Getting into Character: The method to my madness
When I was asked to write a post about how I get into character, I initially said no. I have zero acting, modeling or improv experience. Not even so much as a grade school play. I don’t really have a proper method or technique that I rely on. Everything I do is from trial and error, anxiety and experience. Hard-learned lessons about what I need to feel good in my costume and get the most out of whatever con I attend.
There is such a wonderfully broad spectrum of cosplayers in the world. On one scale, I fall somewhere between newbie and professional; on another, I fall between crafter and actor. I have learned so much from both ends of the scale and I keep learning. I am not a full expert on any of the many ways a person can enjoy cosplaying, but I have fun and I do what works for me.
The first thing I have to tell you is that the term “getting into character” seems to have a different definition to different people. In my opinion, the term means pretending to be a certain character while in costume, not just the act of wearing a costume itself like you would for trick-or-treat on Halloween. For me, it’s a lot more than just adding a cybernetic face piece to a random cosplay: I cannot just call myself the Doctor just because I have a sonic screwdriver. Every prop and vestment needs to be perfect. For you readers at home, don’t feel I think that means you need to be perfect. It is all part and parcel to my own stresses and obsessions. I don’t see anything wrong with other levels of cosplaying, if that is how someone wants to have fun, but for myself, it’s not enough.
For those who don’t know my character, I cosplay as Mr. Clever from the Doctor Who episode, Nightmare in Silver. I’ve been cosplaying this for over a year and it’s the only character I know how to cosplay. I was drawn to this character because his attitude worked with my own and because of my love of Matt Smith and Neil Gaiman. When I chose this, I thought it would be a good way to cover my face, allow me to hide.
I am obsessed with my costume being SA (screen accurate), and I make sure that I’m a SA 11th Doctor before I touch the cybernetic pieces. Accuracy includes wearing a binder for upwards of 14 hours a day, taking about 40-60 minutes to make my hair look like Matt’s, stressing over how fragile my cyberplanner piece is and worrying if it will break during the long process of putting it on. It has to be near perfect or I won’t leave the house. Is that the right way to do this? I don’t know, but it works for me.
I start agonizing over a con about two weeks in advance. I watch my diet, make sure my wrinkles are in check, re-dye my blonde hair, and get my eyebrows done. I usually go back and forth about not even going, even if I already paid for tickets. I start thinking that I don’t want to go, I look stupid, I don’t want to be seen, I’m not good enough, I don’t want people to look at me. The stress of transportation sets in and I usually go into panic mode about the weather, the parking, the driving, or being seen before I have a chance to freshen up.
However, despite all of this, as soon as I get to the actual con, I hit the ground running, let the costume take over and the pre-con stress is instantly gone. My friends keep telling me they are not sure how I manage to pull it off since they have seen first hand the amount of stress and pressure I put on myself, and I honestly don’t know. It just happens. As soon as I’m required to be “on”, I’m on. Having a great support system of friends can really help with jitters and certainly adds to the fun. I have made so many real friends through conlife, and sometimes when the stress gets too much, I look to them for support.
Getting your friends to play along with you is also a huge help. I’m still looking for a permanent Clara for our group, but I do have a Cyberman now and have always had my best friend Tyler (to be my other 49.881%). Playing off of him is quite possibly the highlight of any event. He is wonderful as 11 and very willing to participate in my crazy cyberanigans.
I’m not sure what goes through my mind exactly when I pose for photos as getting my photo taken is that special thing that causes me the most stress. Sometimes I literally black out and just let the costume take over. I try to capture the essence of what makes Mr. Clever different from the Doctor. The differences are oftentimes very subtle so it was difficult at first: from a slight tilt of the head to a little snarl.
The beauty and challenge of crossplaying this character is that I am two personalities in one. If I’m behaving silly or goofy, I can say that I’m playing as the Doctor. Most people however, want to see more Cyberplanner less Doctor, so being able to quickly shift from one to the other can be tough.
Another obstacle to my cosplay is that my character, the Cyberplanner, had little screen time, and spent most of it inside the Doctor’s head, so I don’t have as much to work with as far as poses or movements as say a 10th Doctor, or an Elsa. So I had to think outside the blue box. I try to imagine what my character would do in whatever situation I am in. I try to get a feel for what drives him, what sets him off, what makes him angry or happy. What unique mannerisms does he have that differ from my own?
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that people consider this to be Matt’s best performance, so I now am always putting so much pressure on myself to do the character justice. As a result, I now have a fear of meeting Matt Smith in person while in costume because I’m embarrassed that I may not be doing the character justice. No one can do it as well as Matt did.
Cosplaying the villain was tough for me because I wanted to stay in character but I didn’t want to go too far and have everyone hate me. I tend to focus on the more snarky, flirtatious, or mischievous side of Mr. Clever; and that seems to work just fine for me.
If you are still struggling, try putting something of yourself in your cosplay or have a unique spin that lets you get out of your head and just enjoy yourself. For example, my signature accessories are the cybermites that I carry to toss at people, or hide around the hotel. Nothing of the sort happened in the episode. It’s just my take on how much fun I think Mr. Clever would have trying to upgrade the entire con. Sometimes I get a little too eager to upgrade everyone and my friends need to rein me in, but to me, that’s what makes cosplaying this character so much fun.
Trying new things is great, but if you have a method that works for you, don’t let people tell you that it is wrong, or that their way is better. No one can make you feel comfortable about your choice of cosplay but yourself. Try new things and see what works. I honestly thought my first real cosplay would be a Harry Potter one. I tried and tried, but I hated everything I put on. They didn’t feel right to me. Mr. Clever works for me, but might not work for someone else.
Even with the stress and anxiety my costume brings me, I have no regrets about choosing the character that I did. People seem to enjoy it, and more importantly, it has allowed me to have one of the best years of my life, and has introduced me to some of the best people. For me, that makes it all worth it.