Creating a Character with Tim German
Hello, lovely readers!
This week, I sat down with Tim German, who plays Macduff in our production of Macbeth. Tim is a Second City-trained actor from Maryland. He’s making his 4615 debut, but you may have seen him locally – he’s a company member with Flying V and a member of Training 4 Prom, one of Baltimore Improv Group’s mainstage troupes. We talked about how he creates his character’s backstory and psyche; how his approach to Shakespeare is different from his process with contemporary works; and what makes his portrayal of Macduff unique.
Susannah Clark: When you are cast in a role, what is the first thing you do to get ready for rehearsals?
Tim German: I try to get all of the information that the production team and director are willing to give me concerning the vision of the show that they have in mind. Everybody’s seen Macbeth, and has probably seen more than one Macbeth, and they’ve seen it done in a million different ways. The reason we keep doing it is because we have a specific vision of how to tell that story. So as an actor, I feel that I best serve a production if I understand how they want to tell that story.
SC: Through your work so far, what have you discovered about Macduff?
TG: Jordan has made it very clear to me that being a foil for Macbeth does not necessarily mean that Macduff is going to be this perfect, almighty, all-knowing sort of superhero man. Many productions have played him as such – he’s sort of a righteous avenger saving Scotland and hunting down the man who killed his family. But in our interpretation, he’s a man who’s killed people in the past and who probably gained his station in life through violence. He is very used to violence, but has put it in a box and locked it away and come to the world of civility. But when he needs to, he has to reopen that box – and what does that turn you into? When you’re a soldier and you put away the weapons of war, but you have to reopen the box and take them out again?
SC: How did you come to that assessment of Macduff?
TG: Via text and via story, first of all. But as an actor, the things that are the most interesting for me to play are the things that are the hardest for people to experience. Everybody wants to be likable. Everybody wants to be funny. Everybody wants to be good-looking and clean and upstanding all the time – we’re all human beings. But the things that make art and make characters so enthralling are when they’re stripped away of the niceties of humanity and forced to deal with bitter truths. And I think that the bitter truths of Macduff are the things that involve PTSD and violence and hate and rage and obsession, and what those things do to you when you’ve lost all the things that meant the most to you and you’re forced to resort to the darker parts of yourself.
SC: I know you’ve also done a lot of work with Jordan figuring out Macduff’s biography and backstory. To some extent, you put a lot of work into coming up with a backstory that the audience won’t necessarily ever see. How do you feel that knowing your character’s life story aids you as an actor?
TG: I think especially when you’re struggling with how to attack a certain scene or a certain interaction with another character, it helps to be able to reach back into their past. If you know that one individual was high-born versus one person who was low-born and now they’ve reached equal footing, you know that the way they speak to each other and interact physically with touch and personal space will be different [than if they’d come from the same background]. Then you can turn the screw on the interaction between the two characters in a room. We use the character’s backstory to get at an overall credo or life ideology that we can use to have people butt heads.
SC: Does your approach to character development change when you’re working on a contemporary play?
TG: Sometimes. When it’s more contemporary and you have people who your character is supposed to be based off of, you can follow along with their backstory a little better. In [The Elaborate Entrance of]Chad Deity, it was very easy to find Chad because in [Kristoffer] Diaz’s work Chad represents a lot of wrestling personalities that we have grown up with. I was already familiar with those people’s backstories, and after knowing those I could build on to Chad's and allow him to be the type of person he was. With Shakespeare and the classics, you’re finding more universal themes as opposed to specificity. You’re looking more at a type of person than a specific individual.
SC: The beauty with Shakespeare is that there have been so many interpretations that you’re not necessarily bound to people’s perceptions of what Macduff is supposed to be.
TG: We can play with those ideas of what he looks like and sounds like more so than we could if we were really rigidly bound to a certain concept. The best part of Shakespeare is that he gives you universal circumstances with beautiful prose, so there’s lots of freedom in representation.
SC: What is your favorite fact about your Macduff, or your favorite discovery that you’ve made so far?
TG: He’s incredibly gentle with his family, with his wife and his children. He’s this big, hardcore man of war who fell in love with a feisty woman, and they settled down and had a bunch of girls. He relates to them much more gently than he does with the rest of the world. For everyone else he’s a hardened soldier – not mean, not cruel, but very stern and serious. But with them, he’s about touch and affection. It’s a nice dichotomy to play.
About Tim German: 4615 debut! Recent area credits include The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Chad) at Cohesion Theatre Company; Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World at Flying V; Charlotte’s Web (Wilbur) at Imagination Stage; and In the Heights (Usnavi) and Rent (Mark) at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.