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What Serious Actors Look For in a Character

One way to get your script off the ground in Hollywood is to attach an actor – but how do you get a movie star interested in your screenplay? Actors think about who they want to work with, the emotional journey of the script, physical challenges, or humor when they consider a script. They may also want viewers to see them in a specific light – whether that means sticking to roles they are typically cast in or changing it up in an unexpected way. Here are five actors revealing more about what they look for in a character.

Authenticity and unpredictability

Sebastian Stan knew that Jeff, his character in I Tonya, would not be likable – but he was attracted to other things about the role.

“It was kind of a hard one, to be honest, because it was so controversial. He was such a hated character; he was such a hated person in real life,” Sebastian said in an interview with Write Your Screenplay.

“But, looking at it just as a script, and then as an actor looking at it, it felt like a goldmine. It was always unpredictable. It was tragic at certain times and it was shocking and then it could be funny. And there seemed to be a very strong degree of honesty to it. You’re always looking for how authentic certain voices sound. And later I did find out a lot of the dialogue in the script came from the interviews that he had directly with them– not to take away from his genius writing– it just had a very authentic air to it, and I think you look for that.” Sebastian also says he was attracted the idea that he might not be able to pull off the performance.

A challenge

When Sandra Bullock initially heard about the role of Leigh Ann Touhy in The Blind Side, which later won Sandra her first Academy Award, she wasn’t sure she could handle it. “Leigh Anne is a one-of-a-kind human being, and I didn’t know if I could do her justice, that was my main concern of mine,” Sandra said in an interview with Digital Journal. “She’s an incredible woman and I knew that playing her would be an incredible challenge. But it was just the kind of challenge I thought I needed at this time of my career. I would either pull it off or look like a fool doing it.”

An important, untold story

When Octavia Spencer first met with producer Donna Gigliotti about Hidden Figures, she didn’t realize it was about the true story of women at NASA in the 1960s. “I first thought it was historical fiction — I just had done The Help [which is historical fiction], so it wasn’t that farfetched,” Octavia said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

“After doing a little research, I realized these women were real. I got a little angry that history had obscured their contributions to the space program and, with what’s going on in this country today, part of me just felt sad,” she continued. “It was about time the world found out about them, and I wanted to be part of that telling.”

Keira Knightley felt similarly about her role in Sundance film Colette:

“It’s wonderful to play inspiring women and to get their stories and their voices out there,” she said. “Within her writing, Colette was questioning the idea of gender and the idea of what was naturally feminine as opposed to society’s take on being feminine. The 1890s in France, the belle époque, is interesting to look back on because there was a lot of sexual freedom. Colette had female lovers and had what I suppose we would call a transgender lover. She felt that it was her right to experience pleasure and to give pleasure. That’s still a revolutionary idea for women.”

A surprising or complex character

Never underestimate the power and appeal of a character who feels fresh and different from other characters we’ve seen in movies and TV shows. “I admired how brave Lady Bird was to just take a risk and potentially fall flat on her face,” said Saoirse Ronan, who played the title character in Lady Bird. “I think there’s something very admirable in someone who just goes, ‘F— it! I’m gonna do it anyway.’ And I love the complexity of her. You don’t get to see teenage girls like that on-screen. They’re always longing after a boy.”

Ultimately, what actors look for in a character varies – but all actors want meaningful roles in stories that haven’t been told before. If you write characters who are unique and challenging, you have an even better chance of attracting top talent.

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Amanda

Amanda Pendolino is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and script analyst who reads for studios, producers, and distributors around the globe. A former talent agency assistant, she has collaborated on both TV and film projects with various producers, directors, and actors. She enjoys silly comedies, stuffy period pieces, travel, live music, yoga and ice cream.

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