Michael Chekhov was the nephew of the famous playwright Anton Chekhov. He was an exceptional Russian actor as well as a director who captivated audiences with his ability to create consistently distinctive characters, and seeming to disappear into his roles. He lived in several European countries before escaping to the United States–bringing his practical yet intriguing approach of acting with him. Besides being a star student of Konstantin Stanislavsky, he exhibited the gift of being able to succinctly and effectively communicate his techniques to other actors. His method which he called Michael Chekhov’s Technique offers actors several helpful tools; one is Psychological Gesture as described in the book Michael Chekhov: On the Technique of Acting –a book that is often described as a must read for actors. For example, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood and Mala Powers are among those who have practiced and praised his approach. Many actors find Chekhov’s psycho-physical approach allows them to get out of their own way in pursuit of a character and more easily transform into the essence of the role. 

Chekhov believed that Psychological Gesture united the realms of psychology and physicalityThere are three types of characters Chekhov highlights:

Head Characters

As the head is the center for thinking, rationalizing, questioning, conspiring, dreaming, consenting, and rejecting, Chekhov argues that a head character mainly focuses on matters of the head–like Temperance “Bones” Brennan, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, or the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. Such characters’ energy is centered physically in their heads, and other personal concerns and body parts are minimized in comparison. These characters are likely to lean forward as they sit, they may walk on the balls of their feet, and their gestures originate from the energy of their head.

Heart Characters

Heart characters–like Snow White, Shakespeare’s Juliet, or the Tin Man–come from the place of the heart. Hearts show joy, fear, love, or heartbreak; they can be tender or downright shut off, be tempestuous, or restorative. Chekhov believes characters with these kinds of main concerns come from the place of the physical heart or chest. And since a person who is centered on emotions can be approached as being primarily energized from the chest, everything else is less important than matters of the heart. They are likely to carry good posture, sit upright, have open arms, and have a balanced gait.

Groin Characters

Chekhov describes people’s force of will as being centered lower in the gut, groin, and upper thighs. Human desires and appetites can be viewed as being centered in these parts of the physical body. Take Tony Montana in Scarface, Winnie the Pooh, or the Cowardly Lion whose concerns seem to burn with desire or issues of the will. Such characters will likely slouch when seated, lean back, and their energy and gestures originate from the groin.

Chekhov says focusing on these physical centers immediately affects the way you move, speak, breathe, and transforms your essence whether it be subtly or ostensibly. Try it as you say something simple such as “call me” in all three modes. Do you notice the shift?Many actors regard Chekhov’s Psychological Gesture as a tool that taps into a fertile, boundless creative source.

Hey, it’s not for everyone, but it’s an option worth trying. Preparing for roles is always a process, and maybe this tool–among Chekhov’s other techniques–will open channels of discovery for you. But remember to experiment with it; try unexpected energy centers for your characters. Chekhov was revered for making bold character decisions. Here’s hoping you will be too!