In addition to being a member of the cast of the magnificent and multi-faceted easylaughs, I am the host and co-creator of the series Real Power Talk. Real Power Talk is a comedy series where I interview different bands and artists while posing as a fictional character of my creation. I've interviewed the Polaris Award nominated PUP as Nigel America, a bumbling out-of-touch boomer. I've interviewed the O2 arena playing Airways as the real-estate agent Gavin Phillips. I've interviewed the Belgian oddballs Shht as the fashion icon UNDERSCORE_. You get the idea.
While I have done, and enjoy doing a lot of character work on stage, the stakes in these interviews is a lot higher. While an improv audience may forgive a break in character as a funny aside, these bands have no idea that the characters who interview them are not real people. The whole premise depends on them believing that the person interviewing them is a genuine, yet ridiculous, human being.
The first interview we ever did was with PUP. Jack Parker, my co-collaborator, and I had talked over how the format might work multiple times, but with that kind of whimsical laid back attitude that comes when you have an idea, but no deadline. Then Jack messaged me to let me know that PUP were playing Amsterdam's Paradiso as part of their world tour, and despite being only three weeks away, would I be up for doing it as the first in the series. It was short notice, but a deadline helps motivate you with a fervour that nothing else can.
In the lead up to the interview itself, getting the filming team together, working out how it would work, what character we would use, what we'd ask them, it never really occurred to me about how much of a challenge it would be to make this character believable until the day itself.
The character in question was Nigel America. He had his own online presence, a vague backstory and enough of a foundation to improvise during the interview itself. Since this was the first Nigel America interview, we didn't have anything to worry about like whether something was canon or not, and could just focus on how to make the interview entertaining.
Character work is all about changing your entire mindset to become the character you're pretending to be. You don't think about the minutae of how something works, but rather you become that person. In all walks of life we put on different fronts to deal with different situations. I talk to my brothers in a different way than I talk to my boss at work. We all handle this duplicity multiple times a day, every day. This is the exact same mindset that's necessary to become someone else.
When doing character work, there will always be elements of yourself that will come through in the person you are pretending to be. This isn't something to be feared, but embraced. In day to day life, we care what others around us think of us and the impact we have on the environment around us. When you embody a character, you have to ignore those instincts. Those instincts are specific to us, not to the character. By throwing yourself into your environment and situation and reacting to what happens around you, you relearn what is acceptable and expected from the perspective of this character. Your boundaries and reactions are different to your characters reactions, but once you throw yourself into them, you quickly learn what it is like to be that other person.
Too theoretical? OK, think of it this way. At many points of your life, you've met people for the first time. Within seconds of meeting you, those people have made subconscious judgements about who you are and what you're about. Without any conscious awareness, this then influences how they behave around you. Everything from the body language, to the tone, and even to how much attention they pay you. Once they do this, this has an impact on how you behave too. You feel that postive or negative energy and quickly work out what aspects of you cause this. Personally, I'm a moody person, and struggle to hide this when meeting people. Sometimes I will be full of life and energy and people will then think that's who I am and behave that way around me which perpetuates my life and energy. Sometimes I am introverted and just want some time to myself, and the same thing happens. I am a different person to different people and in general that is out of my control. When you become a character, you take control of it.
Being a character means embodying everything about the person you're pretending to be. It means that your voice, your stance, the way you walk, the language you use has to reflect the person you are. Something that can help with this is real-life examples of people who embody these traits and incorporating them into who you are. These examples can be especially useful when pretending to be others. There are no doubt some people you've met whose every day personality is larger than life. Their mannerisms and habits can be enthralling in their unusualness, especially when you realise that it's all sincere and just part of who they are. These are the people you need to observe. The people with their hearts on their sleeves. They are the ones who, without intention, are demonstrating what it means to be someone who is not you.
As with anything, character work takes practice, and it takes a lot of refinement to get the details worked out. Method actors go to ridiculous lengths to capture the subtle mannerisms of a real person, and while character work can utilise some of those methods, you are far more free to let your character develop in real time. This sort of thing takes practice and can become a fun part of your interactions with friends or a partner. All of my life I've had fun with friends exaggerating certain traits in a situation for comedic effect. It all adds to the character.
Maybe some of these tips will work for you, maybe you'll find your own path, but the most important thing is to keep trying to find what helps you and fake it till you make it.