I was recently working with an actor on an upcoming role, and she voiced the terror that I think afflicts all actors at some point: Am I good enough to do the part? Truth be told, we never want to be good enough. Good enough sucks. We want to be great. We want our performances, every single one of them, to blow away the audience and kick the critics in their collective ass. It’s an impossible goal and a fool’s mission, but it’s an occupational hazard for the actor. So what does the actor do? How does the actor get good enough to do the role, any role? Start from who you are. I am not certain if such advice was first offered by Harold Clurman or Lee Strasberg or some other luminary of the American theatre, but it always serves the actor to remember that you are not stuck with the character, the character is stuck with you. The character consists of words on the page. No matter how powerful those words and the circumstances created by the playwright, the character on the page needs your body, spirit, soul, and imagination to come to life on the stage. It’s a thrill and a privilege to witness an actor trust this – in class, in rehearsal, or in performance — and prove that she is more than good enough.
Are you saying you have to really believe in the character you, as an actor, will bring to life, but you also have to believe in your own unique ability to inhabit this character–a sense that you are compelled to bring to life this character who would never exist in just the manner in which you, yourself, created her?
I think the simplest way to answer is to say that the actor needs to adopt the dangerous belief that there truly is no character. There is only the actor, her sensitivity, her responses, her feelings. The actor often feels obligated to create a character — someone whom she is not and therefore someone whom she is imitating. And that so very often doesn’t feel right. And it shouldn’t feel right because the actor has alienated herself from her own thougths, feelings, responses, etc. So the actor must embrace that she must start with herself — she is the raw material upon which the entire play will be built, and the character can go do something less than polite to mention in civilzed society. Later in rehearsal, as the actor becomes more and more familiar with the circumstances of the play, choices may be made that we call “character work”. But really the way to look at such “work” is the actor living up to the needs of the script. THE FIRST STEP, THE BEST STEP, and one which the actor rarely needs to move beyond is starting from herself, starting from where you are and who you are.
Hope this helped.