Reading The Script

It's great to be an actor with a good role in a movie, script in hand, and ready to get to work on the character. What's the first thing you're looking for when you open the script and begin to read? Are you looking for the dramatic scope of the character, the wonderful lines that you will speak, or the great scenes that you'll get to play? Perhaps, but speaking for myself, I know the first question I want to answer—how big is my role? I want to know how many times my character appears in the script and what are the locations of those appearances. I want to know how my character is described and with whom she interacts.

I have this technique of quickly breezing through the pages and noting with a Post-it the scenes that include my character. Then I will start at the beginning, reading only the scenes that I have marked, to get a picture of this character as she stands by herself. I ask myself, what kind of life does this character lead as she is represented in the screenplay, and what is happening to her in the moments not shown in the script? I also ask myself whether or not I am interested in doing the part at all. Sometimes we work because we have to, and if I find that I am not interested in the part, I quickly reprogram my thought process for reversal and decide to love her anyway. If I don't love my character I can't work on her, so I've got to find a way to bring her into my heart. I have always been able to find a way to love her.

Then I'll start at the beginning of the script and read the screenplay straight through. As I read, I see the movie and I see myself as a part of it. If the screenplay does not evoke images, it is not a good screenplay. The script of a movie should tell you what you see and what you hear; if it does not do this, then it has failed. The script should flow evenly from one scene to another, without any confusion on the part of the reader; reading it should be easy.

The screenplay format gives everyone on the cast and crew the information that they will need to begin doing their jobs. It's the same with the actor. Most actors will go straight for the dialogue in a script and want to know what they have to say. This is a mistake, because dialogue is the thing most likely to change in a film. This is partially because it is the easiest and the cheapest thing to change, but also because movies are about pictures, not words; the words will be altered to fit the visual construct of the movie. It's more important to take a good look at where and when your character appears and what the character does in any given circumstance. We have to look at the actions; they will tell us who the character is. What she says is just the icing on the cake.

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