How to Keep From Losing Yourself In A Role

Should You Lose Yourself In A Role?

Have you ever wondered – can actors lose themselves in a role? Do actors become like their characters completely? And if so, is that a good or bad thing?

It is an actor’s most important job to fully embody characters while on stage or on set. As viewers, we don’t want to see the actor working; we want to become completely absorbed in the story as we live vicariously through the characters we’re watching. Audiences can’t entirely suspend their disbelief if an actor isn’t creating and assuming a character identity to the fullest extent of his abilities. But while acting, losing yourself in roles too completely can be dangerous.

losing yourself in a character acting

The key to effective acting, argues Terry Schreiber, Founding Artistic Director of T. Schreiber Studio, is finding an optimal psychological distance between yourself and the character you’re playing. Too much distance results in an emotionally disconnected and noticeably inauthentic performance. Too little distance risks exacerbating the psychological wounds of an actor lurking beneath his façade. “You can’t work from things in yourself that you’re not emotionally resolved about,” Schreiber emphasizes. “That becomes acting out of neurosis. If you’re working from neurosis, you have no objectivity.”

So how can you tell if you’re losing yourself in a role?

If the character’s behaviors and thoughts creep into your off-stage life — say, while you’re out to dinner with friends, snuggling up to a significant other, or just spending some much-needed time alone. “If any part of the character consistently haunts you after a performance, rehearsal, or shoot,” Schreiber says, “that’s a sign this character’s behavior or situation may be triggering something in you that you’re not psychologically resolved about.”

do actors become like their characters

Being haunted by a character means you’ve become caught in the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors of your character outside of performing.  Or it could mean you literally you begin acting like the character when you’re supposed to have left him or her in the dressing room — say, obsessively dimming the lights, lying about your past, inveighing against your sister’s ape-like boyfriend, and depending on the kindness of strangers. (Or having a legitimate nervous breakdown.)

If a character is bleeding into your life or stirring up your own personal trauma — drama therapist Robert Landy recalls situations where acting certain roles has elicited war veterans’ or rape victims’ PTSD symptoms (sweating, shaking, sudden emotional shutdowns, excessive anxiety) — your best bet is to seek support in the form of a qualified therapist. Check out the North American Drama Therapy Association’s network to find someone specifically trained to address these blurred self/character lines.) To ensure optimal psychological distance from a role, Schreiber and Landy agree, all actors must find some form of differentiating the “me” from the “not-me.”

Find a moment before, during, or after each performance where you can experience a catharsis, Schreiber advocates — a letting go of the character in the interest of returning to your off-stage self. (Curtain calls often make for the most popular moments to demarcate where your character ends and where you begin. Runners up include removing the character’s makeup and hanging up the character’s costume.) Listening to the same song after a performance, engaging in a particular physical activity, or plugging back into your social world can also do the trick.

But if you do find yourself unable to transition back to who you were before you embodied a role, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance in relocating your off-set self. And be mindful of what psychological baggage you may need to address with a therapist in order to sustain the supple yet strong emotional boundaries an acting career requires.


By: Katherine Schreiber

Slide 1
T Schreiber 50 Year celebration logo

Acting Classes: Beginner to Advanced

"One of The Best Acting Classes In New York" --Time Out NY