by Cesare Rocchi

Staying in Character

by Cesare Rocchi

Tags: productivity

An expression that you might have heard during an interview with an actor talking about his/her acting method is “being in character”. It’s the ability of an actor to stay in the character’s state of mind, in spite of the circumstances.

Let’s suppose you are playing a sad scene. You remembered some personal sad moment to help you “get there”. You are playing the character and you are half way through the scene. Somebody stumbles and falls. Everybody laughs and so do you. Now resuming that state might not be easy. One of the features of good actors is how quick they can get back in character or even better, how good they are to not break it.

Reading around you can find the clumsiest stories about famous actors and their techniques to be in character. Some are pretty extreme, like De Niro getting a read taxi license to study the character of Taxi Driver or DiCaprio ignoring his actually bloody hand to not break character while shooting a scene of Django Unchained.

I am no actor, but I remember that I used this kind of examples where I explained my wife how interruptions impact my day to day job. I play many “characters”, from software developer, to designer, from marketer, to customer support. Some characters are pretty easy to resume.

For example when I design, as in literally drawing pixels on screen, interruptions are not a big deal. I even listen to podcasts when I do it. When I am debugging, a little fly hammering the window glass trying to escape is a huge problem. Along the years I came up with a bunch of strategies to make it easy on myself:

  • wait for the right, silent, moment before digging into a demanding task like debugging, even if it’s small and you expect to solve it quickly.
  • don’t work on demanding tasks at the coworking
  • when not motivated, work in first gear mode

The first one is the hardest to apply, at least for me. Parking a FIXME task is a bit like starting the countdown for Christmas presents in July. I am learning, improving, but sometimes I still fall into the this-is-urgent trap, start debugging and end up stressed if I am interrupted. A way to refresh my memory about these techniques is to watch some of the interviews by the Actor Studio. The one with Dustin Hoffman touches on a lot of tricks.