Inside the Mind of a Character

3 Jan

By: Parisienne

Ever wonder what it takes to play Edward or Bella onscreen?  Besides good looks and talent, or lack thereof, is not sufficient enough. Actors will do a character breakdown.  A character breakdown assists the actor in understanding their respective characters and their relationships to each other.  They have to “become” the character.  I have seen interviews where Robert Pattinson is asked about his character Edward and he says “I/Me” meaning in the character of Edward he would do certain things, not Robert himself. At 3:20 in this clip Rob refers to himself as Edward.  He’s talking about Edward wanting to kill Bella when he is around her.  Bella tells him she doesn’t care.  Robert says “There is definitely something wrong with her and there is obviously something very wrong with me.”

Whether or not he knows it, Rob is using the Twelve Guideposts.  Michael Shurtleff, a Broadway and Hollywood Casting Director, to assist actors with the audition process and what they should expect, created the Twelve Guideposts.

Since Twilight is the main focus right now, I will use the characters to demonstrate each post if it is possible.

The Twelve Guideposts are as follows:

1) Relationship:  An actor would be looking at what type of relationship his/her character has with others.  Some different types of relationships are: lovers, friends, parent/child, co-workers and siblings.  For example: the relationship between Edward and Bella is Lovers/Friends.  Edward/Carlisle: Parent/Child and Friends.

2) Conflict:  What is the character fighting for?  An actor would look for what type of struggle his/her character is going through.  For example, what does Bella want from Edward?  What does she want from Jacob?  What does she expect of herself?

3) The moment before:  This is used when an actor is looking at a script and is working on a specific scene.  What happened in the scene prior to that one that made that scene begin the way it did.  What was his/her character doing in the prior scene?

4) Humor:  Humor is used to diffuse tension in a relationship. An example would be in Eclipse when Edward takes Bella to Jacob in the car.  Edward looks at Jacob and says to Bella “Doesn’t he own a shirt?”  Edward was hiding the fact that he was hurt that Bella wanted to be with Jacob so he made a joke.

5) Opposites: Opposites exist in every scene.  It is the actor’s job to find the opposite.  For example, the opposite of love is hate.  The opposite of trust is to distrust.  Edward loves Bella so much that he wants to be with her forever.  However he hates the fact that she has to give up her life for him.  So he is forever in a love/hate relationship with the situation that Bella is in.

6) Discoveries:  Actors need to look for the “discovery” of themselves or their partner in each scene.  What is new?  Is there something about each other that they could find that would change the course of the relationship?    Discoveries need to be made in order for the relationship not to become stagnant.

7) Communication and Competition:  An actor must be able to successfully communicate his/her thought and feelings to their partner.  The partner in turn should then reciprocate the thoughts or feelings.  Communication is like a circle.  What an actor sends out, the actor must receive back.  Actors are successful at communicating when they are able to project what they are feeling to their partner.  The feeling should be so strong that the audience will be able to feel it as well.

Competition:  Every relationship is competitive.  There are two points in which an actor should be able to get across to their partner.  1) I am right and you are wrong. 2) You should change from being the way you are to being the way I think you should be.

8)Importance: In a scene, an actor must find what is emotionally important to him/her at that time and fight for that particular feeling.  It was emotionally important for Edward that he stays relevant in Bella’s life.  That is why he gave her the heart pendant for her bracelet.

9) Find the Events:  An actor must find the event in each scene.  What changes him/her?  What event moves the story forward?  Edward has an emotional event.  He loves Bella so completely that he would do anything to protect her.  The event that moved Twilight forward though, IMO, is the fact that James wants to kill Bella and so all the characters are focused on this one event.

10) Place: When an actor reads a script for an audition or rehearsal, the actor is on a bare stage or an empty room.  The actor needs to create the “place” in his/her mind of the particular scene that is being read/rehearsed.

11) Game Playing vs. Role Playing:  Basically what this means is that each actor plays different “games” and within that game the actor takes on a different role.  The simplest way I can explain this is…Edward and his “family” is portraying the “game” of a family to the public.  Edward’s role is to play the brother/son.  Another way of putting it is watching children play “house” and each child adopts the role of mother, father, child, and cousin.  They are playing a game with extremely specific roles.

12) Mystery and Secret:  This is the most difficult post to explain but I’ll give it my best shot.  When an actor is done preparing for an audition, unless they are reading from a side, they should have their character hammered out.  However they don’t know everything about that character.  That remains the Mystery and Secret.  The best way I can explain it is.  Edward never knew what Bella was thinking so she remained a mystery to him.  She also kept secret the fact that she has passports for Jacob and Renessmee in Breaking Dawn.  Had Edward known that secret, I think their ending would have turned out differently.

I hope you enjoyed a “sneak peek” into the process of building a character.

