I believe that “constructing” a character benefits from first taking the time to “deconstruct” the script. Not unlike a mechanic who takes apart an engine to know how it’s put together. To build something you must have materials to build with. For actors those materials exist in the form of information in the script. Scripts are loaded with clues. Pieces to a puzzle. A puzzle that when put together creates a world. Creates life. A life the actor is meant to live in a world he’s meant to inhabit.
“Actors are investigators…Actors are responsible to the people we play.” — Philip Seymour Hoffman
Far too often that vitally important first step in the process of building a character is skipped. But what do you expect when actors are constantly being told not to do it? There’s a fear of intellectualizing. But there’s a huge difference between using your intellect and acting intellectually. Using your intellect to help you understand what you need to work to create so you can “be” free in the “moment” is part of your preparation…but when you act intellectually you’re just “playing” your intellectual understanding.
Directors as a rule aren’t happy when actors aren’t prepared. If you haven’t broken down the script, made choices about character motivation, what you’re saying with your lines, how what’s said and done affects your character, what your character’s relationships are with everybody and everything, what your character thinks and feels about it all, etc. There are very few directors who believe it’s their job to use their imaginations to stimulate yours. Asking questions is fine, but asking the director to do your job for you…
The script is your most valued ally. You benefit from training yourself to see the multidimensional life within the page. All of the human levels and layers, so that the focus is on creating the very human beings that do in fact exist there. Otherwise all you see is a flat white page with writing on it that you’re concerned about doing something impressive with.