"Acting is nothing more or less than playing. The idea is to humanize life."
- Jeff Goldblum
Archive for the ‘The Actor’s Life’ Category
"Acting is nothing more or less than playing. The idea is to humanize life."
If there was a camera on you right now, would you be doing anything differently?
Would you be sitting differently?
Would you been looking at your computer/phone/whatever differently?
Would you not be picking your nose?
Would you suddenly be aware of every move that you're making?
To be as "real" as possible the answer should be "No." You shouldn't change anything. The scene is you reading this post. And this is how you look reading this post. You don't need to change anything.
Throughout the day today, picture a camera suddenly being on you. Just notice, but don't change, what you're doing.
Be good at small talk.
Many of the jobs you get at first will only be a day, maybe two. You're going to be making a LOT of small talk with people.
Get some conversational skills. Ask polite, but appropriate questions. Practice listening (it's called small talk, because you should listen more;)
And here's a really good one; try to remember one distinct thing about each person. Even if you don't remember a person's name, if the next time you see them, you can say, "Didn't you tell me about a great place for pizza in Austin?" They'll be both surprised and delighted that you remembered something unique about them.
If you remember their name too...even better.
“Be nice to people on the way up, because you may meet them on the way down.”
– Jimmy Durante
Be nice to everyone. No one is trying to piss you off on purpose. Everyone wants to do a good job, including the lowest guy on the totem pole. He's just like you. He wants to do well enough on this job that he gets another.
Word travels. Make an effort for the words said you to be at the least, very professional, and at best also a helluva fun time.
The stuff that we're doing on set, the stuff that fills our life with meaning?
It really ain't that important. Seriously.
Sure we move people. But we're not firefighters, or heart surgeons. What we do is mostly fluff. It's entertainment. Entertainment that makes some people, and hopefully ourselves, a shit-ton of money.
I'm not saying that what we don isn't important, but lets' put it into perspective.
In general, no one is going to lose their life if we mess up a take (nod to the stunt men, for whom this may not be true). It's just another take. Now, once you get past the 3rd or 4th take, you may start costing people money, and by the time you're on take 10, they're wondering what the hell is going on. But still, no one's life is at stake.
What we is important, in context. We all love out-takes, but you don't want the set to be a free-for all. And you don't want to be unprofessional.
Believe it or not, being more relaxed about the whole process will make you better as an actor. More relaxed = more emotion. More emotion = more dramatic takes.
You should own a snap-up, or button up shirt that's a little too big for you, that's not offensive, or some crazy color. Something from Target is fine. This shirt will have one purpose and one purpose only.
It is your On Set Shirt. Yeah, I capitalized, it's a proper name.
I'm not saying that you have to where this shirt TO the set, but it's going to help you out once you get ON set. Here's why.
Say you're sitting in the make-up chair, and the hair person just finished about 20 minutes (if your a guy) or an hours (if your a gal) of work. You then go over to wardrobe to get your stuff. What happens then? Before you can put your wardrobe on, you've got to take your t-shirt off...over your head.
You're about to ruin someone's work, and they're going to have to come touch you up. Before the shoot even starts.
Once you get to set, and have made your impression with you're awesome sense of style. Change into your on-set shirt before sitting down in the make up chair. When you're done, and it's time to change, you don't have to worry about messing up someone else's hard work as the first thing you do on set.
There's another reason you should have an onset shirt, we're not done yet.
The natural next step after "Be a fuck-up," is naturally, not caring at all whether or not you get the job.
This may seem counterintuitive at first. As in, "If I don't care, I won't do a good job."
But that's not what I'm saying. Getting the job would be nice and all, but that's not why you're in the room. You're in the room to show them the shit you can do with those four pages in your hand. You're there to show them the work you put into these four pages. To show them that you made some frikkin' choices. That you're NOT BORING. That you're engaged with the material. That's why you're in the room.
Whether you get the job or not is soooo far out of your control that you shouldn't even be thinking about that AT ALL. The more you think about the job, the more your stupid brain starts spinning out of control with all kinds of crazy scenarios and stories about how you're finally going to get your new apartment and by a house for your mom. Guess what, you're not. All you're gonna do is walk into that room, and kill it. After that, who knows.
