Do You Understand How Your Character Is Different From You?
Most actors want to play characters that are completely different from themselves, but acting is far more than just walking a different way, using different gestures and mannerisms than your own or putting on an accent. To truly be considered an actor you need to be able to develop characters that not only react to the world around them in a way that is totally different from you, but literally see it completely differently. To be a true actor, you need to play a character that has a completely and totally separate life experience from you, which causes them to act and behave completely differently in certain circumstances than you do. But how do you learn to see the world through anyone else’s eyes but your own, when your own eyes are all you have to view the world through?
Many people are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test that tells you whether you are an Introvert or Extrovert, Sensing or Perceiving and so on. The results are generally communicated in a pattern of four letters, such as INTJ or ENSF. You may be familiar with your own “type” (and if you are not, you should be) but did you know that your character also has a personality type that is what makes them completely different and separate from you? How they got to be that type is not as important as how that type makes them different from you.
But for acting purposes in particular, I prefer the Kiersey Temperament Sorter.
The Kiersey Temperament Sorter is based on the Myers-Briggs, but is much more geared towards personal use and interpretation as opposed to being geared for use by trained mental health professionals. Here’s what the Kiersey website has to say about Temperament:
Temperament is a configuration of observable personality traits, such as habits of communication, patterns of action, and sets of characteristic attitudes, values, and talents. It also encompasses personal needs, the kinds of contributions that individuals make in the workplace, and the roles they play in society.
I’m sure you can understand how important it is to know these things about your character, and even more importantly how these traits make your character act within and react to the world differently than you.
Even just taking the Temperament test (found here) will be a huge help in understanding just how many ways a character can be completely different from you and help you to interact with others the way your character genuinely would and not as you would.
Some of the questions include things like:
- Are you inclined to take what is said:
- more figuratively
- More literally
- Do you prize in yourself:
- A vivid imagination
- A strong hold on reality
- When the phone rings, do you:
- Ignore it
- Hurry to answer it
Understanding these things about yourself will, first and foremost, give you a baseline to separate your own instincts and actions from those of your character and secondly, will help you create a fully rounded character whose instincts, actions and reactions are completely and totally separate from your own.
While there is a great deal of information available on the Kiersey website, I highly recommend purchasing the book Please Understand Me II, by David M. Kiersey, which has all the information found on the website in book form. The book is an invaluable tool for doing character work, and I would strongly recommend doing a vast amount of work in this arena if you hope to have a long and/ or successful career as an actor.
It’s important to not only understand your own innate character type and temperament well, but also those of both your character and the characters your character interacts with. Understanding all of those differences will help you understand who your character gets along well with (and why) as well as who they do not get along well with (and why). In addition, it will tell you a lot about important traits like how they manage conflict – are they a “blower” or a “stuffer” – and how they react when confronted or threatened or how they react when someone flirts with them or hits on them. Do they even know they are being hit on? Do they use humor to diffuse conflict, freeze like a deer in the headlights or get combative?
One of the many uses of this book and of this work is in the area of romantic/ intimate relationships. If your character is attracted to a person that you as a person would never in a million years be attracted to, it is most likely because your character is of a vastly different temperament than you and therefore is attracted to a vastly different kind of person than you are. By doing Personality/ Temperament work, you can develop a greater understanding of what your character sees in that person – or how the other person meets or fulfills a need in your character that you do not personally have, which will help you understand the sexual attraction or "draw" your character feels towards the other.
Most actors will have at least a few things in common with their characters, so the temperament sorter will also help actors to determine where their character would react differently than they would or in what instances the character would react the same way the actor would.
In addition, the website is actually a little more simplified than the book is, and the book has additional materials that are extremely useful for actors, such as how certain temperaments interact with other temperaments (including romantically) as well as information about interacting with children of certain temperaments.
Here are a few exercises to help you begin to understand differences in personality/ temperament and to begin to build realistic, believable characters that are unlike yourself.
1.) Take the Temperament Sorter test for yourself (or the MBTI or both) and take some time to read and study about your own personality/ temperament type
2.) Have some close friends or family members take the test but answer the questions about you not themselves. Compare your results with their results. This will tell you the difference between how you see yourself and how others see you. Keep in mind, this is also great work for your character. We all engage in a certain level of self-deception, so your character is also going to have certain ways of seeing themselves that is different from how others see them.
A good example of this is a person that has lost or gained a significant amount of weight or was “homely” in high school but became extremely pretty or handsome as an adult. Others will most often judge them/ treat them/ interact with them as they are now, but they often still see themselves as who they were and will act accordingly.
3.) Take the test as if you were one of your favorite characters from a movie or TV show, and then read the results and see if you have accurately predicted how that person would or would not act in certain situations. If you take the test, read the results and they don’t describe that character well at all, then you’re not understanding the basic concepts of how each personality type acts/ reacts to the world around them on a daily basis. In that case you need to do more study on each of the different types.
4.) Create a character in your head (or on paper) based on one of the 16 personality types, then take the test and see if you can accurately predict how that type would answer questions to come out as the personality type you chose. So, for instance, if you create a character that is an INTJ, take the test and answer the questions as you think the character would and see if the results turn out to be an INTJ. If you take the test and they do not turn out to be an INTJ, then you need to do more work on understanding how an INTJ acts and relates to the world.