We tend to take everything that a character says in a script as fact. If they say it, it must be true in the world of the play, right? But remember, these characters are supposed to be real people. And how often do real people (a) say what is true (whether they intend to deceive or are simply mistaken), and (b) say what they mean? Not nearly as often as we assume in a script.
If you were to read the script for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you could assume that everything Wonka says is true in his wacky world. It is fantasy, after all, right? Anything goes. But Gene Wilder was not content with this assumption regarding his character of Willy Wonka. According to Letters of Note, Wilder told the director, “When I make my first entrance. I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
“Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
And sure enough, from that time on, audiences were captivated by Wilder’s performance. The intrigue of the unknown is one of the most powerful tools in storytelling, and it can be yours as an actor.
In your own preparation for our character, it is a good exercise to ask
“What if this line isn’t true?”
(assuming the script isn’t blatantly obvious about it). Pretend, for the sake of argument, that it’s actually not true, and your character is lying or mistaken.. How does it change the way you say that line? What motivations does it reveal about your character? What is your character really thinking, then, while saying something else?
Give your audience some reason to doubt, and they will lean in closer to figure you out.