We are not at the point yet where we can get information out of a computer that we haven’t first inputted. If I want Becky’s phone number, I have to first add it to my address book. That’s why it always saddens me that actors feel that they can bring up a multi-leveled performance without first adding information about the character through research into that bio computer known as our brain. There is information that the playwright gives you (the given circumstances), information that you come up with through asking yourself questions (imagination), and then the information that you have to go online, pick up a book, or go on-the-job (research) for.
Research is one of the things that make most good actors so interesting to talk to. We tend to know a little bit about a lot of things due to the research we’ve done on all the roles that we’ve worked on.
If you’ve ever watched an interview with one of the greats, they always stress two things: listening and research. Some go to exhaustive lengths to research – and it is never wasted. How can that be? The more you know, the more you know. Sure, the lazy ones will say “But all that information just keeps me in my head”, if so – they would have probably been in their heads anyway. You can’t ‘act’ research. It is simply the rocket fuel that propels you forward. You don’t get to the moon by throwing fuel around. Nor do you get there by sitting in the rocket. You want to fill the rocket with fuel, fasten your seat belt, and enjoy the ride. When we’re acting, the last thing we want to be doing is thinking of our research. Yet the research colors our every choice.
When playing a person who actually lived (as opposed to the figment of an author’s imagination), it is imperative to understand everything you can about this individual. Not so that you can do an impersonation of the character, but rather you can honor the dignity of their soul’s journey. Give our imaginations an inch and it’ll go a mile.
When traveling abroad, why would you only bring a duffel bag; when you can bring a suitcase filled with things you might need? I would urge you to try it for yourself. We all know what it feels like NOT to have the time to do research for a role. Why not treat yourself to the nourishing and delectable possibility of researching for your next role. If you don’t feel freer, fly higher and have more fun – then you’ll know it’s not for you.
But you just might find yourself walking on the moon, and wouldn’t that be just grand?