Egocentricity and Life Acting
One of the things that I advocate, in the technique I call LIFE ACTING, is that as actors WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE COMPLETE EGOCENTRICITY OF THE CHARACTERS WE PLAY.
As I explain in my book, much psychological research has backed up the assertion of egocentricity. What is egocentricity? It is the having or regarding of the self as the center of all things.
This self-regard is key to understanding the characters that we play. One interesting experiment by Jones and Nesbitt (1971), illustrated what’s called “Actor-Observer Bias” : The theory that when a person judges their own behavior, they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation, than they are to any generalization about their personality. But when a person judges the actions of others, thus becoming an “observer”, they are more likely to attribute behavior to a person’s overall personality, NOT situational factors.
In other words, when I do something, I call it reasonable. But when you do something, I tend to say it is because of what you believe or what you desire.
Volunteers were asked to “rate” various people (including themselves) according to a scale of character traits. They could also select “depends on situation”. The results showed that the volunteers used the “depends on situation” option only for themselves. People tend to view themselves as “fluid” and others as “characters” with distinct personality traits.
This is very helpful for the actor as he makes choices for his character. We should realize the complete subjectivity of our characters—how they see themselves as completely reasonable and how they “characterize” the others around them.
Our characters must focus on their present situation not on their own personality! Not understanding this leads us to judge our characters from the outside. We will then tend to play a caricature- a cartoon. It is an undue emphasis on “good or bad” that leads to so many safe and passionless choices for our characters. If we want real LIFE, we must commit to staying “inside” the character, playing his own egocentricity in his situation with all his rationalizations etc.
If you had to play Hitler, would you play him as a monster– as a caricature? Or will you realize that he had a way to rationalize, and justify all of his actions. Only when you choose the latter will the character come to life.