Recently, I’ve found myself playing characters with the exact same descriptor – sinister. Sometimes, it’s the key description of a character. Sometimes, it’s down the list, behind such fun adjectives as stern and aloof. In one case, it ran in direct opposition to the other descriptors in the list.
I’ve played a sinister character before. I have an award for that character. The problem is…she wasn’t openly sinister. She didn’t even see herself as evil. She thought she was doing what she had to in order to keep her world from completely dying, even if it meant engaging in some…less than moral activities. So, she was sinister…but she never really presented herself that way.
The most recent sinister character to cross my desk was not that subtle, just based on the script and notes I had. But it was clearly important to the director I figure it out, so I tried.
But I am not a sinister person by nature. Sarcastic? Yes. Sinister? Not so much. I used to teach middle school and high school students, and while I could be regarded as firm or even strict at times, I failed to come across as mean, let alone any shade of evil. (It’s amazing what you learn about nuance of language from teaching teenagers.) I struggle to come across as unfriendly in my interactions with people I don’t really care to be around. So, trying to figure out how to play sinister has been…challenging. Something I’m going to be working on for a while. (Probably why it keeps coming up.)
You might argue that an actor should be able to just drop into any description…but when the description is far from your own personality, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. An actor isn’t an empty vessel. They walk in with their own definition of self, and then layer or build a character off of what they walked in with. (Or…I do… Maybe I do it wrong…) For characters who aren’t a strong fit, it’s a chance for the actor to take some aspect of themself and play with what would happen if that aspect developed in a certain direction. The closer the shift, the easier the exploration.
I think this is actually what’s meant by increasing your range, because each time you engage in these explorations, you expand what you bring with you, and can then expand off that. It can be a lot of fun, but it’s a definite challenge.