Heather Hiatt is the founder of The Magnetic Actor Method which (inspired by the 40+ years of scientific research designed to help people identify their unique gifts) teaches actors how to crush self-doubt and revolutionize the audition process so they can truly embody any character they have to play, and book more work. She created a 5-step Action Guide to get you started, and you can grab it here.
A San Francisco-based actor and Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach, she spent 18 years on the bond trading desk of a Wall Street bank before quitting to explore her true passions. Now, she devotes herself full time to her acting and voiceover careers (she is the voice of the New Yahoo Mail tutorial!) coaching actors, and leading corporate workshops.
Do you watch Scandal?
If not, you should. And you’re lucky. Lucky because you can binge on all 6 seasons of one of the juiciest, sexiest, and most gorgeous shows out there, ALL.AT.ONCE. Sigh.
I’m not just talking about Jake Ballard.
Okay fine, I am.
Because he’s like that decadent Morning Brownie at your fave bakery that you resist every day (honestly, if a Morning Bun is an acceptable breakfast thing, why no Morning Brownie?).
You shouldn’t. You can’t! Especially since you skipped yoga.
Anyway. Jake is one of those guys we love and hate at the same time. I’m both nervous and relaxed when he’s on screen. He’s dangerous, but also makes me feel safe (I promise there’s a point to this).
: SPOILER ALERT :
Jake is kind of a bad dude.
But “we” (and Olivia) loooove to love him anyway. And just like Olivia struggles with how to feel about him, we struggle, too. We want to believe he has a soft spot for her and that he’s not always lying. We desperately try to figure out when he loves her and when he’s just using her.
If we just hated Jake Ballard, he’d be a one-dimensional character and we wouldn’t care about him. But instead, we’re curious about him. We’re drawn in, searching deep into Jake’s abs (damn it. EYES! Jake’s eyes), looking for clues that he’s got Olivia’s back and that he loves her, for real.
And that’s what makes obsessively good TV (and in case it’s not obvious, Shonda Rhimes has completely NAILED this concept across everything she touches).
So. This begs the question. How, for the love of Olivia’s enviable wardrobe, do you create a multi-dimensional and compelling character like Scott Foley creates Jake Ballard, especially if you don’t have the Shondaland writers in your pocket?
By being a multi-dimensional and compelling character yourself, and then knowing how to leverage that to get into the character’s skin.
Ahhh, but it’s not so simple is it? If it was, everyone would be doing it.
That’s where the Magnetic Actor Method comes in.
But first, in order to understand and apply what I’m teaching, you’re going to have to know and articulate exactly what makes you magnetic – what your natural and unique strengths are.
So if you’re brand new to me or my blog, you’ll want to download this FREE Magnetic Actor Method Action Guide which will give you a great overview of what being a Magnetic Actor is all about, and it’ll get you kickstarted on the process.
Alright, back to getting into our character’s skin.
Let’s say you get an audition for the unsub on Criminal Minds (in this show, they always refer to the “unknown subject of investigation” – the bad guy – as the unsub). Chances are good that you don’t think you relate the character (right?? 😳). Ah, but you do. Because the unsub is a multi-dimensional person with a backstory, qualities, and quirks. Just like you. And you’re about to discover the ways you and your unsub are alike.
So, how would you start breaking down this scene?
Here’s what most actors will do. They’ll latch on to the cold-blooded murderer angle and memorize their lines while practicing a menacing sneer. And their read would be pushed and boooooring.
But here’s what you’ll do.
You’ll be like Jake and give us way more than just an evil unsub because you’re going to identify with him. You’ll understand him on a deeper level because you share some of the same underlying qualities.
Let’s break it down.
CHARACTER CROCK POT
Using clues from the audition sides, list as many of his possible and likely qualities and characteristics as you can. Don’t hold back. Throw ‘em all in. You’ll narrow it down later.
Your list: powerful, evil, calculated, disciplined, patient, lonely, intelligent, still, quiet, focused, cautious, steadfast, dedicated, thorough
Now you can decide what your character’s main strengths and core qualities are. Ideally, you have some facility with the strengths concept, but you can also just use the list of qualities and characteristics you noted above. Pick the strongest and most obvious choices. And ideally, ones that you share.
Your list: Responsibility, Discipline, Focus, Strategic
THE SECRET SAUCE
How and where are your strengths aligned with his? Try to give your character at least one shared strength and describe how you both use it (again, this assumes you’ve either taken my class or gone through the Action Guide). Your goal is to align yourself with at least one quality that drives him, delights him, unnerves him, etc..
Your list: (see below)
You: You do what you say you’re going to do. Once you make a decision, you take ownership of it and are compelled to complete it. You don’t like to let people down and people trust and depend on you. This is how you get things done.
Unsub: Once you commit to a mark, you don’t waver from it. You do what you say you’re going to do and you’re compelled to follow through. It’s just who you are. To you, it’s your responsibility to complete this task.
You: You like routine and structure in your life. You plan in advance and then follow the plan. You are not a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person and you are resistant to change.
Unsub: You like routine and structure and you follow the same “signature” routine for each kill. It’s a process for you that you don’t waver from. You have no room for error, so processes and protocols are paramount. Once you decide on a kill you’re all in.
FINISH WITH A BANG
When you craft the unsub’s backstory, make sure to include a lot of details about your shared strength(s) so that when it comes time for the audition, you are aligned with the unsub; He is a “real” person who now has a lot of the same quirks, qualities, and characteristics as you.
You’ve gotten into his skin because you’ve identified where your shared qualities overlap. You “get him” in a way no other actor can touch.
Even if another actor follows these same four steps, the qualities that actor chooses will be different than yours.
And even if that actor chooses the same exact core qualities and strengths as you, his unique take of the character’s backstory, will make his unsub completely different than yours.
Your read will be nuanced and will reflect YOU. Trust that.
So. Grab the FREE Magnetic Actor Method Action Guide and when your next audition comes along, put a little Jake on It, and get ready to rock casting’s world.