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  • Writer's pictureAndi Matheny

How Do You Act a Television Procedural Role Convincingly?

Actors of "Law & Order"

I taught a live class last week where we worked mostly procedural scripts. It was a great class, and very rewarding to see lightbulbs go off and performances improve tremendously once the actors got some clear redirection.

Procedurals are actually pretty simple once you understand the basic formula, and part of that formula is understanding the most common types of roles and how to approach them. (This post focuses on Criminal Procedurals. I'll discuss Medical Procedurals in a future post...)

THE PROCEDURAL PEOPLE: These are the cops, investigators, lab technicians, district attorneys–all the people who work on the Law & Order side. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Many actors play these roles with so much energy, you'd think it was their first day on the job! Unless your role is specifically the rookie, most of these people have been at this for quite a while, with a sense of ease and expertise, even weariness for having seen so much in their careers. There can also be a dark sense of humor, which is a coping mechanism. (If you have my book "Act ALIVE: The Essential Guide to Igniting and Sustaining Your Working Actor Career," check out the Everyday Scene as well as the Do Your Job! and Steven Hill chapters for a clear guide on achieving the right tone.)

FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES OF THE VICTIM: Just like the description, these are the people who had a relationship with the victim, who is usually deceased in these shows. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: No personalization, no emotional connection. This is not to say all of these scenes require a big cry-fest, however quite often there needs to be an emotional recall and personalization of someone meaningful to you. If you don't like going there, you're not going to book these roles. (In my book, check out the Personal Scene and the Hot Buttons chapters for these scenes.)

WITNESSES: These are the people interviewed by the Procedural people because they knew someone or saw something. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: Actors reciting lines rather than creating a sense of recall, which is our behavior when we're recounting a person or an event. (In my book, check out the Memory chapter.)

JUDGES AND OTHER CHARACTERS: Whether you're a judge trying the case or a mechanic who saw the shooter, we need to believe you're those people. THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE: That's a trick question, there's no one common mistake, but here are a few: playing a stereotype and not finding the human being, not doing the research of how this human might behave, mispronouncing common words and phrases that they use. (In my book, check out the Mode of Being chapter.)

The next time you work on a procedural scene or monologue, try using these tips as just the beginning of your work and see if you have any lightbulbs go off. Leave a comment here, or send me an email. Now go out there and book those jobs!

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