5/26/08: Character Insights

The USA Network had an SVU marathon over the weekend featuring what they called “character insights.” Snippets from the actors during commercial breaks talking about their characters in general and as they pertained to the episode that was running. I thought my eyeballs were going to fall out of my head – I didn’t leave the house. As an L&O addict, this was obviously terrific. But as an actor – it was priceless. Here are a few things I learned:

Diane Neal’s dad is a federal attorney. She didn’t base her character (Casey Novak) on anyone in particular, but she’s familiar with the legal system. She said Fred Thompson totally reminds her of her dad. She loves him…Yeah, I get that. Fred and I may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but hey – he’s Arthur Branch. He rocks. And Neal’s got some spunk to her. They showed the episode where Casey gets beaten up, called “Night” (guest starring the always brilliant Alfred Molina and Angela Lansbury, with a cameo by Bebe Neuwirth…no wonder I can’t get work). It’s always been my favorite for her. She owned that episode. Neal said during the attack scene (cue my martial arts training!) she was only expecting three punches from the actor who played her attacker. So when he threw a fourth, it knocked her out cold. That shot is actually in the episode – it kicks ass. Neal kicks ass. If I weren’t campaigning for her old job, we’d totally be BFFs.

Ice T describes his character Fin as a hard guy with a weak spot for kids. He says cops and criminals have the same personality. They both want the same thing. They walk into a room and want answers. He said even though he never thought he’d be playing a cop – although he’s dealt with plenty of them – his character is very similar to his own personality, so it’s not a hard role for him…I’m the opposite. I find that the characters closest to me are the ones I have the most trouble with. My acting teacher Laura Gardner (who’s part shrink) would probably tell me this is because we have a hard time looking inside ourselves and dealing with our own drama. We’d rather play characters unlike ourselves so we don’t have to face our own pain, shortcomings, vulnerabilities, etc. Ironically, doing this is what brings out our most truthful performances.

Captain Cragen is an alcoholic. I didn’t know that, but it makes sense now that I think about it. He seems as though he struggles to keep his emotions in check, like he’s fighting either for or against something. It’s subtle but intense – and personal. It makes me wonder what his home life is like. Dann Florek, who plays the captain, says his character is a good man, and that he’d bend over backwards for his detectives. And he says Cragen is almost always the flipside of what the viewers think.

Mariska Hargitay says the emotional content of the show is processed through her character, Olivia Benson. She says the show would be unwatchable if Olivia didn’t serve this purpose. She’s an empathetic pillar of justice – the person who will make things safe. She goes with her gut, what she feels, and isn’t often wrong. She and Stabler are the parental figures of the show – even though Benson doesn’t have any kids…As an actor, Hargitay says she likes allowing herself to go to places out of the norm, not staying in her safe zone. It allows her to be open and raw.

And finally, the man who keeps me glued to the TV, only to be loosened by my own drool – Elliot Stabler. Meloni says Elliot represents safety to people. At least, he feels he has an obligation along those lines. In fact, Meloni said he met a man once who’d been abused when he was five years old. The man told him that when he thought back to that time, he would fantasize about Detective Stabler coming to his rescue…Yes, Elliot has an anger issue, but it’s justified, which makes it fascinating to watch the moments in which he refrains from getting hostile. Elliot’s dad was angry and controlling and called him a failure. He’s broken and he knows it – he’s a product of his environment. That’s why we forgive his outbursts, and cheer when he keeps his cool. On one hand we want Elliot to heal, but on the other, we don’t know if he’d be as effective if he did…And for the record, it’s ABSURD that Meloni has never won an Emmy for this role.

Bottom line in all of this: Know your character. Know what makes you fight. Know your backstory. If you own the past, if you own the present – you’ll own the part.

Dear Dick Wolf:

Did I mention I have a psych degree? I have a psych degree. And an acting degree. I can own it. I’m a good fit. Please hire me.

Thank you. Amen.


Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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