Several times I have found myself in plays that either have movies based on them, or are themselves based on pre-existing movies. In some cases I have seen the movie long before being cast in a stage production. Just as often, however, I have not seen the movie.
So, do I then go see a movie, or review a movie I have not seen in a while, when cast in a stage version of it?
In general, the answer is no.
Though I do feel capable of seeing a character performed in a different way than myself, I do have a fear that I will subconsciously develop mannerisms of the actor that portrayed my character in the film. While “good writers writer, and great writers steal” may be an oft quoted adage, I certainly do not want to adopt that stance in my acting.
Another thing that makes the temptation very great for an actor is audience expectation. It may be a very alluring prospect to give audiences who are familiar with the film version of the story, an exact replica of the character they have learned to love from the celluloid rendition of the show you are in. Some audience members may even expect this. But do not succumb. Make the character your own. Add your own nuances and traits to who you are playing.
Why? It just makes practical sense.
Consider the fact that a character in the movie may often be a product of the story as told in the movie. The movie’s version of events may be quite different.
Than there is the idea of the rest of the cast. Many times in movie, especially in the older classics, character portrayals came about as a result of chemistry and reaction to other very specific performances. Performances that will not be present in your production. Your impersonation may be out of place.
And, in the end, its just not very creative to mirror someone else, unless the impersonation is part of the actual plot of the story being told in your show. So except for those type of cases, own your character. Be bold and brave enough to take a character somewhere that Jimmy Stewart or Katherine Hepburn did not take it. That is a far greater accomplishment for an actor; to make a role totally his/her own.
Unless you are in the Rocky Horror Show. I think you are supposed to look and sound like the movie people in that one. Or maybe you’re not. I honestly am still trying to figure that show out. But that is another entry.