Objectives: If you’re excited so are we

Finding an objective is one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of preparation for an actor. Regardless of the approach/philosophy or practice, finding the character’s objective is paramount for understanding the text and enabling yourself to “step into” the shoes of the character. So why does it still trip so many actors up?

Firstly, for anyone completely new to acting an objective is 1 of 2 things and sometimes both. What does the character want from the scene? What does the character want from the other character(s) in the scene?

Why is it 2 things?

More often than not the objective requires one character getting something from the other character in the scene. This is typically what an objective would be. However it is important to take into consideration the master objective too, the through thread of the story, the hero’s journey. By the character getting what they need from the other character it may well enable them to get closer to their master objective.

I’m going to use an example from Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Please watch the clip below (up until around 1:30 as this is where the objective changes) and come up with your own objectives for both characters:

Okay, so a seemingly self explanatory scene, some of the more common suggestions from my students were:

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Alonzo wants to defend himself.

Jake wants Alonzo to understand he doesn’t agree with him.

Jake wants Alonzo to follow the rules of the police.

Okay cool, so there were some other options/variants but mostly in the same ball park and whilst these are valid objectives they’re not hugely exciting and won’t help in enabling you to find the stakes in the scene.

Once you’ve made a decision on an objective that you’re happy with I want you to get into the habit of asking yourself why?

This small added step will revolutionise your ability to choose a strong objective.

Acting’s about humanity right? It’s why we watch films and theatre, we want to relate, want to see human beings experiencing life to perhaps exorcise our own demons, to not feel so fucking lonely, to see that “oh shit, people feel like that too.” I chose depressing reasons on purpose, of course sometimes it’s nice to just relax and have a glass of wine too, but we still want to be moved.

As actors it’s our job to put that humanity into the script, our own humanity – because that’s all we have. So lets make our objectives something to get excited about. Choose an objective that turns you on. Yes. You should be excited by your work or else what’s the point? 

Here’s my suggestions for this scene:

Alonzo wants to show Jake that it’s a fucking dog eat dog world, get real or get killed.

Jake wants Alonzo to wake up and see that he’s completely morally bankrupt and no better than the criminals

Okay? Bit better. That’s something that makes me want to get up and perform. I understand that, it sparks a feeling in me, something deep and primal! And just like that I’m loaded and ready to go, no emotional prep, no sitting in silence for 5 minutes whilst I “get into character” – give me the script and let me at the other actor. 

That’s what an objective should be and that’s why you should always ask yourself Why?

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Why?

He thinks Jake’s soft. He thinks Jake lives in a cotton bud world. He thinks Jake’s green. Alonzo wants Jake to stop being so naive and get with the program etc. You see my point here, let’s tap into the imagination, let your mind run wild for a moment and then come back to the text. 

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Get your prep right. And it starts with the objective.

Thanks for reading.