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Building a Character with the Enneagram

There are a variety of methods and techniques that offer ways to develop a character. But for actors still figuring out what works best for them, as well as for those interested in freshening up their approach, we have one word for you: Enneagram. The personality theory offers different types into which an individual can fit, along the same lines as Myers-Briggs. Each of the Enneagram’s nine types is associated with certain basic desires, which motivate and shape behavior. It offers a great jumping-off point for building a character, and we’re providing overviews of each type, drawing from The American Journal of Psychiatry. Plus, keep an eye out for example characters from popular films or series that can be used for reference.

Type 1: “The Perfectionist” 
If your character best fits this type, it means that they are motivated by a desire to be good or have integrity. This type is also called “the reformer” because it encompasses individuals who want to improve themselves and others. Critical behavior can result from this as people who identify as Type 1 try and make the world a better place. Think Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. She has no problem sharing with others her strong sense of what’s right or wrong, and the talented young witch can often be found fixing others’ subpar attempts at magic. 

Type 2: “The Helper” 
A person that is a Type 2 holds the basic desire to be loved and needed. As a result, they are often people-pleasers, and their behavior reflects it. Type 2 individuals can frequently be found working to meet others’ needs, even at the expense of their own. A classic film example is Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series. Sam sacrificed his own comfort and safety to assist Frodo on his quest. Plus, Sam embodies the warmth and empathy that are often seen as hallmarks of this type.

Type 3: “The Achiever” 
Individuals who identify as Type 3 are motivated by a need to be successful and to be seen as valuable to others. This drives them to work hard toward well-defined goals, and they’ll likely charm you while they do it. Type 3s are often distinguished by their self-assured and competitive natures, which brings to mind Schmidt from New Girl, who also places much value on his accomplishments and appearance.
Type 4: “The Individualist” 
If your character is driven by a desire to be meaningful and understood, it’s likely that they’re a Type 4. They feel things deeply, value authenticity, and consider themselves to be anything but ordinary. The character of Rose in Titanic is a good film example of a Type 4, outlined by how she defies society’s expectations for her and seeks to live as her authentic self with Jack. 
Type 5: “The Investigator” 
Type 5 individuals desire to be capable and competent. Typical hallmarks of this type include emotional restraint and a high value placed on independence and privacy. They may be prone to isolation and are known for being observant. These traits are exemplified in Parks and Recreation by Ron Swanson, who maintains a placid demeanor and intentionally calls people by the wrong name to prevent them from getting too chummy with him.
Type 6: “The Loyalist” 
If a person is a Type 6, they deeply feel the need for security and support, often thinking through worst-case scenarios and displaying anxious tendencies. Type 6s are also known for being witty, reliable, and loyal. With a pattern of speech defined by an anxious stream of consciousness, Chandler Bing from Friends is a strong TV example of a Type 6. He’s responsible and committed to his friends, further solidifying the Enneagram type he represents. 
Type 7: “The Enthusiast”
If your character is motivated by the desire to be happy and satisfied, then they’re likely a Type 7. This type is defined by optimistic, adventurous, and spontaneous qualities. Additionally, a person who identifies as a Type 7 can struggle with compulsivity and overextending themselves. As a shining example of this type on The Office, Michael Scott frequently chases the things he thinks will make him happy. One example is his predilection for waking up to the smell of bacon, which results in a foot injury after he steps on his bedside George Foreman grill. 
Type 8: “The Challenger”
People who fall into this type on the Enneagram are defined by their need to be in control. They want to protect themselves and others, which comes out in behavior that can be described as commanding, decisive, and willful. A classic character that represents this type is Princess Leia from the Star Wars series, who often challenges Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, and has no problem with engaging in conflict for the greater good. 
Type 9: “The Peacemaker”
The nickname for this type makes the basic desire that defines it easy to remember. Type 9 individuals are motivated by a longing for peace and stability. They are easygoing, avoid conflict, and can struggle to find their own voice. One of Jane Austen’s best-known novels represents this type well with the character of Jane Bennet. And regardless of if you prefer the 1995 BBC mini-series or the 2005 Focus Features film, you can view an onscreen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice to watch the harmony-seeking character brought to life. 
If you’re an actor interested in using the personality theory to help develop the characters you play, you can go further in your study of the Enneagram. For instance, each type can be more influenced by one of the two numbers next to it, which are called “wings” and denoted by the letter “w.” A Type 3 individual, for example, can further identify as a 3w2 or a 3w4 if they feel their core type is colored with either “helper” or “individualist” traits. Further research on the Enneagram may also involve discovering your own type. The desires that drive you as a person also influence how you interpret a character, and an awareness of them certainly lends itself to the process. To find out where you land on the Enneagram, many experts suggest reading up on each type and then determining which one best fits you. And no matter if you end up being the same type as Hermione, Sam, Schmidt, Rose, Ron, Chandler, Michael, Princess Leia, or Jane, you’ll be in good company. 
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