Character is something we all strive for. Whether it’s in the moral world (That kid’s got character!) or in the performers world. And sticking with character once you’ve found it is incredibly difficult. Often as improvisers we drop the character when we’ve thought of something clever. Or we just forget. Most improviser’s work from the language center of their brain. The words come first. And because of this we’re thinking too much. Worrying about sounding like an idiot or not saying that hilarious button that’s going to tie everything together and give us that huge laugh we’re desperate for. So how do we stick to character? How do we make it as much a priority as the words we’re saying?
Physicality. At least it works for me. If you find the character in your body with, say, the way you’re standing, or the imaginary clothes you’ve dressed yourself in (it could be on stage or off), you’re more likely to hold onto that. And when you return as that character later on using the same physicality the audience is going to remember.
A great way to find a character is by leading with a specific body part. A person who leads with their chin is going to act differently than a person who leads with their hips. If you lead with your right knee you might end up with a character who has a limp. Perhaps he was born with it or perhaps he was in a gruesome accident. Either way we have a rich character with a strong background all with the singular choice of leading with a body part.
Also, I alluded to it before, but dress yourself, on stage or off. If you’re someone who always dresses in his absolute best you act differently then a constant casual dresser. Or maybe you’re a casual dresser who’s forced into a tuxedo. How do you act in that situation? This is all going to manifest in the physical way in which you play your character. Are you a tomboy forced into a dress for your aunt’s wedding? Are you a dandy who practically lives in a bow tie? What color is that bow tie? Are you ridiculed for the bow tie or revered?
Rich characters come from many places but I, personally, find that when I use my body first the words come, and they come faster and with a deeper commitment to the character I’m playing.