Method acting requires you to fully embrace your transformation into your character. To create an authentic experience for your audience, you need to lose the speech inflections, facial expressions, and physical mannerisms that wouldn’t make sense. For example, when an actor plays a depressed man, his cynical speech won’t be convincing if he delivers it with perfect, confident posture.
When Hollywood stars stay in character between takes, or improv comedians wear disguises to interact with unwitting strangers, these actors are employing method acting techniques. You can follow in their footsteps by honing your method muscles with these easy, effective drama games.
Exercise Your Animal Instincts
Before you can transform your body to reflect a specific background or personality you must be fully aware of every inch of it. This exercise helps you do just that.
- Pick an animal (this can be random).
- Watch one closely: observe a pet up close or a zoo animal from afar, or simply watch wildlife documentaries.
- Observe its behavior patterns, and if possible, how it reacts to you and other humans. Does it have a lot of energy? Is it shy and careful, or curious and hungry for attention? See if you can guess what it’s thinking.
- Pay attention to the body parts you both share: hands, feet, eyes, etc. How does the animal use or hold them differently than you do? Do you make similar gestures in private, but not in public?
- Perform as that animal. Show your audience how it would eat, fall asleep, play, etc. Lose social inhibitions; sit in unflattering positions if it’s more accurate. See if they can guess who you are.
- After practicing on your own, portray that animal again. This time, there’s a twist: you have to stand upright and perform an actual monologue (or share a dialogue with someone else) as that animal.
By the final step, you’ll find yourself brainstorming specific ways to mimic the animal you chose. Instead of resorting to the obvious — distinct roars or squawks, crawling on all fours — drama games like this one force you to focus on the details. Stepping into a human character’s skin will feel easy after this!
The Coffee Cup Game
This tried-and-true game, an old favorite among acting coaches, will teach you how to ignore the limitations of your surroundings, and adjust your behaviors to accurately represent your character’s reality.
- Sit down in front of a warm mug of coffee or hot chocolate.
- Observe as much as you can without touching it; use your sense of sight and smell to figure out how big it is, how it must taste, and how heavy it will be.
- Pick it up; were you right about the weight? Does it feel as smooth as you expected?
- Switch it between your hands and hold it in different ways, noticing how your fingers, wrists, and arms adjust.
- Sip it and hold it in your mouth, savoring its taste.
- Swallow it, and notice how your body feels and moves as it goes down.
- Put it down.
- Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 without the cup.
After enjoying the full sensory experience of a coffee mug, you should be able to immediately recreate your own behavior without it. The same thing happens with method acting; there’s just more time between you and the emotions you’re recreating.
To accurately recreate a character’s reality, you have to pretend you’re not performing at all. This isn’t easy, especially when you’re under a bright spotlight and have to exaggerate your voice or behaviors for a big audience. Plenty of drama games coax you into character, but this one actually requires you to be yourself; it’s the first step in adjusting your public behavior to create a private moment.
- Imagine walls between you and your observers (classmates, instructor, friends who volunteer, etc.)
- Think of something you usually do in private. This can be anything at all, as long as you normally stop doing it when someone walks into a room.
- Do it! Dance with abandon, sing off-key, pick your wedgie, etc.
By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll be one step closer to stepping outside yourself the next time you perform.
Method actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis have decades of experience filling different characters’ shoes, and simulating senses and emotions they may not normally feel. They’re talented because they can successfully pull you into their movies, convincing you that fake knives actually cause them excruciating pain, or that a green-screen background is actually a monster they didn’t see coming. Drama games are still part of their arsenal today, in the form of rituals and off-set requests that keep them in character. Over time, you’ll develop your own arsenal of techniques to get into character; start now with these exercises!
Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy