What’s the difference between an actor and her character? One thinks she is the character and the other wishes the actor would stop saying she is the character.
The idea that “you are the character and the character is you” is insufficient on camera. Actors are taught to approach characters this way for the purpose of responding honestly and without prejudice as they play the scene which they see as great acting. However, all of their great acting is wasted on camera because it’s not happening to a recognizable human being. It’s happening to an actor. What’s the difference between human beings and actors? Human beings are defined by their limitations. Actors are defined by limitless possibilities.
On camera, limitless possibilities translate as general. Human limitations translate as clearly defined character. Human beings, and therefore characters, are defined by their prejudices which limit the ways they see and respond to the world. Watching a limited human being or character clash with the world is what makes a story interesting. The “you are the character and the character is you” approach would work better on camera if actors isolated specific qualities or character traits that they themselves possess and let those specific qualities dictate how they play the entire scene.
The secret to being memorable on camera is to create a clearly defined character the camera and the audience would recognize whether they were witnessing the character in the middle of a heart wrenching break-up scene or ordering coffee at Starbucks. That’s what is meant when someone says she or he identifies with a character. It means the person recognizes the character as a fellow human being and therefore can feel empathy for the character.