Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 1.56.36 PMActors – never forget – we are animals. Our animalistic ‘side’ is what often motivates us in our moments of greatest need – the moments good writers write about. Protecting your family. Chasing your mate. Defining your power. Saving your life. When creating a character, even if you don’t have time to work on the specificity of truly integrating a choice of what kind of animal your character is, even just CHOOSING the idea of which animal can help your audition be more creative. It can free your mind and body to be more expressive. It can deepen your understanding of your character’s most central needs.

Animal Exercise

You study an ANIMAL you have CHOSEN for your character. There is not ‘right’ answer or choice of animal for any given character. There is only ‘your’ answer or choice’. It is very PERSONAL to YOU. One actor might play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire as a gorilla dominating his pack. Another might play him as a sensual panther stalking Blanche DuBois. Go to the zoo, study a neighbor’s cat or dog, or your own pet, if it fits, not for convenience. Live study is best. But on-line video provides an opportunity for intimate viewing never known to actors until the last 10 years.

Study your animal in great detail. Posture, behavior, mood and manner are all important. The actor should ‘become’ the subject of his or her study. Account for everything about the animal in a very personal way. There are obvious limitations on what one can mimic in a different species. Be creative. Have fun. Get the essence of the animal. Get the ‘Inner Life’. Remember: animals teach us and lead us to the most base, clear, primal NEEDS we can play as characters: love, sex, power, security or safety, companionship or connection, solitude, hunger, thirst, entertainment or play, dominance, submission.

I saw two actors both do ‘Panthers’ for this exercise. One was a woman, and one, a man. Being that neither had a tail, they each accounted for the periodic snaking of the long graceful tail of the Panther in very different ways. The man had watched a panther in the zoo, and as he paced back and forth, slowly, sensuously, in his section of the stage, every once in a while, he would loosely waggle his arm from the shoulder, belying his readiness to pounce, fight or strike. The woman had also watched one at the zoo, and she also paced, sensuously, looking out at her captors. However, every once in a while she would shake her ‘behind’ one time, to one side, and the next time to the other side, as her ‘tail’. It was a personal choice, due to who the actor was personally and physically.

When studying animal behavior, appreciate the lack of self-consciousness a dog or cat has when grooming or lounging. Watch the way a cat licks meticulously between its ‘fingers’, then do that during your embodiment. Watch how a dog lays his hips and back legs to the side, rests his chin on one paw as he lies, watching you, yawns and licks his chops. Do all that exactly the way your specific dog does it in your embodiment.

Once you have achieved a high level of specificity in the “Animal Exercise”, you apply it to your character. You let the specific animal’s behavior and NATURE inspire you, personally, to behave and think in small or large ways that link you as a human being and your ‘character construct’ – to the instinctive, grounded, honest ways of that animal.


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Adam Lazarre-White Adam Lazarre-White grew up in NYC, graduated from Harvard University with Honors, started at QB for the “Crimson” and played in the Harvard Jazz Band. He is known for roles on Scandal, Heroes, Ocean’s 13, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, The Temptations, Living Single, The Parkers, and starring on The Young & The Restless. Adam’s writing and directing have become equal pursuit in recent years; and he has owned his acting school in Hollywood, ALW Acting Studios since 2000. For info on Adam's classes, acting, writing & directing visit his website at