Here’s a picture of me thinking of a secret, it was done by my good friend and extraordinary photographer, Robert Ferrone. A photo shoot, as I said in my last blog is very much of a group effort. This shot, for example, involved a stylist for clothing, a make up artist, a hair dresser, a photographer and an assistant. Well, and me, but I’m almost secondary.

But as writers and actors we have to work on what goes on inside. And that’s where the secret knowledge comes in. One of the first really good producers I worked with, Lou Shaw, at Universal Studios on a show called, “Half Nelson” with Joe Peschi, once told me that the two most valuable things an actor could have were—drum roll please, for a man: Danger, for a woman: Mystery.

Both of those things are internal. So I want to talk about getting there. Wether you are creating traits for a character you are playing or writing, it’s what’s behind that secret smile makes all the difference.

Let me give you an example. I was working with one of the best film directors I ever knew, David Beard, (Scorchers)  during rehearsals he gave us the assignment to physicalize the characters we were playing with something that only we would know about. The lead guy, a sweet, handsome young thing, came back the next day and proudly showed what he had put in his wallet, which would stay in his pocket and therefore, never be seen on film. David said, “Okay, what is it?” Young and handsome produced the wallet which contained a love letter and a picture of his grandmother. “Fine, nice,” said the director, “and how does that affect your character in this film?” The actor fumbled through an explanation about the guy being a family man, loving his girlfriend, etc. “Great,” said David, “fine.”

Then he turned to a brilliant character actor who was playing a used car salesman. I won’t tell you who because I don’t have his permission, but suffice to say you have seen his work in a thousand things, though you probably don’t always know it’s him because he has such remarkable range and he becomes the characters. David asked him what decisions he had made.

He said. “My shoes don’t fit.”

David smiled in anticipation and asked, “Why?”

“Cause I stole ’em.”

“And how does that affect your character?”

“It makes me walk funny, ’cause my feet hurt.”

And it did, it changed his whole body language, and stealing the shoes was something so true to the character he was playing that it all fit together and actually effected the film, though it’s something the audience would never know.

God I loved that.

This works on so many levels. The most important aspect of this is that the decisions you make should actually mean something. As a writer, this is a wonderful exercise to flesh out your character, or, we have the option to actually include some of this in the prose, to let our audience in on those conscious or subconscious decisions that make our characters so individual and unique. As an actor, the depth you can add to a part, and make your job easier, are plain to see.

It’s a simple thing, really, just a little exercise, but try it. And like a good editor, it will help you see the difference between the choices that are effective, and the ones that are busy white noise.

It works in life too. What choices have we made that affect our behavior? Is our arm slightly sore because we gave blood this morning? Did we sleep well last light because we made the choice to laugh with our family instead of staring at Facebook? Does anything hanging in your closet really make a difference to who you are? No, but maybe downsizing that closet and giving away a few things to someone else who truly needs them will add a warm, heartfelt smile to your face and a spring in your step.

Have fun creating, share your secret smile and make good choices.

Shari. November 1, 2012