The Animal Exercise – Character Development from the Outside In

The Animal Exercise – Character Development from the Outside In


The following is an exercise to help actors find the physicality of their characters.  We often see actors understand who they are playing emotionally and intellectually but the whole picture of who they are doesn’t come through until the true physicality is brought to life.  You need to know how your character walks, sits, eats etc. You must be aware of any physical restrictions and remain consistent with posture.


The Exercise


  • Choose an animal that best fits the characteristics of your character.


It’s important when choosing your animal that you are very specific.  A poor choice would be to come up with “dog”, this is too vague. There is a huge difference between a purebred poodle who has been raised as a show dog and a black lab, german shepard mix who was abused and lives on the streets.  Think through your choice by asking yourself “why did I choose this animal?” Try your hardest to come up with flaws in your choice. If something isn’t right then try out a new animal. Don’t settle with this exercise. If nothing fits perfect then think of perhaps combining two animals.  For instance, I have the body of a lion and the head of rabbit. That character may end up standing tough and moving smooth but probably is not too smart. Also don’t choose an animal in the air or sea because you won’t be able to complete the exercise.


  • Study your animal.


Once you have chosen the perfect animal it’s time to begin the research.  Read about your animal and watch as much footage on youtube as possible. Pay attention to subtleties.  How does your animal react when calm? How about in the face of danger? Try to find the animal’s “center” – meaning the place they move from.  For instance a particular type of gorilla might move from the chest.


  • Become the animal.


Now it’s time to get on all fours and hit the floor.  Totally engulf yourself in this process. Make sounds, walk around.  Feel that center in your own body. Do this for a good five minutes until you are convinced that you are actually the animal.  Pay attention to where your tension is at in your body.


  • Bring the animal into human form.


It’s now time to keep all you’ve learned from your animal, maintain all the tension and bring yourself back up to two feet.  So if you were a lion for instance you will now be walking with your shoulders back, slow and deliberate with your head held high.  


  • Improvise from your new physicality.


Finally with you scene partner and improvise answers to various questions and scenarios with each other.  Stay in character the whole time and have fun!