The Importance of Research
Context is vital.
As an actor you should know as much as possible about your character and the world they inhabit. Without vital context, it is impossible to create a totally authentic performance. If you don’t know or understand your character, their beliefs and their actions, then how can you accurately convey that character to a wider audience? How can you recite your lines with confidence and conviction if you don’t know the meaning behind them? Knowledge is power, so having as much context as possible (even if you think you don’t need it) can be crucial to creating authenticity. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, why should the audience?
So as an actor, when you should you start your research? As soon as possible. Especially if you’ve already been cast, you should take the time to independently start moulding your version of the character through your own research. Also consider that you’re more likely to be cast at an audition if you show knowledge and understanding of the material through your performance, rather than trying to blag your way through the audition process and put the work in later.
Don’t expect your director to do all of the work for you. Not because they don’t want to help you, but because they’ve already got a million balls to juggle and having to give you necessary context at every turn just wastes their time. Do the courteous thing and put the effort in on your own time, not theirs. If there are words or phrases you don’t understand, look them up. Unsure of the pronunciation of a certain word? Look it up. Confused by the historical context of a piece? Look it up.
This also applies to creating your character. Obviously a large part of the character building happens during rehearsal, through interaction with the other actors and the director’s own vision, but you should have at least a general idea of who or what your character is at their core from an early stage. Start thinking about that early on.
You might think that the work only starts in rehearsal, but it’s important to do your homework too. Learn about the characters, learn about the world, learn about the historical context. The more you know, the better your performance will be and the more cohesive the overall production. Not only does it help you, but it also helps everyone else involved in the production. Ultimately the more you put in, the more you get out.