Observing the people you happen to encounter throughout the day with intention can be an enormous resource for performers. Just ask actress and comedian Lauren Lapkus. In this Off Camera interview, Lapkus reveals the random individuals who inspired some of her colorful characters featured in the Netflix sketch comedy series The Characters.

“I can get as much out of a person in line at Marshalls as like just some celebrity on a reality show. I find everyone really interesting,” Lapkus says. For instance, she recounts observing a woman who was impatiently waiting to purchase a bunch of bras; a course-voiced woman from a monster truck rally; and an airplane passenger who appeared to have no regard for others. Fascinated with who these people are, Lapkus essentially wants to become them within the context of her art. “For me, my sense of humor really lies in seeing people who I think are messed up in some kind of way, and really honing in on that, and exaggerating it. And that’s really where I find my true joy.”

Lapkus gives us another insight into her process when she says she writes down whatever inspires her. She documents distinguishing personalities, mannerisms, facial expressions, vocal qualities, ways of interacting with others–you name it.

With the unlimited variety of human behavior on display in every actor’s life, carrying around a notepad and pen to jot down unique and interesting observations could very well be what makes a difference in future performances. Seeing beyond the self and what’s most familiar can enrich characters with believable and vivid detail.

Think of your favorite biopic and how stunningly the actor recreated the real person. That requires a true commitment to the observation of every aspect of the individual being portrayed. Ben Kingsley in Gandhi, Jamie Fox as Ray Charles in Ray, Charlize Theron in Monster to name a few. It can be astonishing when a known actor seemingly embodies a different person. That’s a distinct power of acute observation.

As far as Lapkus is concerned, her career is based upon creating intriguing new characters like she does for her weekly podcast With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus. Rather than Lauren interviewing interesting people, she takes the guest role allowing her guest host to decide the podcast’s title, subject matter, and Lapkus’ character.

As you shop, order coffee, go to the gym, run around town, or are at work, observe and be open for inspiration. Notice the ways people move, hold their posture, handle stress; listen for their intonation; see how they dress and groom themselves. Carry a notepad to document the details you observe around you and maybe even sketch it out. Imagine how this behavior might be useful for future roles. After all, whether it’s comedy or drama, an actor’s job is to display human behavior in the quest of honoring people’s stories.