When I began training as an actor I thought I could learn to become someone else—someone more glamorous, more exciting, more lovable. Someone MORE than whom I already was. I was wrong.
It is possible of course for a skilled actor to inhabit the life of a character, but in order to do that with any authenticity, the actor must first be authentic as him or herself. That means being in touch with your own vibration, your own motivation—you must meet yourself where you are so that you can do the same for any role you wish you take on.
I learned that ultimately I must become me, my authentic self, more than anything else if I wanted to be successful as an actor, and as it turns out as a human.
This was not my own idea. The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung’s psychological framework, archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations, though they may vary a great deal in interpretation.
Many actors continue to play the same role again and again, repeating the same story because it is their essential story—not one they’ve made up about themselves, but one that anyone can plainly see when that actor so much as walks into a room.
Those actors are not bad actors. Those are smart actors who have discovered their archetypes, and in turn the parts that mirror that archetypal story.
Those actors are WORKING actors.
I spent the first thirty two years of my life trying to be a sort of “Outlaw.” I wanted to be cool, an out of the box thinker, someone who didn’t care what others thought. But it seemed like I was always getting caught, I thought far too much and I cared tremendously what others thought.
I remember when casting director Tineka Becker gave me a part from SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE to perform in a workshop. I felt sure she’d handed me the wrong one.
“I would usually play the other sister,” I told her. The one who had been portrayed by Laura San Giacomo in the film. (You know, the cool sister, the brazen sister, the outlaw sister).
“I know that is who you think you are but this is how I would cast you.” As the Andie Macdowell sister. (Ugh the nice sister, the passionate sister, the one who sees the beauty in everything).
I was flabbergasted. Offended even. But now I can see, this is the sister who is full of love. And that is who I am. I am the “Lover,” not the “Outlaw.”
Some are able to layer upon that archetype another role, another story, but if they do not know who they are and how to be comfortable in their archetypal self to begin with it will come off as false and forced.
And even so the roles the best actors are most recognized for are the ones that celebrate exaggerated versions of their true selves, their archetypal selves.What we see in TV and Film is a heightened version of real life, but if it is any good, it is always based in truth.
Not only that, understanding your archetype makes you more castable because you are more universal. Audiences get to relate, identify with a character and a situation, both socially and culturally because they recognize the character, they “know” the protoype already.
But remember the personal is universal. You can’t imagine a feeling someone else (possibly everyone else) hasn’t already had. To think otherwise is arrogant and false. Conversely, how an “Outlaw” handles, say for example disappointment versus how a “Lover” handles it is completely different. Once I began to align with my authentic self and who that person is, what that person wants, how that person lives in the world, I began to have a much richer and more successful life both on and off screen.
So acting became my workshop for life. Slowly I let the parts that were not me drop away. And now when I step into a role I bring all of who I am and I can breathe life into a character with authenticity because I know myself. Do you?
If you’d like to know more about this idea and the process for discovering your archetype, look for more upcoming posts on ARCHETYPES FOR ACTORS!