Character Discovery: The Walk

We actors have the perpetual challenge of creating characters that are distinct from ourselves. Inevitably, though, we are betrayed by the natural way we carry ourselves physically and vocally.

Below is a simple method for discovering new options for how a character can walk. Next time, we’ll focus on talking the talk.

Let’s break down a walk into three layers: drive, weight, and restrictions. We can separate these layers and play with them to create endless combinations that result in unique walks.

Drive

walk_driveA person’s gait is driven by a specific part or region of the body. Let’s call it the person’s center. It’s the engine that drives your body. It’s the forward momentum that leads the way. This center is different for each person. A fundamental way, then, to change your walk is to change your center.

  1. I recommend starting with this energy orb exercise. When you’ve focused your energy in this way, this “orb” can become your center.
  2. “Plug” your center into your chest. Now, walk a few yards letting your chest drive the rest of your body forward.
  3. “Unplug” your center and place it in your forehead. Walk another distance and feel the difference.
  4. Experiment with your center being in different locations. Your right foot, your stomach, your pelvis—all will result in a different type of walk. Play with the left or right sides of your torso, too, and not just the middle.
  5. Experiment with different levels of intensity. Being driven by your knee with high intensity, for example, can be an effective choice for exaggerated physical comedy. Dial it down, though, and you have a more natural, John-Wayne-cowboy-esque gait.

Weight

walk_weightThe drive only considers how your center is moving forward, as if a string is pulling it forward and the rest of your body follows. Now, imagine a string pulling your center either up or down as you walk. If a string is pulling your center up, your gait will be lighter. If a string is pulling your center down, your gait will be heavier and slower.

Different weights on the same center can result in completely different walks and emotional states:

Light forehead: intellectual, arrogant, naive, dreamy

Heavy forehead: brooding, stalking

Light chest: confident, arrogant, brave

Heavy chest: conflicted, turmoiled

Light stomach: jolly, eager

Heavy stomach: lazy, sad, lethargic

Restrictions

walk_restrictionsThe final layer of a person’s walk is where we find all the quirks and pains that make a walk unique. Consider your character’s past and how it may have had an effect on the body. Was she trained to have proper posture? Is he hunched over a computer all day? Does her job require her to be on her feet all day? Might he have been injured doing a job or hobby? What pains in the neck, back, knees, and feet might be nagging and ever-present? How well does your character try to cover these up?

We often analyze the script for clues to our characters past so that we can integrate them emotionally. Consider the physical toll the past can take as well, and you’ll soon have a holistic profile for your character.

 

They say you have to walk the walk before you can talk the talk. Spend some time this week discovering some new characters physically. Next time, we’ll tap into dozens of character voices that you didn’t even know you had in you!

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