DON’T JUDGE YOUR CHARACTER. This is a note I give again and again, even in this column.

Recently I’ve been interviewing actors for characters who are drug dealers, criminals and strip club dancers. When you are creating these characters, please remember that they are actually human beings. They have parents, friends, lovers. They breathe, eat and sweat.

Often when actors are assigned characters like this, they decide to judge them or put themselves outside of them. For example, I’m playing a gangster so he should have a low gravelly voice. If YOU don’t have a low gravelly voice, please don’t put one on. In film acting, we want to see YOU in the role. As soon as you start layering on, you get further and further from yourself and the character becomes less and less believable. The biggest problem we have had in casting gangsters is that they become cliched cartoon characters. 

Jamie Payne, the director who I’m currently working with kept reminding the actors who were up for mafia bosses, “This guy already IS powerful. You don’t have to prove it to anyone. Come from a place where the character has status already.”

Recently David and I had an actress in reading for strip club dancer. It was only one line and it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world to get an actress to do. Deliver one line. But it was nearly impossible to get a believable read out of anyone since they all decided that she was some kind of non-human tramp. “Say it like you really believe it,” we advised. “But she is a stripper,” objected the actress. Once we got her to understand that the costume and setting would convey the fact that she was a stripper, and that she didn’t have to ACT like a stripper, she became believable.