The other day, I was talking with my girlfriend when the topic of acting came up. I’m a student currently studying acting, and as such, I spend a lot of time thinking about people, their objectives, and how those objectives translate into actions. Currently, I’m in a show in which I play a pretentious little rich kid who toys around with others and then leaves them behind without a second thought. He’s a pathological liar and an alcoholic. He refuses to work and mooches money off of others, yet he thinks himself morally superior to everyone.I love playing him.
This character was the focus of my conversation with my girlfriend. One thing that always excites any actor is the day that they realize what makes their character tick. Understanding what motivates a character is a key element in creating a seamless performance, and it almost always creates empathy for the character. I call this the character’s redeeming value. The other day, while combing my script and doing some character research, I realized that the reason why this character was able to do things to others without feeling sorry for them. He had not yet figured out the concept that other people continue to exist even when you are not around. In a way, he hadn’t figured out empathy. I call this the law of human object permanence. It’s something that we all go through, and it helps us desire to better the lives of others. Knowing this allowed me to forgive the character for the things that he does. I am able to understand and appreciate him, even though he eventually causes the suicide of another character.
My girlfriend was unable to understand my appreciation of this character. She could not believe that every character has a “redeeming value.” In talking about this, I think that it is useful to consider the Kashiwagi Solution Model. One thing that KSM teaches us is how to analyze character traits without judging one to be superior to another. We are able to look at the choices that people have and simply see the different paths that each lead down, but we do not rank one path higher than another. I don’t have a mind-bowing solution here or some new and wonderful way of going about things that I would like to propose. I would simply like to pose a question to you, and ask that you think about the consequences of either answer.
Is there such a thing as a character (or a person) who has no redeeming value? Is anything ever objectively wrong?
As stated before, I don’t have an answer, but I do hope that it makes you think through the mind of another, if only for a short while.