Acting Characters with Switching Personalities

by Sophie
(England)

QUESTION:

My character has two sides to her personality. I am struggling to switch between the two quickly. What would you recommend?

ANSWER:

It depends on whether your character has two very opposite sides (for example, she's bipolar) or whether her personality traits are connected and you need to segue from one to the other.

In the first scenario, you'll need something to make a decisive switch from one personality to the other. If you are a method actor, you could try a sense memory that triggers that personality. For example, if your character goes from being cold and stand-offish to being really warm and friendly, you could do an overall sense memory of cold for one trait and recreate the experience of heat/warmth for the other. You need to work on it first, of course, and incorporate it in rehearsals, so you can switch from one to the other quickly during performances.

If you're not a method actor, you could try something like a psychological gesture. Develop a gesture that represents for you who your character is when the first aspect of their personality is stronger, and another gesture that represents for you the other aspect of their personality. After working on it in rehearsal, simply doing the gesture will help you switch. For example, if your character goes from being hyper and happy to being sad and depressed, just concentrating on shifting the center of your character from higher in the body to lower in the body may be enough to help you make a quick switch. Then your acting work can do the rest. You can read more about the psychological gesture on our page about Michael Chekhov.

In the second scenario, you need to do detailed script analysis to discover in the subtext what triggers one personality trait or the other. For example, maybe your character is juggling two personalities because of the company they are in. Let's say your character is worried about something but can't share it with the other character in the scene, their mood may change a lot. You would have to comb through the scene carefully to find all the triggers that remind your character of their worries as well as all the moments they are reminded to put on a happy face in public. Once you have worked on the subtext, you can let yourself react in the moment.

Hope this is helpful.

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