More about that in just a moment because I want to explain something that most of us who act may have forgotten or set aside and it is just that word--TRANSFORM. According to Merriam-Webster, "transform" means "to change (something [or one's self]) completely and usually in a good way"; "to change in composition or structure"; "to change the outward form or appearance of"; or "to change in character or condition". Transformation is like what happens to a caterpillar who wraps itself in its chrysalis or cocoon--the body breaks down into a slimy, slushy form that becomes a butterfly or moth. . .a completely different creature. When you are transformed, you become something so different that you can NEVER go back to what you were before like the butterfly or moth can never become a caterpillar again. Now, back to Mr. Chaney, Sr.
Lon started using stage make-up and prosthetic body parts like noses, ears, etc., that allowed him to look like a completely different person or character. He literally became known as the man of a thousand faces. He played a pirate in the original silent film Treasure Island as well as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the movie by the same name, the Phantom in the original Phantom of the Opera, an oriental bad guy, a clown, a cowboy, and even Fagin in Oliver Twist. In more than 160 different films, he became the character that he allowed himself to be transformed into, never playing the same person twice.
I stand to learn a GREAT lesson from this original superstar of the Silver Screen and that is to be transformed into the character that I want to be. As I prepare for auditions and the roles that I do, I have learned to do a personal biography and character study of the person I will be portraying--making it up for me when there is no background for that person. I choose to wear clothing that they would wear. Cut, brush or shave my hair to look like what I believe that character would wear. Accessorize as if that person were accessorizing--watches, cuff links, necklace, hat, gloves, or whatever they may wear. Add a mustache with spirit gum if I don't have time to grow one out. Practice speaking like they would speak. Capture their "essence" and be transformed into them.
In the end, your transformation can lead you to success like it did for Mr. Chaney. Honestly, when you can transform yourself into your character (without losing your true persona in the process) you become a better, more believable actor. It is my hope to continue to be an actor like Lon Chaney, Sr. who greatly affected the entire movie industry--even to this day--with his iconic make-up and transformed acting style. It was said of him by his adopted daughter, Stella, "(Lon) was a man of great integrity and joy, who worked hard, loved his family, and did what he loved most of all in his life--he made movies."
Cheers to you and your transformation!