Maintaining the Actor’s Duality

It is often the goal of an actor to play a role the best way that they can. To bring truthfulness and authenticity to the character so that when the audience watches them, they don’t see an actor playing a role but as the character themselves. Actors achieve this using a variety of different methods, sometimes by immersing themselves as much as possible to every aspect of that character’s life. Some actors starve themselves to experience a character’s feeling of desperation. Others attempt living in psychiatric wards to understand what it’s like to be mentally unstable. These are just a few examples of how actors attempt to live and become like the characters to achieve a greater truth.

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However, it can become a serious problem when an actor cannot seem to switch back to normal, especially when the role is one that is deeply traumatic. The process of immersing one’s self in a character can prove grievous to the mental health of the actor. For example, if an actor plays someone who suffered abuse and cannot distinguish the self from that character, it can lead to a state of depression. In the attempt to truthfully reveal the darkest parts of humanity, the actor becomes consumed in that darkness.

It’s both unfortunate and a blessing that the mind is one of the most important tools in acting. A blessing because the mind allows the actor to connect with and feel for their character. The mind is the window of imagination, we can make ourselves believe sensorially and emotionally that we are actually living the character’s life. It is because of that reason that actors need to put in as much work getting out of their roles as they do getting into it.

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To deal with this, an actor should always has to maintain the duality between the self and the role. There can be gradations between the two (e.g. we draw from our own experiences with the characters), but never completely. One way to keep one self separate from the character is by making sure the voice of the character and the voice of the actor (self) is constantly alive and active. The voice of the actor maintains awareness of the technical aspects within the scene, such as blocking, the volume of your voice, the awareness of your actions in relation to the audience. At the same time, the voice of the character reacts with immediacy to the imagined reality of the scene. Keeping balance between the two voices means that the actor will never go off the deep end.

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Another way to maintain balance between one self and the character is by going through a de-roling process. There are actors who know how to get into character but are unsure how to get out of it, or at least in a way that’s effective. One way to ‘de-role’ can be done by through, ‘Reverse Engineering’, or performing all the tasks done to get into character, in reverse. For example, if an actor listens to a slow Céline Dion ballad as a way to get into character, the actor will then listen to loud, upbeat music or death metal for example, to step out of the role. Keeping still while taking deep breaths after playing an emotionally volatile character is another example of ‘reverse engineering’. Performing the reverse action to get into character is a way for actors to center themselves back to their natural, ordinary state.

Self-care in general is the main focal point to de-roling. Running around a room, connecting with loved ones or even just getting out of the country are some of the ways to one can depart from a role and reconnect back with real life. As much as it is the actor’s job to play different roles, it is also their job to take care of themselves so that they can snap back to normalcy.