We fall in love with actors when they make us sit up and take notice, and the only way to achieve this is by standing out. Most of our favourite performers have a special quality that defines them, which is why celebrity impressions are so fun. Impressions, like caricatures, can be seen as exercises in ridicule, and yet they’re done out of love. Comedy roasts are the same – many times you finish with a greater sense of endearment toward the roasted celebrity. Like the runt in a litter of kittens, sometimes it’s a traditionally negative quality that makes something adorable. By putting a slant on a flaw, it becomes a “quirk”.
This isn’t a self-love article, so don’t get too soul-searching with this. You must remember that flaws or quirks don’t empirically define you or how you should feel about yourself. What flaws or quirks can do is create empathy, relatability and camaraderie.
It’s important to leverage your strengths in order to be successful in any area of life, so you might as well claim all the strengths that you can. The people who appear and act the most perfect still feel like they are flawed and weird. It’s a natural human condition. An actor who embraces and utilises their individuality has a wider range of material they can draw on. Don’t fear narrowing your specialisation, as it is better to be memorable, real and embodied in performance than it is to be typecast among an entire band of forgettable stereotypes. There’s thousands of generic actors, but only one you. Steve Buscemi and Willem Dafoe have a rich and varied career, so take any advice that encourages you to retain a generic veneer for ‘cast-ability’ and ‘flexibility’ with a pinch of salt. If you have gappy teeth, take a headshot that showcases them. Consider letting your freckles show sans makeup, grow out or shave off your hair. Some real funny looking actors are heart-throbs, and the last character I “hot dayum”ed had a glorious mullet (shouldn’t need three guesses as to who this is).
At the end of the day, your performance will benefit from being at one with your quirks. Quirks aren’t just in your looks either. The way you smile, fidget or blink, whatever it is, it can be incorporated or manipulated. An awareness and acceptance of yourself as a human will garner you a greater level of comfort in front of the camera or on the stage. Not just an acceptance, but a willingness and a desire to be seen completely and honestly will boost your performance immeasurably. You become not only watchable, but interesting and magnetic. People watch entertainment to feel things, to experience the world and its people in a way they don’t get access to in everyday life where everyone wants to be seen as perfect and put-together. The aspect of voyeurism in our work needs to be indulged, not cheated and twisted to show the audience what we want them to see. They are smarter than that. We can tell when an actor is dishonest in performance, and it feels like you’ve been cheated. By leveraging your quirks, you create a bond of trust and vulnerability in performance that no amount of external character work can replace.
So how to do you work on your quirk?
What this article is really all about is bringing your unique personality to the work. And this is harder than it sounds. It can be terrifying to be yourself and be vulnerable in a roll. The best way to work on this is with experience. Working consistently on new scenes and monologues to explore how you can relax into each roll and bring your own take on each character you play. This is one of the main reasons we started StageMilk Drama Club, it’s our online scene club, for those actors who want to improve their craft in a safe environment.