Directing Tips: The Need of a Character

March 18, 2021
1 min read
Actor on set with director

A handful of needs drives every human being on this planet, and these needs shape us and dictate our behavior at every given moment. From how we think, move, act and talk, to how we react in certain situations. For actors, we can call this the character’s goal —the objective— the character’s need.

An actor will require a ‘need’ for their character; it will be the driving force behind every word they speak. A character who needs money to secure shelter for his family will deliver a line differently to a character who does not need that money.

We can collapse these basic needs down to their core so they can be expressed with words that will be able to trigger an organic response from the actor.

Lenore Dekoven author of film and theatre book Changing Direction says;

It has long been my belief, which recent scientific research now supports, that the brain functions much like a computer so that, in effect, when we communicate we are pressing certain buttons in the brain’s computer. For example, I think we can all accept the fact that the need to get love is a basic, universal one to which everyone can relate. These are words to which everyone can respond. Here are some of the others that I have found to world well in the process of helping the actor identify the underlying drive or motivating force for the character:

Here’s the list.

  • To prove one’s worth
  • To get self-worth
  • To get security
  • To prove oneself superior
  • To find one’s identity
  • To free oneself
  • To survive
  • To save oneself
  • To get self-respect
  • To get rid of guilt
  • To prove oneself as a man or woman
  • To prove one’s manhood or womanhood
  • To get love
  • To destroy oneself or others
  • To hold onto someone
  • To overcome inadequacy
  • To overcome insecurity

“This seems to be a short list but when it is modified by certain words, which again may evoke varied responses from the computer buttons/brain of the actor, the possibilities become much broader:”

  • To find one’s worth
  • To hold onto one’s worth
  • To prove one’s worth as a man or woman
  • To hold onto self-worth
  • To find security
  • To hold onto security
  • To save security
  • To prove oneself the superior male or female
  • To save superiority
  • To hold onto one’s identity
  • To save one’s self-respect
  • To free oneself from guilt
  • To hold onto one’s manhood or womanhood
  • To find love
  • To hold onto love
  • To save love
  • To destroy the pain
  • To hold onto the status quo.

To read more on this topic, I highly recommend in picking up the book Changing Direction.  

Lewis McGregor

Lewis McGregor is a filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.