Acting Techniques: How to Put Your ‘Uniqueness’ to Work

Posted on 1 July 2016



One thing that’s fantastic about working with our students is that they are all unique. They come to me, complete with baggage and weaknesses, and not only learn but also teach. Everyone you’ll share a scene with, write with, or even talk to about a character will have a unique take.

While its easy to appreciate the “uniqueness” in others, it’s sometimes hard to do so for yourself. You might think that because you’re different from the actor next to you, you’re somehow lesser.

This is not true.


Understanding Your Uniqueness

Many people have what they call “baggage”: from their relationships, childhoods, and traumatic experiences. However, if you’re able to work through or come to terms with your experiences, they can become positive influences on your life and your ability to act.

While its easy to appreciate the “uniqueness” in others, it’s sometimes hard to do so for yourself.

Your unique experiences can help you to relate to characters who have gone through similar ones. Even if you don’t directly relate to a character’s “baggage,” your own will guide the way you interpret it; this is why there are often different but equally famous versions of the same character.

Think of all the Elizabeth Bennets and Willy Wonkas: each with its own merit, and each a production of the actor’s unique “baggage”.

Cathryn Hartt tells the story of how her sister, actress Morgan Fairchild, came to terms with her uniqueness.

When she first came to Hollywood, she was cast as the mean girl in a television movie, “The Initiation of Sarah.” She really wanted to play the “good” sister and begged the producer to let her at least read for it. He said, “Young lady, you haven’t been out here very long, have you? A pretty girl is a dime a dozen, but a good b**ch is hard to find. You have great power. Own it!

In coming to terms with your own uniqueness, you’re learning to understand your character’s uniqueness also.


Refining Your Uniqueness

Once you’ve begun to accept your uniqueness, its often helpful for an actor to pin down exactly what makes them unique. This will be what marketers call your USP, or “unique selling point”.

Branding, many experts will warn you, is a risky exercise. You could end up typecast for your entire career. However, the concept is a useful one: how do others see you, and how can you best capitalise on this uniqueness?

Actors like Robin Williams and Steve Carell built their careers on being seen as comedians or comic figures. This served them well, earning accolades and rave reviews for optimising how others naturally perceive them.

Branding your uniqueness doesn’t have to restrain you, either. Those same comedians mentioned before, Williams and Carell, portrayed tragic and dramatic characters later on in their careers to huge box office numbers, nominations, and awards. In fact, you could argue that the contrast of these later roles to their earlier ones is what got them such rave reviews.

To pinpoint what it is that makes you unique, try these two exercises – and when listing your own qualities, stay positive!

  • You are what you watch. Characters from film, TV, and theatre that you relate to strongly could be the key to figuring out what kind of actor you are. Are you a leading lady? The comic relief? The villainPick three characters you’ve seen on a screen lately who you relate to, and write down some of their traits.
  • As much as we don’t always it to be the case, your physical type can help define your uniqueness. If you’re muscular, you might go for the “muscle” or “action hero” roles; if you’re less physically imposing but wear glasses well, you might go for the “scientist” or “tech support” roles.Ask others what they first notice about your appearance. What do stereotypes say about people with these traits?


Adapting Your Uniqueness In Acting

You might find yourself being cast constantly as the father or the villain without trying. There is something in you that casting directors see as that character, and you might want to embrace it.

Karl Malden, a well-developed character actor, recently revealed that embracing that his unique typecasting was the most important thing he took away from his schooling:

Everything they put me in was the brother, the father, the uncle or the friend, never the leading man. So I said, ‘If I am going to stay in this thing, I’d better be the best character actor I can be’.

When thinking of successful character actors, think of actors like Jack Nicholson and Benicio Del Toro. These two have the same eccentricities in most films, expressed to different degrees. If your uniqueness has destined you for character acting, we suggest you take the same approach.

After narrowing down your personal traits as we explained in the section above, figure out how to enhance and embrace them in your acting.

Here are some questions to help you refine your unique character:

Think of the physical:

  • Do you have soulful eyes?
  • Do you move quickly?
  • How loud is your laugh?

Think of the emotional:

  • How quick are your reactions?
  • When there’s a sudden noise, are you frightened or are you angered?
  • Do you have any nervous habits?

Embracing Uniqueness In Others

If you’re embracing your own “weaknesses” as unique traits, it’s good to recognise it in others too. Your character’s experiences and perspectives are as valuable as yours, so you can’t ignore them completely in your interpretation.

When trying a character on for size, understand their personal traits and how their past experiences have formed them; and then line yours up next to them. This will help you find which parts of your unique self will help you to interpret the character.

You should also pay the same respect to the uniqueness of your fellow actors, writers, and directors. If you have an experience valuable to the performance, so might they.

Embracing your weaknesses as unique qualities is a fantastic tool for opening yourself up to new interpretations of characters and scripts. As an actor, you’ll know that the best state for a performance is vulnerability: being able to truly move with the flow of emotions in a scene. Understanding how your own unique experiences and perspectives shape your emotional responses is key to unlocking the full potential of this vulnerable state.

To better understand applying your uniqueness to acting, why not see if our elite Ultimate Acting Course is suitable for you?


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