Film & TV

Creating Characters

Samuel L. Jackson

Lesson time 15:06 min

Learn how Sam imbues every role with a sense of purpose and complexity of character—even if they only appear on screen for a few minutes. In this lesson, he shares the fundamentals of his characterization process.

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Samuel L. Jackson
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If there's source material, read it, especially if it's a book. Read a book, because writers tend to give you vital info about who the character is, where he came from, what he does. Sometimes they even try and explain why he's doing it, why he's doing a particular thing. And after you've done that, reread the story again to get the story in your mind. And after you've read that, figure out how you feel about that character and why he's doing those things that he's doing inside that script. And once you think you know why that character is doing those things, then you figure out, OK, where did he come from? Who is he? How old is he? Does he feel that way about this character because he has a brother or sister that is that way? Who are his parents? What's his educational background? Does he have a military background? Did he go to the army? Has he ever been in jail? Is he out of jail? How educated is he? Is he smart, sort of smart, very smart? It's not there. And sometimes you will never have to explain that to an audience or to the other cast members. But it's important to you as a person, because all those kinds of things determine how you feel about people, how you look at them, how you interpret their actions, what your prejudices are toward those people in a particular way. Are they smarter than me? Do I like that? Do I not like that? Is he dumber than me? Am I going to manipulate him because of it? And it's stuff that an audience might, or they probably won't ever know. But for you as the actor, when you're interacting with that character that you think you're smarter than, it interprets how you approach that character and how you accept what they say to you or what you think of it or what you're trying to do. And all those things are dictated by what kind of person I am. And if there's no source material to tell me what kind of person I am, then it's incumbent upon me to create a human being that's inside that story that has a full life, that feels a certain way about things because this happened to him, that happened to him, this didn't happen to him. He didn't have this advantage growing up or he had this advantage. Or he had a woman who left him so he can't relate to women, because he thinks women are all whatever and he just cannot deal with them or he doesn't understand the female psyche. Or his mom did something to him, so he can't handle family life. And he doesn't know how to be a father because he didn't have a father or the father he had had no idea how to treat him or he watched him treat his mother a certain way or didn't do this. All kinds of things that you can make up about that person, but what you need is a whole person, which is something Lloyd Richards imposed upon me, Douglas Turner Ward imposed upon me that says whenever you're onstage, you're coming from somewhere. And you're going som...


Get into Character

As a kid, Samuel L. Jackson stuttered so badly that he stopped talking for almost a year. Today he’s one of the world’s most successful actors, with roles in over 100 films, including Pulp Fiction and The Avengers. In his online acting class, the Oscar-nominated star shares how he creates memorable characters, powerful performances, and a long-lasting career. Learn to master auditions, analyze scripts, and find the truth in every role you play.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Absolutely brilliant. I wish I'd done this before my last musical because this was so helpful. It was great to hear from one of the wiser and more experienced actors of our generation.

to go more in depth with my emotions to find myself in another character, and Samuel greatest teacher alive !

Mr. Jackson gave me a great set of mental tools to at least try to improve my acting game: it's up to me to do the work to the best of my ability! Thank you!

Very well told, great personal tricks and pointers...


Comments

A fellow student

Very good lesson and concise on how to create a completeley different person

Chava G.

Investigate, develop source, question, employ, interact, perform, what is on that character's mind, show it on your face.

Emanuel

Really opened my eyes. Such an in depth explanation of building the foundation of a character.

Julian S.

Okay, so a long to take in here. Creating characters is a challenge. Having written some books and plays myself (which are currently unpublished), I understand the necessity for making characters WHOLE. They need to be as real as people in real life. Or at the very least, they need to have personalities, behaviours and relationships that people can identify with. Otherwise they aren't character's. They're just stereotypes and plot devices. Every character, no matter who large or small, has a goal they wish to achieve. A character's purpose could be to move the protagonists goal closer or further away, or they could just be there to be a witness. Either way, the character has a goal. It's important that the audience recognizes that or the character goes unnoticed or is misinterpreted. Every action has consequences. But so does a character's background. Their origin, their upbringing can be just as impactful if not more so. And of course, the audience needs to be hooked. They should be able to have moments where they feel familiar with the character: "I would totally do that" Haven't seen Die Hard With a Vengeance yet, but I think I will now.

alexandre R.

The way the information is presented here is just as important as the information itself. Jackson is very engaging and makes some of the most simplistic things sound fascinating. Really enjoying this course so far. I’ve heard a lot of this advice before but I’ve never heard it explained so articulately.

Michael B.

This totally changed my perspective.. and I’m only half way through. Real people are always thinking of something... I never thought about acting that on stage.

Vladyslav

The information covered in this class is pretty much basic, but this is exactly the reason why it's so important, as the reminder for professionals and the fundamental knowledge for beginners. All you have to do is take a pen and take down these rules of thumb.

Camille W.

When Sam started talking about not judging the charcater even if it's a murderer, I thought about Thanos instantly haha. But yeah I'm excited to find an unfamiliar script!

Stephen C.

I am so glad that Samuel Joined Masterclass. This is a great introduction for someone new to acting.

Ross S.

Good stuff. Many gems. One of them being to remember that every character in a scene is there to help the scene move from point A to point B. What is the goal of the scene? How's it fit in the overall story of the movie? What information is being given to the audience, how is it delivered? Each character has an agenda, which agendas are in conflict? How is the agenda morphed from beginning of scene to scene end, and more importantly when thinking of where the character begins in the next scene, how do I (as actor or writer) make the character traverse the present scene so they can arrive in the next as they should? Good, fundamental stuff. Great reminders.