Acting can be seen a little like learning a second language. From a practice standpoint.
In the beginning, you know a few words and have a few tools at your disposal. As you get better you can go deeper into a language, and maybe even get a few jokes, and carry on a conversation. Go even deeper, and you will get the "inside jokes" of a language, things like playing of words and such. When you become turely fluent, you're not even thinking of what you're going to say. You have a thought and communicate it.
Acting is very very similar. At first, you do everything with just the few tools that you have. You're really good at angry, so everything takes on that color. After a while, you get a little better, and have some measure of proficiency, and can call on different emotions. Go even deeper, and you see what the writer meant or the deeper meaning in the script and how it all ties together. But when you're really fluent, when you've reached the point of virtuosity, you find that you're just communicating. You're not thinking of what to say next. You're feeling, and the words just flow out.
This all happens, of course, through practice.
It's amazing, really, that people would never think of going to a foreign country without even picking up a phrase book. Yet they would get up on stage and try to give it a go. Even better when the director, or casting looks at you like, "What was that?" and you go into a explanation of what you were trying to do!
You need daily practice, just like you do in a foreign language. Sure, if you live on set, and you're on day 106 of a 200 day shoot, I would think that you have your stuff pretty well dialed in. This is like living in France for a year, and really having your french dialed in. If, however, it's been a while since you've had a audition, and you're current scene partner is lame about making it to rehearsals, Wwell, you're probably going to get a little rusty. Just like if you came to the states and didn't speak a lick of French for a while.
If you met a French person, you could get your point across, but after parting ways, you'll probably be thinking, "Ah, I should've said it this way, not that way." Does that phrase sound familiar? Ever had that internal dialogue inside your head after an audition?
Yeah, thought so.
You need to practice every day. You need to be emoting. You need to get your tongue around some words. You need to be moving. There are a lot of ways to make all that happen. Stay tuned, and we'll give you some tools.
I know, I know. You don't want a plan 'B.' You want acting to be ALL that you do. That's awesome. You also need to eat.
Nothing sucks worse than living out of your car. I know that Jewel did it. But you're not Jewel. (If you are Jewel, feel free to send me an email, I'd love to hang.)
You are, for the moment, an ordinary actor like thousands, yes, thousands of others like you. When you're scraping together to buy gas, or didn't pay your phone bill, or whatever, that doesn't really smack of professionalism now, does it?
Guess what? You need to have a little cash on hand to pay for parking, or keep your subway pass full. You need some money for a decent photographer. You need to be able to take a couple days off work to go shoot your friends short film that will, of course, win the shorts award at Cannes.
So, go find something. Waiting tables is the old standby, it's cash, and you can usually find someone to sub your shift. The only thing better is bartending, you're working basically the same hours, but get paid a lot more.
Getting a job to pay the bills isn't a plan 'B,' it's keeping your plan A alive and functioning.
We all want to be good actors. Hell, most of us want to be effen GREAT actors.
But you know what I've found. Every great actor that I've known personally, or watched an interview for...they've all been really really good at something else. Something completely unrelated to acting.
These things range from poker to playing the piano. I even heard of a very prominent actor who used to be a damn fine lawyer.
Now, right off the bat, these things seem unrelated.
"I thought I should spend all my time focused on my craft."
Yeah, you should focus on your craft. Get our emails, get your practice in. But you should also be doing something just for the sake of doing it. Just for the fun of it. Because it brings you joy. It can be anything. Juggling, crosswords, it really doesn't matter.
The thing is, is that it'll bleed into your acting. Probably not in the "I get to play a champion crossword puzzler" way, though I'm sure that part is coming. Being really good at something else will give you confidence, patience, and depth that you can't get by just memorizing lines all day, and "getting to know yourself." Having something else you're good at will allow you to draw all kinds of similarities between what's happening in a scene, and what happens when, say, you finally solve the rubies cube in under 30 seconds. That feeling of pride, is the same pride your character is feeling when they get the contract from the boss. Same pride. The camera won't know the difference. 😉
There's already something you're pretty good at that you've been doing for a long time. Get back to it. Use it as a touchstone. Use it to have some fun. And if it creeps into your characters a bit, so be it.