Please join us for a discussion on this topic on: Monday, January 3rd, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST.

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91 Responses to “Inside the Mind of a Character”

  1. Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 6:50 PM #

    Hi I’m here!

    • Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

      I’m here just give me a few min. I need to finish something then read the article really quick. Rough day today.

      • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:02 PM #


        • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:06 PM #

          Great article!!!

          I have a question! Does this technique work well with other acting techniques?

          Is this something an actor would employ to prepare for every role?

          • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:07 PM #

            It can be used for every role. It depends on the actor. How in depth do they want to take their character.

            • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

              How much does the director influence character depth then?

              • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

                From what i’ve experienced not much. An actor is expected to know their character and be memorized before rehearsal starts.

    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

      Great article, looking forward to learning tonight!

  2. Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:06 PM #

    Hi, I’m here!

    So I have a question.
    When an actor has a screenplay in front of him that is adapted from a book or other work, I would think getting background on the character is fairly easy.

    Would that be safe to say then if it’s an original work, the actors would want to talk to the screenwriter to sort of get the background?

    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:10 PM #

      Yeah it is pretty easy to get info but imo if an actor wants to come across with depth, they should do this. Otherwise they will sound like words they are reading words on a page.

      Honestly I don’t know if screenwriters are always available to talk to because theater and film/tv are diff mediums. The actor should just go with whats on the page.

      • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:13 PM #

        So it’s safe to say then the character is open to interpretation by the actor and how they want to play the part?

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:14 PM #

          yes. the character is open to interpretation.

      • Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

        Now from high school acting I remember seeing a character description but it was usually very brief. Is that how it is with a screenplay?

        Because if it is and its an original work, you can have 12 different actors play the same character 12 different ways, right?

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:49 PM #

          yeah that’s true. For example, take Twilight…if it were recast right now Edward and Bella would be played completely differently. However, character breakdown can be brief or lengthy it depends on the actor.

  3. Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:15 PM #

    So many directors want actors to adlib or improvise rather than follow the script. In your opinion does this help or hurt an actors ability to connect with a character?

    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:20 PM #

      I think it helps. IMO, directors are checking to see how far they can take the actor. whether or not that person can go with the flow.

      • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

        So how does a director reconcile ‘their own vision’ of where they want to go with a scene or the film if the actor takes a different approach?

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:22 PM #

          mutual agreement. 🙂

          • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:26 PM #

            So I’m a bit confused then. Let me explain why.
            In my particular field, it’s important we all have a ‘plan’ and we all work toward the plan to finish a project. We cover the plan first with everyone before we get started and adjust but we all start with the same goal.

            This sounds a bit counter intuitive to my own experience.

            WOuldn’t the actors and director want to meet and get on the “same page” for vision before filming?

            • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

              Yeah they do that’s why they have table reads so everyone sits down and hammers out what’s going to go on. they get it all together at the read.

      • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

        Are u saying perhaps directors are checking for an actors range?

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:29 PM #

          yep. that’s it. they are checking their range.

    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

      I find when actors rely to much on adlib they are less likely to fully embody a character. IMO: If a actor improvises for every role than every character they play start to look the same way.

      • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:23 PM #

        Do you think that is because they bring themselves to the part when they adlib?

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

          Its not so much that they bring themselves. IMO, its difficult to just come up with something off the top of your head. The actor would have to be so in tuned with the “character” that they would think what would my character say?

          Now mind you this is hard to do….because personally I tend to bring a little of myself to the character. I’m always told don’t do that be the character.

          • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:33 PM #

            I would think it would be really tough to adlib, because you would want to naturally fall into what is comfortable (which is yourself).

            I know this is comedy reference, but Robin Williams can adlib in his sleep. Maybe that’s why its so difficult to be a really great comedian. They have to adlib, make it up as they go.

            • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

              Yeah its pretty difficult. When someone is starting out it is.

      • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

        I agree. I’m not fully on board with adlibing either. however, I think its up to the actor to not make each character “look” the same, imo

    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:21 PM #

      An actor has to be able to say “this is how i see my character but i welcome any changes that could help me to give 100 percent of myself to the perfomance.” imo

  4. Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

    Interesting article. I really never thought about all of that, but it does make sense.

    No we hear that some actors never have to read for a part, so how does a director know that actor is going to be able to pull off the character?

    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

      Word of mouth. its all in who you know.

      • Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:31 PM #

        That seems like a big gamble. I mean some actors can play different type of characters were others can only play one character.

        Like Robin Williams, he is great in dramatic piece and of course over the top in comedy. There may be actors out there that can pull off both kinds of genre but are never given the chance. Of course there are also some actors that are given the chance and fail big time.

        I hope I’m making myself clear.

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

          If it were me…….and this is only from my opinion. I would never want to be handed a role and told “I think you would be great in this and you have the part.” i would want to audition just so i know i could do it or at least be able to read for them.

          • Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

            I would also think in this economy that studios would want to make sure that the actor’s can pull off these characters before they film an entire film and find out it didn’t work.

        • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:49 PM #


          It’s funny u say that because I find when some actors work with the same director again and again u start to see similar characteristics pop up and they start to have a schtick. Case in point Johnny Depp who I admire, Alice in Wonderland look like Edward Scissor Hands with a splash of Pirates thrown in. How do actors avoid falling into that rut and keeping things fresh?

          I think Daniel Day Lewis has done a great job with keeping things fresh.

      • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

        See I would have guessed it would be like football teams. They watch the other teams films to get an idea of how to play their opponent.

  5. Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

    Is it necessary for actors who are acting opposite from one another to discuss how they are going to approach every scene? Meaning is it a good idea to reveal everything u are going to do?

    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

      yes. that’s imparitive. Otherwise it won’t be played correctly. I’ve had that happen to me. I was reading a scene with someone and we didn’t talk about it at all. I decided to start screaming at him because my character was mad. He just stood there with a blank expression. He was totally thrown for a loop by it.

      • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

        So how much prep time do you get to talk off line and coordinate with your fellow cast? It seems pretty important.

        • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:42 PM #

          That’s up to the actors. For example, I exchange e-mail and phone numbers with my partner and we hammer it out over the internet, phone or in person. Scenes need to be ready to go when you walk in to the room.

          • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:45 PM #

            For example, I was working with a guy and every time we met he changed his character. He would play it completely differently then the time before. I finally got fed up and told him he couldn’t keep changing on me its not fair (its like mental torture) Then when we had to peform our scenes he got so confused on how he should play his part he forgot his lines.

            • Kim January 3, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

              Yeah that doesn’t sound good. Its got to be hard too, because you may play off to a different person in a different way.

              • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

                That’s true. It also depends on how well you get on with the person. Its much easier to work with someone you know really well.

                • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

                  In your opinion, would you think it would be easier to play the same character over a period of time or harder?

                  • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:55 PM #

                    Harder because it gets boring. Its like doing the same job over and over again. IMO

            • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

              So building a rapport with your cast is important, as with most jobs. You want to know what to expect. I would guess having a great attitude and being flexible would also help. We all hear gossip about actors who are ‘divas’ on set. I would imagine that would be hard in a collaborative environment such as acting.

              • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

                Its easier if everyone gets along. Plus it shows in the performance if they are not friendly or are bored with the part.

                • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

                  Its like watching R and K. You can tell they don’t get along.

                  • Kim January 3, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

                    I have to agree Twilight their characters were more believable compared to Eclipse.

                    You would think that they would mesh together better by the third movie.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:03 PM #

                      IMO, if you are going to be working with someone for many years and you don’t like that person. don’t let it show. try hard not to let it show. FAKE IT until the end. Have enough respect for each other not to let the personal relationship get in the way of the professional one.

                    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 8:07 PM #

                      You know what that’s really hard to do. Even in the business world we have people who have major personality conflicts. As a people manager that is really hard to organize your team around people who can’t even stand in the same room with each other. Its hard being one of those person’s too. It takes someone with a lot of patience to be able to survive that type of environment. Most people stuck in that situation wait for any opportunity to change jobs. I see it all the time.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:11 PM #

                      It is hard. That’s why I have a lot of respect for Rob to be in the situation that he’s in and not have told her off by now or at least come out and said something.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:41 PM #

                      Well u know it shows in their behavior how a actor is using their free time. Meaning there are a lot more ways to attack a co-star by way of the media and through blog message boards. Attacks can go far beyond the film set these days.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:44 PM #

                      I agree but if she’s attacking him and Summit knows she’s attacking him. Why in god’s name would you continue to send her to be with him and his friends on NYE? I don’t get that. Or if she went on her own why bother being around someone you clearly despise?

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:48 PM #

                      I know its all about money but why not let the truth be known? People are not blind.

                    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 8:50 PM #

                      To me it seems the tide of consumer sentiment is based on gossip, not facts or truth. That is truly bothersome to me.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

                      It’s a lot harder to accuse someone of sabotage or malice if they appear to be friendly and cooperative. It happens all the time.

                    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 9:12 PM #

                      Very true even harder to prove with the ability to be somewhat anonymous on the internet. I know we previously discussed gossip here, but what passes for news these days and ‘sources’ is incredibly shocking! I wonder if the real news reporters are wonder what happened to ethics.

                • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:14 PM #

                  If actors don’t get along, it impacts the crew etc…. The actors and directors really do set the tone for the entire set and crew. U hope to work with someone who knows what they want instead of actors who are unprepared. I find them to be the most difficult to work with because they like to play the blame game instead of focusing on their performance.

                  • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM #


                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM #

                      sorry for yelling at you. I just completely agree.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:24 PM #

                      No problem!!! You can yell at me anytime.LOL!!

                      Hey! U know it’s a lot more obvious to tell when actors work well together because their performances exudes it on screen.

                  • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

                    or people who don’t want to be there and then whine that they don’t want to be there.

                    • lurkerm3 January 3, 2011 at 8:23 PM #

                      And I would have to draw on my own experience in my field and say it’s the the same thing. Personally, the leadership team sets the tone for the whole project. It’s up to them to keep everyone on track. It also is sometimes like being the head of the pep rally. Everyone wants to work in a positive productive environment. Its hard when you have negative energy from some to keep it from affecting the whole project. I like a positive team, because when it gets tough and you’re working late, whats worse…working tired and hearing others complain or just sucking it up so you can finish? People motivation skills are hard to find in the workplace today because everyone has different motivations. The key to a good leader is learning what drives each person and hoping to keep them positive.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:27 PM #

                      that’s so true lurker.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:28 PM #

                      Wow!!! Very well said…..:0)

                  • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

                    Or and this is a biggie….lets say one partner has a crush on the other partner but the other partner doesn’t like that person like that. and the two of you are told to adlib/improvise a scene and your partner tries to kiss you in front of God and everyone else. ITS AWKWARD.

                    • lurkerm3 January 3, 2011 at 8:29 PM #

                      AWKWARD is right. It would be hard to hide that.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:31 PM #

                      Oh!! Awkward is an understatement. That’s when it’s time to improvise a fight scene. LOL!!!

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

                      Open Book,

                      I have a question for you. Its about R and K and Summit. Rob admitted in the past that he had a crush on Kristen. Do you think that is one of the reasons Summit created Robsten or was it strictly because the films suck?

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:33 PM #

                      Or more like OMG WHAT THE HELL!!!!!!!!!! and everyone stands there and looks at you like what is she going to do next,

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:48 PM #

                      I believe it was all staged from the very beginning. Summit was always planning to market Robsten to sell these films. Unfortunately, it’s what appeals to teens and they needed Rob to boost Kristen’s image.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:50 PM #

                      oh….wow what a way to use someone.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:50 PM #

                      ummmm he’s not doing a very good job then in the role of “image booster”

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:57 PM #


                      They established how they are going to market these films from the very beginning. R and K probably did not have a choice because they were fairly unknown and unproven at the box office. Summit needed some guarantees by way of marketing so R and K had to sign a contract to agree to carry out this fauxmance.

                      Also, Summit is not going to gamble and leave this series in the hands of actors who they think are unreliable when it comes to relationships. Of course they want guarantees and what better way than binding them to a contract.

                    • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

                      It just goes to show how badly people want something that they would ignore what they sign.

                    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 9:03 PM #

                      Well maybe no one expected this to get this far out of control. I would imagine this didn’t look like a big deal when it was first conceived. Look at the monster now? Scary stuff.

                    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 9:16 PM #

                      No it’s not out of ignorance they signed these contracts, it’s about having no other option.

                      Hopefully, in the future R and K will have more options and can avoid this kind of situation. But if Summit or R and K were to bail out now it would be more damaging than staying in it. Simply because it would be too expensive to come up with an entirely new marketing approach at this late date.

                    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 9:24 PM #

                      Well, the business person in me completely understands that argument! I’m sure a cost/benefit analysis has been done. Better/cheaper/easier to let it run out. I’ve actually recommended that on several contracts I was involved with a few years ago so I get the whole decision making involved. It’s more than just money.

            • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

              So an actor should have a characters foundation completely established before they perform a scene? If they make any changes they should be minor so as to not throw off their partner.

              • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:00 PM #

                Yes, very well said. Or they should say hey by the way i’m thinking of doing this differently when we walk into the room do you mind rolling with it? Then the other actor would make whatever changes to match the partner. I hope that makes sense.

                • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:15 PM #

                  Yes! It does than u!!

                  • Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

                    your welcome. 🙂

  6. Kim January 3, 2011 at 8:08 PM #

    Well Laura, great insight and thanks for explaining all of this.

    Ladies, I need to step away for now, talk to you all soon.

    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

      Have a nice night Kim!! Happy New Year!!!

  7. Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

    Thanks Kim, Have a good night.

  8. Parisienne January 3, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

    I need to go. It was great talking to everyone! Have a good night.

    • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 9:04 PM #

      NIGHT! Great article! See you here soon!

    • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 9:18 PM #

      Have a good night!!!

      • Open Book January 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM #

        Lurker!! I’m going to call it a night as well.

        Great article again!!! Enjoyed the discussion everyone.

        Take Care!!

        • Lurker January 3, 2011 at 9:25 PM #

          Night I will too! We’ll talk again soon.

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