As an actor, we tend to be empaths, emotionally intelligent and sensitive individuals. An understanding of the human psyche is also very important. We are trained to pour our pain into our characters to make them relatable and sometimes exposed to emotional triggers. We are encouraged to not judge a character that has made a choice we don’t agree with morally but instead to embrace it and find out why they did it, how did they justify it to themselves and ultimately to understand them for who they are, as they are. All while maintaining a professional and positive approach to auditions and our work on set/stage. This means that we are twice as likely as the general public to undergo mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety and many more. So how can we as actors maintain a positive and healthy mindset? How can we de-role?
De-roling is not, from my own experience, been taught in schools, universities or drama clubs. Taking on a new persona during filming or for a show, can trigger past traumas, open old wounds and surface issues we didn’t even know we had. Although we can use this serve our performance and make it the more believable, it is also important to be making conscious choices on the characters we take on and open about what those causes may be with those that hire us. We all have different upbringings, different wounds and lessons learnt and we don’t all have the same mental health conditions. That is why it is important to learn how to de-role especially if our character goes through a traumatic experience. So here are 6 ways in which I find it helpful to de-role:
- Talking about how that rehearsal, audition, play or filming went with your peers or at home with friends/family and what it was like to play the character.
- Talking about your character as a different person. I often refer to my character as “she” and their character name when discussing. I know people look at me funny but it doesn’t make sense for me to talk about them as “me” because it wasn’t me doing that or making those choices it was “her”. That for me feels very cathartic, separate and healthy.
- Listing the similarities and differences. This was actually taught to me by an LA acting coach I had the pleasure to work with during her intensive workshop here in the UK in 2017 and since then for a couple of online skype sessions. By having a clear idea as to what makes you and your character different or similar you able to understand them and their choices better and it helps you de-role because you know who you are and your unique self.
- Hanging up a costume – by placing the costume away and mindfully taking it off you are able to rid them and go back into your own clothes as you.
- Physical activity – it could even be you shaking your arms and legs to shake the character off. Yoga, meditation, running, swimming and anything that can help your body, mind and soul realign with you.
- Have a laugh with those around you on set/stage before, during breaks and after performing. Your humour and your connection with those individuals will remind you that you are not the one going through what your character is and also just instantly take you back to your way of speaking, moving, thinking and being.
I think this is a relatively new subject matter, but I’d like to encourage us to have this safe space to discuss it and hopefully make it an industry practice. Another exercise you may want to do is to make a list of your values and your personality traits/triggers and desires so that you know the differences between you and your character too. Sometimes, we human’s like to supress emotions and have no idea as a consequence that it is a deep rooted problem we have forgotten about until we are prompted by those scenes being acted out – If you are given a script/role whereby the character is going through something very close to home for you that you didn’t expect, think about talking to a therapist. There is no shame in receiving help to heal and makes you no less of a great actor. If anything it can mean you are able to handle those triggers and serve the character with even more nuance all the while maintaining joy and happiness within your own mindset.
As it’s mental health awareness week, you may want to also read my previous blog about setting healthy boundaries as an actor https://read-my-lips.blog/2020/04/24/an-actors-way-to-healthy-boundaries Boundaries are also important in our industry and as a tool in every day life.
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