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5 Ways to Research a Character

When preparing for a role, actors will often be advised to do their research. However, very seldom are they given guidance as to how to do so.

“Research” can bring to mind long hours in a college library, or endless scrolling through scholarly articles. But it doesn’t have to be so rigid. Research can come in many forms. It can excite and inspire. Here are a few ways to engage in research that might help prepare for a role from a number of perspectives.

1. Documentaries. Especially when researching a character from a different time period or part of the world, documentaries are your friend. If you can’t find any on major streaming services, scroll through YouTube or even university websites. Has someone done a relevant TED talk?

Clips of documentaries can be helpful if you can’t find the right full-length ones. This is a great way to let scholars and experts do a little bit of your research for you. The great thing about documentaries is they often give you a lot of information on surrounding circumstances. They may not be specific to your character’s exact life, but you might get an idea of what your character’s world was, or is, like.

2. Media From Your Character’s World. Think about the influence and impact music, movies, books, magazines, etc. have on our culture. They’re part of a cultural personality and shared understanding.

If you’re researching a character from the past, immerse yourself (when possible) in the kind of music and stories they would have been consuming. Get specific. What would they have been listening to in their region, their time period, their culture and their socioeconomic standing, at their age? This is a great way to really connect to the vibe of your character’s life.

3. Podcasts. If you find it difficult to sit down and read or watch things, podcasts or even audiobooks are a great alternative. You can listen to them on your commute or perhaps even at work.

4. On-Site Immersion. There’s nothing quite like standing in your character’s footsteps. If you’re able to travel to places your character was brought up, that’s an incredible way to get a feel for their world.

If that’s out of the question, what places near you are similar to places your character may have spent time? Do they work in an office building? Find one you can visit. Are they from another time? Hit up a museum, or find a vintage clothing boutique. Find ways to see things they would have seen, and touch daily items they would have interacted with. If you’re hard up for resources, start small and be creative.

5. Talk to Real, Live People. Firsthand accounts can be incredibly valuable. If you’re researching a character from the past, is there anyone left alive who would have lived through those times? Or who may have known someone who did? Talk to your grandparents, or someone else’s.

If you’re researching a dialect, see if you can talk to someone from that region (or at least find a clip of a local person speaking).

These are just a few of about a million different ways you can dive into your character’s world. Our world is more connected than ever, which means we have access to perspectives that may have been out of reach in the past.

Even if your character is living in a reality that is based on fantasy, science-fiction or even the future, there will be relatable themes and elements of their lives that you can approximate to your own.

Getting to know your character can be intimate, exciting and emotional. Find the types of research that spark your imagination and follow those threads.

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