400 hours in the classroom and 40 hours a week in the clinic. I learned so much about human behavior that has since been a real help in my acting work.

When you’re shaping a character, just how deep do you go? Is it possible to go too deep? According to Jack Lemmon it’s possible. When he did The Days of Wine and Roses he went too deep during a scene that takes place in a mental institution. At least, that’s what he said in an interview some years back. He said he lost control and that’s something an actor should never do. But you can go plenty deep without losing control and find whole new levels and ideas that will enrich your character. For the next few entries I write, I’m going to share some theory with you. I hope it turns out to be useful.

What do we actors do, exactly? Actors invent new human beings. That’s a pretty simple definition that carries a lot of weight. After all, humans are very complex critters. Especially when it comes to personalities. A human personality is layered like an onion. So, we’re going to start peeling.

Personalities are, of course, invisible. How well can we really know anyone? I promise you, each of us has certain thoughts and we all do certain things that we don’t share with anyone else. (There are people that will say whatever is on their mind or behave however they choose, regardless of the consequences. They’re called “annoying” at best, “psychopathic” at worst.) We have to get along in society. And we want that to be as simple as possible. So there are things we keep to ourselves. That’s good. Some realities are yours and yours alone. Without them, you wouldn’t be human. Knowing the difference between what is appropriate behavior and what is inappropriate behavior is something we expect everyone to know.

When working on a character wouldn’t it be cool to get to know his/her secret realities? They’re right at the core of who that person is. There are outer layers we have to peel back, first. Next time we’ll get started.