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ARE YOU WRONG ABOUT YOUR ARCHETYPE?

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.

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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 imgres“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!

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THIS IS ACTING FOR FILM AND TV – Guest Blog by Jamison Haase

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I am a theater-trained actor. I have spent years strutting the boards and working on the text, working on my projection—basically, working on my acting craft. There’s only one problem: I now work in film and television, and the mediums are very different.

Many of my students come from a theater background, and much like I did when I first entered the industry, they can sometimes have difficulty transitioning from theater to film and TV. The first thing theater-trained actors need to understand about working in film and television is specifically how different the mediums are. Obviously, there are many differences between film and television and theater— differences in physicality, rehearsal, and clearly, pay—but there is no difference more profound than how the story is communicated to the audience.

Film and television is a story in pictures.

In theater, the story is told mainly through the characters’ dialogue. Often, characters will simply tell you what they are thinking and feeling. This is largely due to the physical distance of the audience. Many of them are so far away, they cannot see what a character might be thinking, feeling, or even doing, and so this information has to be imparted to the audience through the dialogue. This is why if you listen to a radio play or attend a reading, you understand the vast majority of what’s happening even though the visuals are minimal or even non-existent.

The exact opposite is true for film and TV. If you step away from your television for even a moment, you no longer know what is going on, even if you can still hear the characters speaking. The story is told through the thoughts and emotions on the actors’ faces and not what they say. How else can you explain why Steven Spielberg calls himself a “visual storyteller”? Or how we can have movies like “Cast Away,” with more than 30 minutes of no dialogue, or “All Is Lost,” starring Robert Redford, which only has two lines of dialogue in a two-hour movie, or “Quest for Fire,” which is Ron Perlman’s first film, where there is no dialogue at all? And these a just a few examples.

So, clearly, when it comes to film and TV, the dialogue is secondary to the picture, but what does that mean for the actor? It means that what the actor thinks, feels, and physically does is the story, and more specifically, what the character thinks, feels, and does. So never set about trying to just memorize the dialogue of your scene, instead focus on what your character would think, feel, and do, and let those thoughts, feelings, or action inform the dialogue.

On top of it all, props will, on occasion, need to be in the frame to help tell the story. Think of a soft-drink commercial. The actor will often hold the can or bottle right up by their smiling face. Why? Not because we do that in real life, but because the story is about the interaction between the actor and the product. The prop needs to be in the shot in order to communicate that to the audience. Think about an action film. At the end of every film, during the final climactic battle, there is suddenly a shot of the gun on the floor, or the axe on the wall. That shot communicates the importance of the object, where the object is, and that it’s going to be used shortly, all without anyone mentioning it. That’s the only reason why that shot exists.

Think of yourself like a painter. What’s in the frame? What’s out?

For your next film and television audition, focus on the picture. Spend some time beforehand in front of a camera to work on communicating what your character thinks, feels, and does clearly, specifically, and simply, and let the dialogue go. Just a little bit. After all, film and television is nothing but a “story in pictures.”

By Jamison Haase, working actor and founder of LA On-Camera Training Center

*originally appeared in Backstage West

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