Craig and I are playing a little tag team with this topic. After I read his post yesterday, I knew I wanted to chime in with my own story about small parts.
I spent a lot of time playing small parts as an actor. I was never an ingénue, never a lead, it was never in the cards. And when I got these parts, it just made sense to me that if I didn’t want to be bored, I’d make sure I gave myself something to do. Something to play. I got a lot of complements on what I did (which may have what doomed me to small-role dom), but I didn’t consider doing it any other way. It amazes me when I see actors in small roles, who do nothing to make the part fun for themselves.
The best small part, and frankly the best part I ever had wasn’t even a part. The role was originally an elderly male piano player, but I had the piano background so, the director split the role in two. An elderly male character became an elderly couple. The guy got the lines, I played the piano. I had a total of four words to say in the play: Yes. Yes. Hello? Sorry.
I got applause every night.
And all I did was a little character work. A back story. I came up with a reason why I was saying my words. As long as it didn’t take away from the main action, I was always doing something at the piano (sleeping, losing my glasses, fighting with my husband) I had an objective – which no one knew and wasn’t really important to the story, but it was important to my character. I worked on the physical characterization (which really paid off, everyone wanted to know who the old lady was behind the piano. I was 19). And I had fun.
If you have a small part, you actually get to act. You don’t have to follow a path that’s already laid in stone in the script. There aren’t any rules, other than you can’t completely hi-jack the play. Is it more work? Sure. But if you don’t want to work at acting, work at creating a character, then maybe it isn’t for you…