One question that often pops up is “How do I play a confident character when I’m not confident?” While it’s simple to dismiss this as a naive or amateur remark, (In the words of Laurence Olivier; “Why not try acting? It’s much easier“) confidence is quite a complex state. Confidence isn’t just an emotion. It actually straddles the line between an emotion and an identity. We can feel happy, but happiness does not define us outside of the present moment. Confidence, on the other hand, can be both a feeling and an identity. It can ebb and flow, but it is so intrinsically tied in with our sense of self and self-worth, that simply feeling confident doesn’t always translate to others in performance, and when it’s forced, confidence twists into it’s negative form, arrogance.
Aside from confidence in yourself as an actor and as a person, which is better dealt with in therapy than on a website, we can certainly work on confidence in performance. If your character is confident, don’t let this stop you from being affected by doubts and vulnerability. A person’s confidence naturally fluctuates and sometimes it isn’t overtly there at all, just as you sometimes feel neither happy nor sad. Your character may be different when they are alone compared to when they are with other people. Explore how company affects their confidence on the spectrum from Charismatic (natural, passive, secure, validated) to Arrogant (forced, aggressive, proving oneself, insecure). In general, charisma is based on a confidence that is a foregone conclusion, whereas arrogance is based on confidence that is unstable and constantly interrogated.
There’s so much work to be done on our scripts and character building that it can be easy to overlook the foundations sometimes. Be aware of your actor’s confidence while in performance. What this means, is that an audience can tell the difference between an arrogant actor and a charismatic actor regardless of how much character is piled on top. It can be detrimental or helpful to have such a deeply rooted confidence. Chris Pratt, for example, has been hyper-successful in roguish roles where his charisma overpowers his faults and portrays him as loveable regardless of his poor choices or bad actions. Starlord and Andy Dwyer are great examples of characters that are arrogant on paper, but we empathise with the performance because it is packaged as charisma. However, in Passengers, it wasn’t clear how we were meant to feel about Pratt’s character. He was the villain and, for all intents and purposes, committed manslaughter. His natural charisma skewed his performance toward that of a protagonist, and the whole vibe of the movie was muddied.
It’s vital to decide the level of confidence that your character carries themselves with, because it heavily affects how they interact with others, the world, and how they feel about themselves. A confident character bases their decisions and choices on very different motives than one who is unconfident. A lack of confidence can manifest as shyness, indecision, spite, hatred, get creative with the relationship between there confidence and their learned coping mechanisms. Have a look at your script beats and play with how each beat effects their confidence. Confidence is a strong indicator of a complex inner life, so be sure to explore it when building a character’s world.