What is Character?
- a) A series of choices a person makes about the person they want to be.
- b) A series of choices a person is forced to make about the person they need to be.
There are other definitions.
For the purposes of today’s discussion, I’m going to talk about these two distinctions.
I’m going to ask you to go on a journey with me.
Think about your own character for a moment. How many of the traits that make up your persona are as a result of a) and how many are as a result of b)?
If you’re struggling let’s make it less personal to get you started.
- The husband who dutifully listens to, and follows through on every desire his wife makes of him: a), b), or either?
- The teenage son who is hardly ever at home and when upon arriving home late at night, gets grilled by his father as to his whereabouts, lies: a), b), or either?
- The gang member who finds himself at odds with the leader of the gang, but doesn’t leave the gang: a), b), or either?
- The man who bullies himself into buying a car he cannot afford, because his neighbours all drive better cars than his current car: a), b) or either?
The fact is nobody is ever a) or b) in all of their choices. Some of what makes up our character is to do with our ability to choose, and some of what makes up our character is to do with our inability to choose*.
*Sometimes we believe we don’t have a choice, but later in life may learn we did have a choice!
But character doesn’t just stop there.
- The young man who deepens his voice, and risks sounding fake because the alternative is to let people hear his whiny, nasal voice: a), b) or either?
- The young girl who gets a boob job so that she gets more attention from the boys: a), b) or either?
- The impoverished film-maker who rents out a Suite he cannot afford at a Film Market to make himself look more successful than he actually is: a), b) or either?
- The teenage girl who throws up after each meal to keep herself from getting fat, when she’s morbidly under-weight: a), b) or either?
So, what does this come down to?
Well to my reckoning, it comes down to Self-acceptance and Acceptance by other people. And we all have a mixed bag of items for which we give ourselves acceptance and items for which we seek acceptance (approval) from other people.
There’s no right or wrong!
What do I mean by that?
Suppose you’re over-weight and while you feel others don’t give you approval for your weight, you give yourself acceptance for your weight. Is that the right thing to do? Well some might argue that if you’re morbidly obese and others are concerned for your health, that you should also be concerned for your health and not accept yourself for being overweight.
Now that’s not what we’re discussing here. We’re discussing 'whether' you give yourself acceptance. Which means option a). You ‘choose’ to be over-weight, or you choose to be okay with being overweight (even if you don’t choose to be overweight).
You don’t accept the fact that you’re overweight, but others are okay with it.
That’s also option a).
So, when I say there’s no right or wrong, I mean that as far as what we’re discussing, which is ‘Character’, we’re accepting that that is this person’s character, without judgement.
Now, suppose you come from a family of Champion Sumo wrestlers. You don’t want to keep packing on the weight. You’d rather not be a Sumo wrestler at all. But not being a Champion Sumo Wrestler means breaking the family tradition, letting down your father and grand-father. So, you begrudgingly follow in your father’s footsteps, and ‘must’ pack more weight than you’d like because you must be not only a Sumo Wrestler, but a Champion sumo wrestler. So, this would be option b).
Did you have a choice?
Some might argue, that refusal would have meant being kicked out of the family, or even death in some societies, to take it to the extreme for the dishonour brought to your family.
But is it a choice?
Yes. It’s still a choice. The choice to live honourably or to die dishonourably. Still a choice.
And this essentially is an example of ‘Character’.
Our lives, our very existence is a mixed bag of the choices we made (as a result of experiences we had), or choices we ‘felt’ we were forced to make. And that makes up our character.
As we continue to have more life experiences our choices change, as do our values, as do the things that are important to us.
Actors are encouraged to continuously take classes because what moves them in their teen years is unlikely to move them in their 30’s. At least not in the same way.
We humans, like all animals, are a constantly evolving organism. And since the tool of our trade is our body, our emotions, our experiences, learning to keep up to date with them makes the difference between living truthfully as Actors and simply portraying an idea of what we once believed to be the case, but now no longer ‘lives’ with us organically.
Do you want to learn more?
Acting Classes for Adults is a Professional level Acting class in the South West of London. We’re currently conducting VIRTUAL classes during the Corona Virus Pandemic, which you can join from any corner of the world.
And now for the video clip: