PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK star Jonny Pasvolsky offers his tips for BUILDING A CHARACTER.
Jonny has worked alongside JOHNNY DEPP, THANDIE NEWTOWN, OLIVIA MUNN and is now starring in Australia’s much anticipated PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.
Building a character with JONNY PASVOLSKY
Read and enjoy…
A note for a bit of context:
This may be controversial but it’s my opinion: you as the actor are not responsible for telling the story. You are not the story teller you are in the story. The director gets to tell the story. You are responsible for living the story by engaging in the relationships your character has with the people he/she comes into contact with. Your job is to experience the world that has been created around you whether it be a set built in a studio or on location in the actual environment. Your job is to fill each moment that you step into with absolute commitment to the circumstances dictated by the script so that when the director gets into the edit room he/she can put the pieces of that story together. You are an undeniably important part of the story but you are not the whole story. Don’t burden yourself with the weight of the whole story. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the story inside out, it means know what your part in it is and do the best job you can.
You’ve been cast and now the hard work to find the fun begins. If you are not having fun relishing how evil or good, messed up or beautifully put together your character is then you must explore further. If the word “explore” short-circuits you or you find it intimidating then do one thing and one thing only: start asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question – at least that’s what my dad told me – which is bullshit because you’ll know when you’ve asked a stupid question because you will laugh at yourself in recognising its stupidity. If you’re laughing at yourself, you’ve started having fun.
Jonny Pas and Johnny Depp in action
BUILDING A CHARACTER – some tips:
- THE OBVIOUS – read the script as many times as possible.
- THE DICTIONARY – use any form of dictionary AND thesaurus to look up definitions of words. Even the words you think you know the meaning of – sometimes as you go down the rabbit hole of a word’s meaning, derivation, synonyms, antonyms etc. you will find a more accurate and visceral understanding of what your character might be feeling or how they might see themselves or other’s. Never trust someone who says trust me but TRUST ME – use your dictionary!!! WRITE THESE DEEPER DEFINITIONS BESIDE WHERE THESE WORDS APPEAR IN THE SCRIPT – they’re good triggers and reminders.
- THE BIGGEST TRAP in creating a character is getting stuck on the job he or she has been given in the script. Even if it’s a cop show and you are a cop remember they were a person a long time before they became a cop. Who is this person regardless of their occupation? If you focus on the occupation you will become a stereotype. Note: The occupation will tell you a lot about a character – no doubt – but not everything!
- THE MOUNTAIN AND THE RIVER – you can begin from within or without when building a character. If you think the outside is where you should start great! This is –
- THE MOUNTAIN. What’s this character’s external attributes? It’s structure? This could mean their physicality, how they move, their literal shape, size, fluidity or rigidity. Are they viscous or brittle? Are they pleasant to look at or repulsive? Smooth skin or rough? Most importantly what is the exterior they present? How do other’s see them? (Hint – many if not all the answers to these questions are in the script). What does this character show to others and does it change depending on who they are interacting with? What does EVEREST show from the outside? There are so many pictures of Mount Everest and each one has a distinct feeling about it even though this is just an inanimate mountain, recognised the world over. BUT the weather is never the same one day to the next and so once you’ve found the mountain of your character you’re going to go looking for;
- THE RIVER What flows through this mountain? Does it run cold? Is it a river of water? Or does it run hot and so it’s a river of molten lava? Does this river run close to the mountain’s surface or deep down? How much of this river can others see, hear, smell, taste, touch when we are close to them? Is the river so faint or slow that it’s going to take a monumental effort to find it? Or is it rushing so hard that hiding it is your Mountain’s biggest obstacle? How much of our river do we allow others to experience?
The MOUNTAIN and the RIVER sometimes run with each other and sometimes against each other – but always at the same time. Does the Mountain dictate how the river is flowing or is it the other way around? Have fun deciding your Mountain and River in each scene and/or each moment.
- THE WEATHER The weather is anyone and everything around you. The weather will determine if your Mountain changes or holds fast. The weather will determine what your river is doing too. Just be aware. Use all your senses. How malleable is your character? How well does your character control what’s running through them at any given moment? Depends on the weather!
- THE SENSES The Sound and the Silence. The Light and the Shadow. The Movement and the Stillness.
This is one of my favourite things to do to understand how my character lives in the world. At any given moment, anywhere at anytime, with your eyes open or closed – how does this person you are trying to understand react to the SOUND and the SILENCE. The LIGHT and the SHADOW. The MOVEMENT and the STILLNESS. Do this everywhere, all the time when approaching a character. You’ll either learn a lot about your character or a lot about yourself.
- STAPLES Common approaches that I know many people use: What animal is my character? What is the rhythm that dictates this person? Does this person have a particular voice and is it in the pace of how he/she speaks or in the pitch or in the clarity? (mumbling never stopped Marlin Brando from articulating…)
- YOUR SHIT Probably the most fulfilling part of acting, I think, is that we get to take the shit that’s going on in our life and layer it into our work. So, my last tip is: recognise attributes, moments, things, experiences in the script that you may be closer to than you think. Find YOURSELF in the character you are building. Take all that shit and place it into a moment, a gesture, a sound, and turn it into gold!