Character is a Beast

    As an actor, my job is to figure out how to play a character.

    Most of the hard work is done for me by the screenwriter, but it’s still important to flesh out the character. A good way to do that is to ask yourself some questions.

    I grew up with Disney, so in anticipation of Disney’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast let’s look at this short list of questions, and to help us understand why each is important, I’ll back it up with examples from Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast.

     

    • What is my Super-Objective?

     

    An important question indeed! In fact, what is a Super-Objective? Well I’m glad you asked.

    A Super Objective is your over-all goal, or what you ultimately want. In each scene your character will have an objective, or something they want most. And each scene leads to the big thing they ultimately want. Or in other words, their Super-Objective.

    So what does the Beast want?

    In the 1991 version, the Beast gives Belle a room to make her feel at home. His objective within this is to charm her. In the dinner scene, he puts on his best behavior to make himself look like a good catch. In each of these scenes his overall Super-Objective, is to win Belle’s love and break the curse.

    When it comes to creating a character, this is going to be your biggest helper. Know what your character wants, this drives every action and every scene forward.

     

    • What obstacles are in the way of me getting what I want?

    In each story it’s important for the actor to look at what the obstacles are and see if the screenplay has anything specific on how the character responds to it.

    Again, looking at Beauty and the Beast, we can see there are many obstacles that get in the way of the Beast’s objective and Super-Objective.

    Namely, his temper. Being polite doesn’t come easy for him so when he leaves Belle in her room, he demands that she join him for dinner. When she doesn’t show up his response is to storm to her room and yell at her. His faithful side-kicks try to give him some direction so he changes tactics. When this still fails, his temper gets the better of him again and he says she can’t eat unless she eats with him.

    Each scene contains obstacles and these obstacles make for great story. For example, if you get a script that tells you your character cries, don’t openly cry, fight the tears. If you do this, you’ll find your audience fighting the tears with you.

     

     

    • What action will I take to get what I want?

    In order for your character to reach their Super-Objective they will try several different things to get what they want.

    A good example of this is when the Beast says he wants to do something for Belle. He has no idea what to do and Cogsworth comes up with three different things: Flowers, chocolates or promises you don’t intend to keep.

    Thankfully, Lumiere suggests that it should be something that sparks her interest and the Beast takes her to the library.

    Every scene there are smaller objectives that lead to your super-objective. So if your objective in a scene is to take the cookie from the other person in the scene, then you’ll need to try different approaches to get what you want. Suggest the other person goes on a diet, tell them the cookie is poisoned, knock the cookie out of their hand and eat it off the floor.

     

    • What’s my relationship to the other characters in this scene?

    It’s important to know one’s place within the story. We all want to be considered the special one or the hero of the story, but the truth is there’s only one hero in each story.

    If you were cast in the role of Mrs. Potts for instance. It would be very wrong of you to treat the Beast like Belle does once she’s fallen in love with him.

    While I have to admit it would make for a funny interaction, it wouldn’t work. Mrs. Potts’ place is the head of the kitchen and as such she has the authority to boss the plates and dishes around.

     

    • When does the story take place?

     

    This may seem like a simple question with a simple answer, but never-the-less it’s an important one to ask. Knowing the answer to this question will help you to figure out a lot of time and place things that come naturally to us.

    Imagine if Belle presented herself as the top cheerleader and prom queen of the most prestigious school in New York instead of a peasant girl.

    Her character would be drastically different. She wouldn’t have some of the conflict that makes her such an interesting character. It’s her time and place in her world that gives the character more depth. She’s been teased her whole life for having a “crazy father”, she’s had to learn to be more bold to deflect the advances of Gaston and it’s in part that she wants more to life because of these things.

     

     

    • Where am I coming from? Where am I going?

    The best way to make a character live is to place them within the story of their life. Even if you never have a scripted description of where you came from, it’s important to think about it.

    If you just got yelled at by a taxi driver, you’re more likely to come into the scene feeling a bit down or ready to fight. It adds to the depth of your character.

    It’s the same for knowing where you’re going. Are you on your way to the toilet and you get stopped to talk? How much you need to use the loo is going to affect how fast you want that conversation to go.

    • What are my defence mechanisms?

    Each of us have our own unique way of dealing with the obstacles we face. It’s good to start observing these things, because no two characters are ever the same.

    When I watched Beauty and the Beast, I loved watching these little idosyncrasies that the characters did when they were frustrated. I think Cogsworth is the best example of this when he has to come and tell the Beast that Belle is not coming down for dinner. He dodges the question and tries several tactics until forced to tell the truth.

    Another small example of this is how the face of his clock winds and frazzles when he gets upset.

    It’s important to flesh out the character by asking these questions.

    Whatever character you find yourself portraying ask these questions. Another thing you can do to help flesh out your character is to observe the people around you. The more you observe, the more you build up a store-house of ideas.

    The more research and thought you put into each character, the more you’ll find yourself knowing the character inside and out and the more believably you’ll be portraying that character.

    But the most important part is to have fun with it. Believe me, it’ll show.

     

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    • Charis Joy Jackson

      Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

      Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

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