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Actors getting into character - the process

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  • Actors getting into character - the process

    At what point does an actor actually become a character? Before or after the make-up is applied? I have always been fascinated with the process of an actor or actress getting into character and preparing for their part in a TV programme or film, from the moment that they arrive at the studios that morning, right up until they do the first take on air. When does the actor become the character - at which point? - as soon as they come out of make-up or as soon as the Director sounds his clapperboard? It must take three or four hours to make that process between arriving for work and actually shooting scenes on camera. And also the difference between an actor and a character - in other words, if one had a "before" and "after" picture of the actor and character side-by-side, would they look like two different people? Likewise, if the same person played more than one different character? I would say yes, although the problem is that character actors, such as Steve Coogan, Warren Mitchell and Brendan O'Carroll often refuse to be seen or even be interviewed as themselves out of character, and so, even in interviews, they would prefer to be in character such as Alan Partridge, Alf Garnett and Agnes Brown respectively. It is probably because a character can be more successful than an actor; sometimes we have to be on guard and be reminded that the character and the actor are not the same person; they have different views on life and things, but for obvious reasons, they do have to have similarities as well. After, it only looks realistic if a male actor plays a male character, and an actress plays someone who is female, unless it is performed in ironic sub-pantomime conditions. On the other hand, the late Michael Percival had quit Grange Hill after the second series because he said in an interview in 1979 that he had felt more like a teacher just like the character he played rather than an actor, and no doubt that being typecast was one reason why he moved on. I personally blamed Tucker Jenkins and Michael Doyle myself.

    Modelling (if I can call it that) has always had such blatantly obvious comparisons with acting; I have done some photoshoots myself a few years ago with a couple of places based in London which I know has comparisons with what actors do prior to their performances, and although it is not acting, the "getting ready" such as the make-up and hair styling does have comparisons with the preparation of getting into character and doing their bit in a TV programme on stage. Looking at the pictures taken when I did the photoshoots, I almost didn't recognise myself in the images, and I suppose that this is almost how actors see themselves in character - the person that they play is another person, and seeing a picture of that is indeed just like looking like another picture. The process of hair-styling, make-up and getting into costume (this is mostly overlooked when doing Radio 4 plays or The Archers for obvious reasons), eventually translates an actor into his alter-ego. Is it worth doing this when it presumably takes a few hours to get ready? I suppose it does if it helps you to do what you are good at doing; acting and expressing oneself; as well as getting paid a reasonable amount depending on how good you are at the job, not to mention how famous you are. And one of my nephews has even done it a few years ago, although one would never watch any of his performances.

    A lot of actors in character look so realistic that one assumes that they might be appearing as themselves if the actor is not too well-know. Just like a modelling session, no doubt that the skirt or top that she was wearing is not the actresses' own (I will not say female "actor" here), and that they belong to the TV company's wardrobe department; other actresses might have worn them, and she certainly wasn't dressed like that when she arrived at the TV studios that day - she would almost be unrecognisable. Also, as I have before, soap characters in particular frequently become a lot more famous than the actors who play them, and whose real names are demoted to three seconds' of air time, being mentioned in the credit sequence at the end of the episode. Ken Barlow is more famous than William Roache, for example, and in a "spot the difference" way, his third screen wife Deirdre often famously wore spectacles which an optician would have been envious of, yet the late Anne Kirkbride who played Deirdre, did not wear them in real life, I believe. When we watch dramas, soaps and even sitcoms on television, we always see the end product and hardly ever assume how long it had taken for the cast to get into costume and how long it had been to get the make-up and hair done in the correct way - we don't question that as it had already been done earlier. They do all that hard work specially to preform to us, the viewer, aka the fourth wall. Even during my annual stints as an audience member watching musicals in theatres around the country, I still don't really think too much about it, even though the main difference is that the actors would be performing it live before our very eyes, just a few metres away from where are sitting (if one is in the Stalls, anyway).

    Staying in Granadaland, I also think about this when it comes to Stars in the Eyes contestants who arrive on set as themselves and come out in a few seconds (or in reality, a few hours) as Elvis Presley or Madonna; it is indeed just like an actor metamorphising into a character just for their spot on the show, and I believe that these members of the public has never done acting and so has been a new thing to them. Even the contestants on Blind Date (the Cilla-era at least), feel "polished" and "more sexier" if they are the correct words to use, just like actresses in character; they have gone through the process of make-up, hair styling and costume, and that the person which we see on screen is not really the same person that we would see had we passed them by when walking down the street every day., although they use their own names and not adopt an alias. A lot of Blind Date contestants feel so articulate, (and that also goes for Stars in their Eyes, especially during the failed Harry Hill era of a few years ago) that it felt that they were actors or models previously. I know that looking at a Cilla-era Blind Date application form, one of the questions was: "have you done any modelling?" It would be interesting how many of them would have said "yes". It does feel to me that a lot of the ones in their 20s and 30s have done that, either that or it gave an optical illusion that they have actually done that.

    How Laura had become Sarah just in a few hours is remarkable - I mostly refer to Sarah Thompson, who was played by Laura Vasquez in Home and Away and still works on the programme over 25 years later as a hair stylist. It also made me think how long actors have to wait and also remain in character whilst doing a take; how long they have dressed like that specially for the filming, and whether the long wait is probably the main reason why those give up acting. Quite often, it does look as if the clothes that they were wearing had only been put on and so they have not been wearing them for hours - a tell-tale sign of how long what they are doing would take. Dress rehearsals are probably more hard work than doing the bits sans costume. A pity that GCSE Drama wasn't like that at school, and neither was the Saturday morning Drama workshop which I went to in the early 1990s during term time - it was all about running around and just a little bit of self-expression in microbes. Never mind "break a leg" - they need all the legs that they can get! And they they were actors, doing a full day's work; they would probably have to wipe all that make-up off their face before they go home again as themselves once more, but I bet that every time that they play a character, it is just like going on an adventure and becoming the shadow of that other person, and we need a bit of escapism from time to time. Certainly as a viewer or audience member.
    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

  • #2
    Emily Leiding (little young Penny on A Country Practice) says that when she left ACP much of her wardrobe went to Kate Ritchie as Home and Away had just entered production. Emily says that Channel Seven was notoriously (no pun intended) penny-pinching in that way. In another post, she comments that ACP seemingly could only afford one child regular at a time (Emily Nicol as Chloe Jones then herself as Penny Richards then Georgina Fisher as Jessie Kouros).

    Knowing that Leiding's wit is genuinely biting but never bitter, i suspect her statements are mostly the truth about what happened but are slightly embellished in order to entertain ACP fans.