3 Questions Every Actor Asks and What it Has to Do With Coaching! | By Ben Dooley

manMH900407415[1]My past career as an actor has taught me some powerful lessons that have had a tremendous impact on my coaching as well as my own personal growth and success. In particular, one of the first things an actor needs to learn is how to break down and build a character. I realize those two words seem contradictory - "break down" and "build" - and yet they work together. Here's how:

First, "Breaking Down" a Character

We do this naturally. The first time you read through a play, story or watch a movie from beginning to end you get to enjoy the story, and find out what happens. You allow yourself to get caught up in the drama of it, step into that world and experience what the story is attempting to evoke from you. And, more importantly, you become familiar with the main character. You get to know their fears and desires. You become familiar with their issues and quirks.

When we watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the end of the movie we know pretty clearly who Indiana Jones is and what he's all about - what he wants, what he doesn't want, his dreams and desires, fears and limitations. In fact, by the end of the story, we are so familiar with him that we could even pretend that we are that charming archaeologist off on some great adventure.

Kids do this all the time. They get a clear idea of a character and then they take it on and pretend.

So, "breaking a character down" is simply getting to know him or her.  Of course there's more to it than just reading the story or watching the movie to get to the really juicy information.

To understand the character we ask the three major questions that every actor considers when taking on a part,

  1. "Who am I?"
  2. "What do I want?"
  3. "What's in my way?"

Go ahead.  Try it.  Pick the main character from your favorite movie or TV show or book or whatever and ask yourself those questions and try to answer. Here, let's do it together.

Indiana_Jones_in_Raiders_of_the_Lost_ArkIndiana Jones in, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

1) Who is he? (This is where we uncover his values and strengths) He is an archaeologist who goes out searching for lost artifacts. He's not your typical hero, actually, more of an intellect than athletic, but he's handy with a whip. He has sharp instincts that help him get what he wants. He also makes good friends who help him along the way. He has strong character and integrity and when he sets his sights on his goal, he's committed to getting it done… no matter what. Oh, and he has a cool hat.

2) What does he want? (This is where we uncover his desires and dreams. What is he trying to accomplish in this particular story?) He wants to find the lost ark of the covenant and bring it back to his university. He's not interested in fame or power, but about education.  His attraction to the arc is primarily about uncovering the history and information it contains.

3) What's in his way? (This is where we uncover obstacles, enemies - both real and imaginary, his fears etc.) The Nazis, first off, are a big problem. Also he is racing against a nemesis archaeologist. Along the way there are also natives, local sword wielding Arabians, mysterious puzzles to be solved, and snakes… Why did it have to be snakes?

There. Now you have it. Of course, we could spend more time digging even deeper into this character and storyline, but for this example, we're just hitting the basics. You can always spend more time revealing more information. In fact many actors will write several many pages on a single question with the idea that the more you know about your character, the more deeply and powerfully you can step into them and portray them with full intention and awareness. Then you can begin to think like Indiana Jones, feel what he feels, so that our choices as an actor are that much more grounded in their reality.

Make sense? Good.  Now let's try it with a really exciting character in an incredibly exciting story: You!

"You and Your Life"

1) Who are you?

I know that's a big question to answer so quickly and easily.  But don't worry, you've got plenty of time to explore this question more deeply with your coach.

For now, a simple answer will do. We can safely say that you are a coach. But who else are you? What other ways can you describe you? How long have you been coaching? What other roles do you have - meaning are you a husband, daughter, sister, uncle? Do you have another job? What are your hobbies? How do you spend your free time? Also, what are your values and strengths that help define you? All of this is valuable and exciting information that will help you build a more powerful and complete character.

2) What do you want?

I mean what do you really and truly want? In other words, what is the objective of your story? Indiana Jones wants to uncover the ark of the covenant before the Nazis. In Jaws, Sergeant Brody wants to keep the Nantucket beaches and his family safe from man-eating sharks. In Star Wars Luke dreams of leaving his desert planet and becoming a Jedi Knight like his father.  It's usually something that's made pretty clear at the beginning of the story.

So what is yours? What's the dream that you have? What is it that you want? If you were a main character in a story, what would be your objective?

This could actually be many things - long term as well as short term goals, your personal desires, your business wants, your relationship dreams - so let's narrow down the context a little. Let's talk about coaching, or your business and we can make the story timeline for the next 12 months - a year from today. Perhaps you want to become credentialed. Maybe your desire is to have a full load of clients. Maybe you want to leave your current job and become a full-time coach. Whatever it is, identify and know your objectives.

3) What's in your way?

So, what's in your way? Imagine yourself in the movie of your life. Who and what are the enemies of your success? What obstacles and fears stop you from achieving your objectives?

Second, "Building" a Character:

Building a character takes all the pieces we get from the script and pulls them together. Look at the formula actors use that I just walked you through.

  • First you read ahead through the story so you can get a clear idea of what is going to happen. For you, perhaps this is creating your future vision or your business/marketing plan. It could be talking with your coach about your dreams, or your spouse about where you'll retire to, or your children about what they'll do when they grow up. There are a kazillion different ways to "read" the story so you have an idea of what's going to happen next.
  • The next step is to highlight your part. Get clear what your role is in the "story". What part do you play? We'll start off clarifying that you are a coach. You take it from here.
  • Most importantly, get to know your "character". The three simple questions that every actor asks when taking on a role is, 1. "Who am I?", 2. "What do I want?" and 3. "What's in my way?" We can ask ourselves - and our clients - those same questions and I suggest you pay attention to the answers.

PS. I know you've seen that play or movie where it looks like the actors are just reciting their lines and there's no meaning behind it. That is how many of us live our lives day to day...

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Contributing Author:

Ben Dooley, MCC. YOUR coaching confidence and success made easy and fun. "I BElieve that you are an amazing, powerful, and impacting coach! I want to help you connect to that coach and unleash your coaching power and confidence to create your coaching success!" Find out more about Ben—awesome mentor coach and so much more—at www.bedo.org

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