Part 2 – Who Are You?

152 Character Part 2

Lincoln and Day-Lewis

Who is your favorite actor?  I’ve always been a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis.  Watch him in a movie and I can assure you, he’ll make you believe in whatever character he is playing.  Coincidently, he’s famous for the intensity in which he studies each of the characters he is going to portray.  Here are a handful of examples:

  • Lincoln (2012) Day-Lewis demanded that everyone, including Spielberg, refer to him as “Mr. President.”  He wouldn’t let English cast members speak to him in their own accents while trying to get Abe’s voice right, for fear that it might throw him off.
  • Gangs of New York (2002) For his role as Bill the Butcher, Day-Lewis took up lessons as an apprentice butcher.  He was so into the role that he refused to wear a warm jacket because, according to him, it wasn’t in keeping with the period.  He caught pneumonia but rejected modern medicine when it was offered to him to help with his illness.
  • The Name of the Father (1993) To accurately portray a wrongly convicted prisoner, Day-Lewis spent, several nights at a time, chilling in solitary confinement in the abandoned prison they were filming in. He even kept himself awake for three days in preparation for an interrogation scene in the film.
  • Last of the Mohicans (1992) To prepare for his role, Day-Lewis taught himself how to live as a survivalist and he learned how to hunt animals for food. He refused to eat anything that he hadn’t killed with either his flintlock rifle or his tomahawk, both of which he could use very well.
  • My Left Foot (1989) While playing the paralyzed poet Christy Brown, he refused to leave his wheelchair and had crewmembers carry him around the set during the entire shoot. He also insisted that all of his meals be spoon-fed to him.

Daniel Day-Lewis does far more than just learn his lines; he immerses himself into the life and behaviors of each character he plays.  He becomes 100% believable by not just learning his lines, but by becoming the characters he represents.  What about you?

Day-Lewis intensely researches the character he portrays.  How much research do you do before you meet with a client?  I’m not referring to just going to a website.  I mean really researching the client.  What are the core values of the individual and the company?  What are some hobbies or outside organizations that the person you are meeting with belongs to?  Clearly, the more intensely you research the role you will be playing, the more instinctive your character will become.

Once you have a deeper understanding of the company, the personnel, and the scope of work, a character can begin to form.  Let me give you an example:  Many younger sales people become almost obsessed with the notion that their ages will impede their ability to convince an older client of their competence.  Unconsciously, the character being played is one of anxiousness and defensiveness.  That is perceived as the inexperience of the sales person, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the eyes of the client.

What if that same salesperson looked at his or her age in a different way?  What if that same salesperson defined the character about to be played as a person who was innovative, on the cutting age of technology, and had access to a network of personnel and solutions that would stagger the mind?  And what if, deep in that salesperson’s soul, he or she truly believed this?  Every move made, and every word spoken, would be supported by this character; a character that was not inexperienced or arrogant, but wise beyond his or her years.

In the end, this is what understanding your character is all about.  It’s about turning product knowledge, and prepared questions, to instinctive behavior.  If you can clearly identify the character you are looking to emulate, and truly become that character, you will find that your thought process and delivery will become less robotic and more genuine.

Some say you’re born with the ability to make people believe, and I agree that some of us may have a bit of a headstart.  But no matter what, you can become the character you need to be, by just taking the time to study and understand that character. If you believe in this, you can become that character.  When that happens, our thoughts and words become instinctive, and we are believed.  We can all get there.  We just need to understand our character.

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