English actress Ruth Wilson recently answered questions on a public forum while promoting her performance in the title role of Hedda Gabler at the Royal National Theatre. In a Guardian webchat, the star revealed steps she takes when creating her characters. Indeed, she has expressed how she works hard on the inner life of her often passionate and unpredictable characters. Earlier this year, Wilson’s Golden Globe-winning performance as Alison Lockhart in the Showtime series The Affair was renewed for a fourth season. The drama explores the emotional effects of an extramarital relationship between Alison and a school teacher named Noah Solloway played by Dominic West. Here are some of Wilson’s webchat answers.
What is the initial step she takes in her working process?
“Read the script many times. I create a workbook by which I go through and write down everything every other character says about my character, what I say about myself and others; I stick in pictures and references, historical images or places it’s set; if a character is really hard to understand I sometimes write out their thoughts in the silent moments of my characters so I know exactly what she’s thinking moment to moment. Obviously I need a lot of time to do this and that’s not always the case. Surprisingly for Hedda, I’ve done the least amount of prep, and I’ve felt very liberated as a result.”
On how she develops the emotional complexities of her characters, she says:
“I start from the character and motivation, and the inner workings and thoughts of a character, and this usually draws you close to a voice and a mannerism or a physicality. For example with Alison in ‘The Affair,’ I get to play both sides of that character–my version from her point of view, she was someone suffocated by grief and self-loathing, so she appeared more shy, shoulders hunched, eyes averted, quiet. In Noah’s point of view, she came across as predatory vixen, so my body language was entirely different. She came across as much more confident, and in charge of her own choices.”
On the challenge of maintaining the accent of her characters she says:
“Very hard–I feel like it’s taken three seasons to get it right! I think [‘The Americans’ actor] Matthew Rhys said 50% of acting is thinking about your accent all the time. It makes it easier if you keep it up between takes, even if you feel foolish doing so. After three seasons, I can speak in a British accent in between. It’s different for everyone–some like to hear and repeat, but I have to work on it a bit, and find the rules of that particular accent. For example, I’ve just done a Yorkshire accent, and a lot of it is at the front of the mouth, up against the teeth, but it’s flat, the mouth doesn’t open much. There are certain letters that aren’t audible. And it also helps to understand an environment, and why an accent is formed in the first place–city accents tend to be louder and quicker and faster than an accent that originates in the countryside. Though Yorkshire farmers are well loud! I often find my American accents seeps into other projects–the ‘R’ comes back to haunt me all the time.”