Have you ever seen Inside the Actors’ Studio? It was a long running show which interviewed actors about their craft. They have interviewed some greats, one of whom was Meryl Streep.
Is there anything the woman can’t do? She does drama to perfection, sings at performance level, and even though I was a bit doubtful whether she could move into comedy, was killer in The Devil Wears Prada.
Streep’s one true thing
To add insult to injury, she is exceptionally articulate about her craft. James Lipton, the host, asked how she could play unsympathetic characters, specifically an Australian woman in A Cry in the Dark, who was accused of murdering her infant daughter. In this biographical film, the woman was a Seventh Day Adventist who believed that showing emotion was inappropriate as it questioned God’s plan for her. This stoicism was read as unfeeling by the Australian public which turned against her. Thus, Streep had to play a seemingly cold and insensitive character.
Streep replied that when she prepared for a role, she tried to find the ‘one true thing’ which was true about herself and about the character. Once she found that one important thing, she could consult this one true thing within herself when she was making choices for her character. If it felt right for Meryl’s one true thing, it was also right for the character.
I think this is pretty damn brilliant and writers can take a leaf out of her book. Finding one true thing in our characters.
Applying one true thing
So, I have tried it with my writing. What I have found is that there is a spot in the middle of my chest, don’t ask me why, where that connection is made between me and my character. If I really get her desperation, why he would take such a big risk, who she is behind closed doors, then I can write from that spot because I feel what the character is feeling, even if the circumstances which I associate with the feeling might be different from the character’s.
If I can take into me the thing that is true for the character which is also true for me, I can write from that spot in the middle of my chest which connects me with the character in a deeper way than conventional methods.
For more, go to the next post, More on One True Thing.