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De-Roling: How and When It’s Important to Remove Yourself from the Work

There is a great deal of mythos surrounding “method” actors. Typically, when these stories show up, they are salacious and glamorized accounts of celebrity actors going to extreme measures to experience what their character is experiencing, or maintaining the character for incredible stretches of time. While this idea can be seductive, it can also be destructive to the actor’s mental health and physical well-being.

Even when not taking extreme measures, actors often engage with heightened emotions in a repeated and sustained matter. It’s natural to feel the effects. Your body doesn’t always know you’re acting. If real adrenaline is pumping through your veins and real tears are running down your face, it’s natural to feel drained at the least. So how do we protect ourselves and make sure we are physically and mentally able to sustain this kind of work?

Actor/character separation is crucial to our health as artists. “De-roling,” or the process of disentangling yourself from the character, is necessary. It doesn’t mean you are weak, and it doesn’t make your work any less profound. In fact, it often aids in the production of strong work, as it allows the actor the distance to view and adjust their work more objectively, and the energy to bring their all to each performance. But it does take practice.

Know when you’re too close. You may not need a de-roling process for every part. There is plenty of work you’ll be able to engage with and drop afterwards with no problem. But knowing your personal measure for when the work is affecting you negatively can help you be forewarned and forearmed. This includes but is not limited to: knowing what work might trigger trauma, recognizing when you’re feeling burned out after performance, noting if you are carrying feelings from the characters into your daily life (including feelings towards your scene partners), etc. Sometimes it will sneak up on you. I recently realized after three weeks of an emotionally intense show that the grief and depression of the character was bleeding into my life. I couldn’t figure out why I was so depressed until I remembered I was making myself call up tears multiple times over the course of a two-and-a-half-hour show six times a week. Of course it was affecting me physically and emotionally.

Find your routine. Having de-roling practices already in place to practice when needed is incredibly helpful. This will look different for every actor and every show. If you’re engaging in intense work with a scene partner, it might be helpful to have a joint ritual that helps you lay down your characters and reconnect as coworkers. It could be anything from a check-in and a high five to decompressing together after. But you should also have your own practices. Maybe taking a shower when you get home before engaging in other activities, or changing your clothes or eating a favorite snack. Something you can be consistent with that also allows you to be mindful of setting the work aside.

Often, we put so much thought, energy, and work into getting into character, but ignore our actual selves.  Don’t let the romanticization of suffering artists get to you. No matter how much we care about the work and the characters, acting is still a job. You still deserve to have a happy and healthy life outside of it.

Related articles:
General Notes — Acting Tips with Acting Coach Howard Fine
Protecting Yourself as an Actor
3 Tips To Get You Ready for Auditions
Crying — Acting Tips with Acting Coach Howard Fine
Physical Life — Acting Tips with Acting Coach Howard Fine