Embodied characters

Film crew on set, circa 1955. Courtesy Grant Crabtree and Wikimedia Commons.

The voice from nowhere is a myth; everyone’s voice is recognizably specific. Characters are no exception. Not only will layered characters have recognizable speech patterns, it may matter to the story that those patterns connect the characters to a place and time. Even so, characters don’t do accents, so neither should actors. Good voice work is not a mechanical process of substituting sounds or following rules; it feels credible because the actor has crafted a voice with all the rhythms, melodies, colorings and peculiarities of a real voice, then lived into it. The best voice work disappears, allowing the circumstances of the story to take the stage.

For some roles, the voice you’ve created for your character and your own voice will align. For others, your character’s voice may be very different from your own. When that happens, the goal is to become so comfortable speaking as your character that you can pull off last-minute changes to the script without getting in your head. Sure, there will always be that pass before you learn your lines where we check for unpredictable regional pronunciations of names and special words — and for clarity, but with a little guidance from a coach who gets the way you work, the general patterns in your character’s voice should already have become so familiar that speaking as your character takes no more energy or attention than speaking in your own voice. Then you are ready to play.

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