“Action Is Character”


We are cast in different roles at various times in life. Jaques said the same thing in As You Like It, Act II Scene VII—look it up. Currently, my most important roles are father to my kids and Papa to my grandkids. I no longer play the parts of son or husband since my parents and partner have left the stage.

Role playing shouldn’t be called “playing.” It’s serious business. We are “acting” in the noblest sense of the word; assuming a persona but not pretending; fleshing out our inner selves.

In his book, Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless, Joseph McBride underscores how actions are the only way we have to express character:

Their actions [are the only way actors have to] convey their feelings; their faces and bodies reveal their inner states. “ACTION IS CHARACTER,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his working notes for his novel about Hollywood, The Last Tycoon. That emphatic sentence appears at the very end of the unfinished novel. Character is enough to make a movie worth watching, even if there is not much else to look at.

Character is also what makes a life worth watching. It’s not about the props or pyrotechnics; it’s all about what we do and say in relationships—and how we do and say it.

Even the most beautiful scenery and the most lavish action scenes won’t matter much without characters who are worth watching. Charlie Chaplin was once asked why he didn’t have a more interesting visual style. “I am interesting,” he declared.

I research my roles. I take direction. I study my lines. I learn my cues. I know my marks. I draw inspiration from the entire cast and strive to make them better at their parts.

I want to be interesting.

(And it wouldn’t hurt to get good reviews when the show’s over.)

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