One of the greatest compliments a director can give is saying you 'take notes' well. Basically, as an actor, it means you are able to listen to what a director is asking and deliver a new interpretation. Sometimes directors do this because they are looking for something specific and want to know if you can nail it. Sometimes, they are not sure what they are looking for until they hear it, but most of the time, directors are just wanting to see if you will listen without throwing attitude.
Taking notes is something I have always done well. I am a student at heart. Besides, half of what I love about my job is the challenge of learning something new all the time, and I know if it was my script, I would want someone to listen to me.
I learned something about myself and the creative process through the years, though. When I take on a character, I take on their story. I become responsible for their voice, their presence and I become their advocate. Most of the time, I agree with the growth and evolution of a character, but twice I have had to stand up for the person I am portraying.
Ignoring my natural tendency to just give the director/producer what they are asking for, I decided to take a stand in these situations. In both cases, I only stood my ground because additions to the script fundamentally changed who my character was or what her purpose was in the greater scope of the project.
I truly believe this passionate belief is central to what makes me a positive person to work with. Not only do I care about my performance, I care about the story and the person I am portraying.
Now, let's be clear, I didn't argue with anyone in either situation. I never raised my voice. Instead, I stated my opinion including why I disagreed with the addition and what it changed in my character. These simple statements, presented to the writer/director showed my dedication to the character and the storyline and in both cases, my approach allowed the bosses to give my point-of-view some consideration.
I left the final decision where it should be--in the director's hands, and I moved forward in both cases with as much passion as I had the day before even though only one director sided with me.
When you take on a character and spend time developing a performance, it's okay to stand up for the art you have created (an important lesson I learned from the incredible theater director Brittanie Gunn with Tesseract Theatre Company).
So I say: Treat people with respect, take notes, and act not just with passion, but also with thoughtful care for the story you've been handed.
Good luck out there!