Q: In stories like this one, many of the characters are a “type” or variation of a stock character - the nerd, the punk, the quirky friend, the overbearing parent, the girl-next-door, etc. As actors is it important to make these “types” as three-dimensional and human as possible?
A: In life, it’s only to be expected that we try to categorize ourselves. Are we outgoing? Introverted? An INFJ? An enneagram type 7 wing 8? We try to make sense of who we are CONSTANTLY — sometimes to our own detriment. In First Date, I find that Casey Clark is no different. Yes, she definitely falls under the umbrella of a “stock character” and that’s an easy thing to see when reading the play, but as an actor, it’s important for me to know and explore the things that make her more than that.
When facing the task of fleshing out a “type” character, I always take a moment to acknowledge the stereotype at large. Whether that be “the nerd,””the punk,” or the “girl next door,” it is important to find your characters’ category and then proceed to point out the acting traps that inevitably come with each. In this case, playing the “jaded hot chick” comes with its own slew of traps that I must avoid in order to give her a three dimensional life on stage. For example, it may be easy to just play angry or apathetic in a moment because a character is labeled as jaded. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if that character, when everyone expected her to be angry or apathetic, surprised us all with something different? Not for the sake of shocking everyone, but because another reaction was actually truer to her inner self than to the stereotype slapped on her.
Once I’ve explored the trappings of a type, I do something that sounds a bit contradictory to the first step: I try not to think of them as their stereotype. I find that this frees me up to dive deeper into their background, releasing me from any norms that I feel obligated to play because of a stereotype. This is by far my favorite part of the process. I often feel like my character’s therapist at times as I write down my opinions about why they are the way they are and maybe even explore the reasons why they feel they can’t change. In Casey’s case, there’s a lot in the dialogue that tells you her past is cluttered with “bad boy” types who didn’t treat her well. But why can’t she break the streak and find someone who is “nice” for once? Is it because she just doesn’t like “nice guys” or is there something deeper there? It’s questions like these that lead me to examine a character’s relationships. As we all know, a person’s life, and the lens through which they view that life is greatly informed by the relationships — good or bad— that surround them. These can be romantic, platonic, or familial. I tend to explore all three types. This has allowed me the opportunity to find some of my characters’ triggers. These don’t always have to be negative, they can also be very positive and even surprising if your character isn’t aware of their own trigger points.
Q: This leads me to another question that I find is important to ask of your character: Are they AWARE of themselves and their issues/shortcomings?
The answer to this question can be a very crucial determining factor in how a character is played. Casey is VERY aware of herself and her issues. She doesn’t need anyone pointing them out to her because she is constantly examining her shortcomings. So this leads me to dive even deeper into what Casey thinks about herself and what behaviors manifest in her life because of this self opinion. Ultimately, I know I’m getting close to fully realizing a character when I start to manifest physical behaviors that are contrary to my own. This happens late in the process for me and relatively unconsciously. I find it to be one of the most rewarding things as an actor, because it shows me that my character is thinking, breathing and reacting.
It seems that each question begets another question in this process of character evaluation. An endless psychological playground awaits anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort to go there.I guess when it’s all said and done, a stereotyped character shouldn’t be treated any differently than one that appears super complex. Because deep down every character has some sort of issue that needs to be examined, wants to be listened to, and quirks that long to be found. I know, I know, it sounds super complicated and layered, but that’s only because that’s how actual humans are, and characters — even the typed ones— are no different.