*** WARNING: PRETENTIOUS ACTORSPEAK FOLLOWS ***
I had a bit of a breakthrough at rehearsal last night. Actually, “breakthrough” isn’t really the right word for it. It was more of a grounding; but an important one. I’ve been struggling from day one with this role, really trying to find a way inside the guy. When I create a character, I tend to work from the outside in. I like to find a walk, or a way of standing or holding my arms; basically something that is different from the way *I* am, which can serve as a jumping off point. I’m a big fan of finding a character’s particular center of gravity. It’s usually minor, and odds are most people who watch me perform don’t notice anything different, but what it does for me – at least mentally – is allow me to differentiate myself from the character, so that when I start a rehearsal or show, I’m not feeling like “me” and all the baggage that entails. Once I have that, I can then start working more inwards and finding what makes the character tick.
I realize this is somewhat of a bass-ackwards way to work. It would probably make more sense to find out who he is on the inside and allow that to affect his posture, but for whatever reason I’ve always needed that starting point. Granted, I usually allow for change as I begin to add the inner pieces, but without at least having the physical framework, I’m lost. Until last night, I didn’t have that framework, and it’s made the process of building this character extremely difficult.
So anyway, last night I found that posture. It started with a slight cock in the hip, which shifted all the weight onto one leg and created a sly lean. I coupled that with allowing my arms to hang free at my sides, as opposed to the “hands in pockets” or “arms crossed” stance I ordinarily take. This resulted a slight dip in my chin, which caused me to be looking more out of the tops of my eyes than the center. The entirety of all those subtle changes made me feel more “sneaky”, or at the very least “suspicious”. Seeing as how I’m playing a con man, this was exactly the feel I wanted. Now again, if you were to look at me, you probably wouldn’t see anything significantly different, but inside it was enough to give me a feel for “Mike” that I don’t have for “me”, and that kind of thing can make all the difference in the world.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I must also cop to falling back on a somewhat cheesy effect, namely gum chewing. It’s a bit cliché, and a lot of directors hate it because it can cause your speech to be somewhat muddled, but I really think Mike is the kind of guy who would chew gum. In the cons he and Carlino pull off, Mike tends to be the smooth one, but he’s still got an edge; still got a dangerous energy. I found that the gum was the release for that energy. It allowed me to maintain the sneering posture while still keeping a degree of nervous unease. Here’s hoping The Pusher lets me keep using it.
Last night was also the official beginning of the “off-book” phase of rehearsals, so it was the usual bumpy ride. My lines are about where they usually are at this stage of things, so I’m not particularly worried, and everybody else seems to be on pace as well. The good thing is that we’re all acutely aware of potential problems, and we’re working hard to solve them. People are willing to come a little early to run lines, so whatever rough spots we have should be smoothed out by tech week. It’s comforting to work with people who are focused on doing the job right. This may seem like an obvious observation, but unfortunately the level of theater I perform at doesn’t always include people of that mentality.
So while I’m still a long way from where I want to be, this week has been productive. Things are starting to come into focus and “Mike” is within my reach.
I’m starting to feel like an actor again.