How 5 Famous Actors Build Their Character’s Backstory 

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  • How 5 Famous Actors Build Their Character’s Backstory 

    Building the life and times of your character, outside the script 

    (By Jim Webb)

    (Photo: Mason Kimbarovsky | Unsplash)

    Your script only offers you a very limited glimpse of the life of your character. It is up to you, as an actor, to fill in the other details. You must dive into the information provided to you by the script, while adding additional details that paint the full picture of your character.

  • The end result is what’s sometimes referred to as a backstory. It’s the life and times of your character that extend beyond the script.

    For example, what was your character’s childhood like? Was he bullied as a kid? How does that affect him when people try to push him around, in the script?

    Was your character a loner as a teenager? How does her loneliness as a teenager affect her ability, or inability, to escape toxic relationships, in the script?

    These are just a few examples of how an actor can come up with details not found in the script, that can have a sizeable effect on how they play their characters within the script.

  • Famous actors periodically discuss their backstory discovery process. Here’s a few examples:


    Viola Davis:

    “I read the script over and over and over again. Just to find out the given circumstances. Who you are? What people say about you? And then I write a bio of the character.”

    “I try to fill it up as much as possible. What are her memories? Does she have brothers and sisters? What secrets does she have? What’s her favorite color? I do all of that work first.”


    Dennis Haysbert:

    “To develop a character, I try to figure out who the person is; where he’s from? Who were his parents? How did he relate to his parents? Where did he grow up? How did he grow up?”


    Jared Leto:

    “When I take on a role, I’m obsessed. I want to know everything.”

    “I want to know what my character’s favorite food is. I want to know the last time he took a shower.”

    “I want to know, is he right-handed, is he left-handed? What’s his middle name? Because you never know when it’s gonna pay off.”


    Matthew McConaughey:

    “I love entrances and exits. I love doing all the work about, ‘well let’s backload about where my character’s coming from, and why, how he got here and where is he going.’ I love to finish scenes. Write it out! Just finish writing it. And I write a lot on scripts. I write way more than I ever actually say.”


    Daniel Kaluuya:

    “I would do this exercise where I write everything someone says about you, write everything you say about yourself, write everything you say about someone else, and write the facts.”

    “Like the facts are if a character has a brother, he has a grandma, any facts that are in the script, write those down. Your character lives in what you say about yourself or what someone says about you.”



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