Never judge your character. Always ask questions.

By David Stejskal

Following are 10 Starting Questions you can ask yourself when preparing for your role. Answering them should unlock even more questions that lead to revealing answers about your scene and character. Your analyzing process will become something of a detective’s investigative work.

For better understanding, I will refer to a made-up scenario of an argument between Kevin and his brother over borrowing money.

1. Who am I?

Exemplary answer: Kevin, an unemployed writer.

More questions: How old am I? What’s my standard of living? Am I married? Do I have kids? Do I search for a job? Do I write a book that in my believes will make me successful?

2. Who am I talking to?

Exemplary answer: My brother.

More questions: Is he an older or younger one? How often do we talk to each other? Do we live in the same town? Do we share our intimate lives and problems? Do we trust each other?

3. Where am I?

Exemplary answer: In my brother’s kitchen, California, USA.

More questions: An apartment, house or a trailer? A huge city or a small village? What kind of society do I live in? Do I fit in?

4. What time is it?

Exemplary answer: 10pm, 1990s

More questions: How does my brother feel about me being there late night? Do people use laptops, cellphones, internet, AI? Was the general perception of a writer’s role by the society different in the 90s then it is in my time?

It is also helpful to know what I was doing prior to the scene. Was I running to my brother’s place or did we watch a baseball match together? Does the scene start in the middle of our argument?

5. What do I want?

Also called your Scene Objective. Always relate this to your scene partner. For example: “I want you to do this to me.”

Often, you can start with identifying your logical objective like “I want you to give me the money.” and go deeper to identify the emotional objective by asking “Why doesn’t he want to give me the money?” Is it because he doesn’t believe I will return them? Then, my emotional objective is “I want you to trust me.”

This objective doesn’t necessarily have to make me feel better if achieved. For example, in an argument scene, your objective can be “I want you to slap me.”

The purpose of the objective is to create an emotional spine of the scene. Therefore, the objective should not change during the scene but you can have a different objective towards each character in the scene.

Tip: When you struggle to identify your objective, start by asking “Do I want you to feel good or bad?”

Other objective examples:

I want you to beg me.

I want you to worship me.

I want you to kiss me.

I want you to hug me.

I want you to kick me.

I want you to obey me.

I want you to pity me.

I want you to laugh with me.

6. What emotion drives my character?

We work with four basic (Key) emotions:




Happiness (Love)

Your character always enters the scene with one predominant Key Emotion. This emotion can be a result of the character’s born temperament (like melancholic or choleric) or strong live situation (personal or career).

This Key emotion can be affected by other characters and emotional impulses throughout the scene but think of it as a helium balloon attached to the ground by a string. When wind blows (other emotional impulses in the scene) it diverts the balloon momentary but it does eventually return to its original position.

Exemplary answer:

Fear is my Key emotion.

Where is the fear coming from? Answer: I don’t have money to pay my rent and the landlord threatens to throw me out.

Anger is my Secondary emotion.

Where is the anger coming from? My brother, who I relied on, betrays me by refusing to lend me money.


When you watch great film performances you will observe that a character in a scene or even the whole film is often driven by one of these key emotions.

Marlon Brando’s sadness in contrast to Maria schneider’s youthful joy in Last Tango in Paris;

Robert De Niro’s sadness in contrast with AL Pacino’s positive energy in the famous coffee scene in The Heat).

Be aware that emotion is something that cannot be acted or completely controlled. Actors have tricks and means of how to awoke a desired emotion but it shouldn’t be limiting you in “being in the moment”.

Therefore, while identifying your desired emotion can help you to visualize your character and your focus, it is important to establish a complete relaxation and allow the emotions to surprise you.

Tip: Choosing the right objective can also help you to focus on your desired emotion.


In the Heat coffee scene: De Niro’s objective “I want you to pity me” against Al Pacino’s “I want you to smile.”

7. What are my obstacles?

Obstacles are problems that my character needs to overcome.

Exemplary answer: (In relation to our objective “I want you to lend me your money.”) My brother doesn’t believe I will return them. He doesn’t trust me, sees me as a looser and a lost case.

8. What is at stake?

In other words, “What do I have to lose?”.

Exemplary answer: I will have no place to stay if I don’t get the money. My brother will stop talking to me if I cross the line with him.

9. What are my action verbs?

An Action verb is an emotional subtext of your spoken line. It is your strategy in achieving your objective.

Examples of some action verbs:

To beg, to ask, to demand, to provoke, to confess, to blame, to threat, to seduce, to charm, to flirt, to apologize, to accuse, to manipulate, to blackmail

You will find more examples at the end of this article.

We can observe a certain pattern of typical action verbs based on person’s temperament and education or the scene dynamics. They can be submissive (to beg, to apologize) or assertive (to provoke, to blame, to flirt). Every character or archetype carries their own suitcase of Action Verbs.

In our scenario we start with Action verbs like to ask, to promise, to beg and after being refused and anger takes us over, we go with to accuse, to blame, to threat or to blackmail (of not being a good brother or never talking to you again).

TIP: Search for action verbs that go Against the Line but Along with your emotion.

On the paper the line “I will return the money by the end of the month” says to promise or to ensure. However, since anger from my brother’s previous refusal to help already took me over, my action verbs incline towards to demand, to blackmail, to blame etc.

10. What genre is the film or scene?

Comedy, Drama, Action, Horror, History, they all affect your character choices. In comedy you can treat huge obstacles and stakes as small ones and vice versa. The power of comedy is in the actor’s ability to surprise. In history and sci-fi you might twist your perceptions of social issues. Action heroes don’t fear, which means smaller stakes.

In conclusion, when you feel struggling to connect with your character, answering these questions can be a good starting point in your preparation. However, it’s not always a good idea to overthink and overanalyze. Sometimes you will relate to your character well without even thinking about it. This will happen thanks to your general instincts and perceptions that you have already developed in your life.

Final Tip: Do not panic if you do not receive enough information along with your script or casting sides. It is your privilege to create your character’s backstory. You cannot fail as long as you have made choices. A good director will easily tweak your choices if needed to fit with their vision.

More Action Verbs:

To accept, to accuse, to apologize, to approve, to ask, to beg, to belittle, to blackmail, to blame, to calm, to challenge, to charm, to complain, to compliment, to confess, to convince, to demand, to discard, to encourage, to evade, to expose, to flirt, to hypnotize, to incite, to inform, to investigate, to justify, to knife, to lure, to manipulate, to mock, to nail, to offend, to persuade, to pick a fight, to praise, to pray, to provoke, to refuse, to remind, to ridicule, to seduce, to shock, to soothe, to threat, to warn.

And many more. Observe people in real life. Observe yourself. We all use them all the time without even realizing it.