Getting into character

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2009

Yesterday I wondered if athletes see themselves as two separate entities (the person and the player) like the actors that Mike Leigh works with.

For actors to be able to differentiate between themselves and the characters they are playing while at the same time remain in character and spontaneous requires a sophisticated combination of skills and spirit.

Nelson, commenting on Wreck & Salvage, is a pro basketball player in the Netherlands:

I do have an on the court persona, without a doubt, that has been cultivated throughout the years, like a character, and it's extremely easy to slip into. There are definitely times when I don't feel like playing/performing, but when the ball goes up a switch gets turned on. We do watch a ton of video and analyze what we could do better, or what we've done wrong. I guess the point is, one runs on instinct, the other is a learned/cultivated behavior, and a great performance is a mixture of the two, which exists not as a duality, but combined in one person, expressed easily from a lifetime of dedication and practice.

A more extreme case involves Herschel Walker, who has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder):

Walker and Mungadze believe the disorder actually helped Walker — who started for a number of NFL teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys — succeed on the gridiron. Mungadze offered a theory about the subconscious logic in Walker's head. "Since people are laughing at you, we're going to make you so strong, so fast, so talented, that you're going to be above everyone. And that is what went into building this super athlete."

Getting into character extends into other professions as well. In Pulp Fiction, before they go into an apartment to retrieve a briefcase for their boss, Jules tells Vincent to "get into character" after a conversation about foot massages.

In this Vogue profile of Melinda Gates, she describes her husband Bill's transformation when he went to work.

Lately, they have begun to edge into each other's territory. "I hope that one of the things about a great marriage is that you bring out the best in each other," she says. "Look, I dated Bill for a long time before we got married, and I knew where his heart was. But I also knew that not many people saw it. The wall would go up the minute he stepped into Microsoft. Sometimes he would come into the foundation with the wall up. I would even tease him about it. He would be talking to me in the car, and by the time we got to the elevator I would be like, Whoa, where did he go?"

When my dad ran his own business back in the 70s/80s, he deliberately cultivated a "business voice" that he used on the telephone, a voice that was quieter, deeper, calmer, and more serious than his regular voice. The transformation when he got on the phone was pretty amazing. (thx, pavel)