People, my friends mostly, often say to me after a performance, “That moment was so Hank,” or “I felt like I was watching you up there.” I think it’s meant as a compliment. They’re trying to say that the acting was believable. And that’s the goal — so, I should feel validated. But instead, it irks me. It diminishes the work. It suggests that I’m not really doing much of anything other than memorizing lines, and then being myself.
And it misses the whole point, really, of me introducing you to this creation, this being that is completely NOT me. I feel what must be the constant and lifelong frustration of twins. That… “Don’t you see? I’m not her at all!” feeling. That, yes, of course you recognize my smile and you recognize what my eyes do when I’m sad or confused. But what causes the character to smile, what creates sadness or confusion in the character, those are the elements that make her so very different from Hank, and that’s why we invite you to the show.
At the start of this process, all of us actors in JERK were asked, “What is your favorite part about beginning?” I gave a rote answer: “I love meeting a new team.” This is true, and heartfelt. Every project I’ve worked on has brought a new handful of unforgettable and irreplaceable artists into my world. And discovering their stamp is my favorite part. This answer hasn’t always been rote, it comes from the realization over dozens of projects, that but for the shows or films I’ve done, I wouldn’t have met this one or that one. It’s a learned behavior to look forward to these new beginnings. And I look back with fondness over certain introductions… what false judgments, good or bad, that I might have made upon first impression, and learning to reverse those judgments, for better or worse. I like having conversations, after a stretch of friendship, that begin, “I thought you were _____ when we first met.” These misconceptions are fascinating, and helpful. Particularly for me, as I’ve grown accustomed to hearing, “I thought you were a bitch.” Well, good to know! It’s encouraged me to smile more, I suppose.
We were asked this question, about beginning, by Andrew Terrance Kaberline, our playwright and twisted bringer of chaos. And maybe it’s because it was he who asked, the person who has drawn into life these raw and complicated but specific creatures, that has helped me to develop the second part of my above rote answer.
I’ve realized how much I treasure and anticipate meeting my new doppelganger. And just like meeting a real person, it is a slow reveal. Reading a script for the first or second time doesn’t tell me much about the characters. It’s not until I start to notice the pattern of what makes them smile, what makes them sad or confused, that their value and their specificity and their unique stamp becomes apparent. And that’s the part in the rehearsal process when I hear myself say things like, “I think I just felt Elizabeth a little bit.” And maybe after a few weeks, when we’re really hitting our stride… “She has arrived.”
A lot of actors talk about bringing a character to life. We are often asked to do so by directors. I know what this means and I do my best to satisfy the demand. But internally, I experience it slightly differently. It’s not to do with me bringing them to life, in fact, it doesn’t have much to do with me at all. I feel much more as if I’m meeting them. And man, am I enjoying getting to know this woman Elizabeth.
She is unlike anyone else, and I hope you’ll come and make her acquaintance.
Hank Morris is playing Elizabeth in JERK: Or, The Stimulation of Self. This is her second appearance with CPT, as she previously portrayed Elizabeth in a staged reading.