Chapter 2 of 21 from Samuel L. Jackson

Creating Characters

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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.

Topics include: Create a Whole Person • Start With Your Character's Goal • Analyze Your Character's Relationships • Make Thoughtful Choices • Give the Audience Something to Latch Onto • Creating a Relatable Character in Die Hard • Don't Judge Your Characters

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting

One of the most successful actors of our generation teaches you how to elevate your acting.

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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. For the first time, the Oscar nominated star teaches 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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Sam teaches his first-ever acting class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Sam will also answer select student questions.

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Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting