Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
We were all so worried that no one would come to the casting call. Ha! On our first day people were lined up around the block! We couldn't keep up with them. It was completely overwhelming. If it wasn't for Ben and Production Assistant Melinda Burns, I would have spent the day cowering in my hotel room crying
On day one of casting, kids (with their parents) arrived as early as 6:30am to be first in line for our 10am start. We were behind even before we started the day.
Then we had to walk along the line of people and decide who would be pulled into my office to read lines. I have to confess, I just didn't have the stomach for this. I couldn't walk down that line and say "you" "you" "you", passing over some hopeful eight-year-old and his eager mother. I am a coward. I made Ben do it.
In the room reading, the kids were all sweet and of course somewhat nervous. I definitely found some talented kids who will be reading for the director this weekend.
There were a few chilling moments--examples of overly ambitious parenting. A young girl of maybe thirteen read, her reading was good, but she had braces on her teeth. I told her gently that because of the setting of the film, we couldn't use any kids with braces (there is no "Orthodontist of the Corn"), I wanted her to know that it wasn't that she did a bad reading--it was a "look" thing. Ben told me that her mother pulled him aside after the audition and said forcefully :"I want you to know that I will have her braces taken off. This is THAT important!" Ben was stunned. Having a small part in our little TV Movie is so important that she would put her child's well-being second? I am worried about the message this young girl is getting about the priorities of her life.
I was a child actor, I started at age six, and I definitely had some emotional fall-out from spending my formative years in the competitive world of show biz. The sets were great, it was the auditioning. Whether or not she gets the job, I think it is dangerous for a child to be in a situation where they will be "picked" or "not picked". I had enough trauma in the schoolyard when the "captains" picked teams for the softball games. Being hopelessly afraid of the ball, I was always picked last. (Don't even get me started about Dodge Ball--having bright red hair, there I was picked first!) Now imagine an almost weekly situation where I was led into a room full of adults and asked to "perform", and then waiting for the phone to ring to hear if I got the job.
For many years, I wouldn't teach acting to kids. I felt that they should be sheltered from this kind of life. But around a year ago I started giving private lessons to a little girl named Madeline Stauffer. When her mother contacted me we had a chat and I realized that she was a completely supportive and caring parent. She explained that Madeline was driven to become an actor and she wanted to give her the support to explore her dreams. Madeline gets great grades at school and has plenty of other extra-curricular activities so I know she is having the full "childhood" experience. And she approaches her work with me with absolute dedication and seriousness. While I know she has dreams of being the next Miley Cyrus, she also has a deep love of the craft, she wants to be a great actor. It is my pleasure to help her towards this goal.
If it wasn't for Madeline I don't think I would have been able to do this job of casting "Children of the Corn". She has helped me to understand that acting can be a wonderful enhancement to a child's life. I love meeting each child who comes in to read. I feel like I have a chance to make them feel safe and accepted, and in this way it is a kind of healing for me. I get to give the kind of audition experience I would have liked to have had when I was a little girl.
OK. More soon. I am off to another day of Iowa casting! Until then, enjoy this clip of me in my first acting job. A "Kool-aid" commercial. I'm six. I'm the one with the curly hair.
Monday, August 4, 2008
This is an amazing experience. Every professional actor should put in some time as a Casting Director as part of their training. I wish I had done this twenty years ago--it would have saved me a lot of mistakes.
No time for details now, I am off to conduct a casting sesson. More later!
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I have had a lot of writers, producers, directors and casting people come out and speak to my class about auditioning and they all agree that they don't care at all if an actor has the lines memorized. In fact the writers, who are usually the executive producers on the shows we audition for, always prefer that actors use the script--they want to hear their lines read correctly! What all care deeply about is that the actor bring life to the role. The actor should be as memorized as necessary to accomplish this.
Here is a video I found on YouTube of Hugh Laurie auditioning for House MD. I think it is a great example of an actor using the script while still bringing a full realization of the character.
Click here to see the video.
Note when Mr. Laurie apologizes for his appearance at the beginning of the clip, saying that "things haven't been going well lately". I may be completely wrong here, but I suspect his choice of appearance was quite deliberate. Perfect for the role.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Click here to view clip
This play oozed with the guileless enthusiasm of its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. You could feel the energy walking into the theater. The audience broke out in cheers several times throughout the performance. An invigorating, splendid night of theater!
Click here to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech/rap when he received the Tony for best score. His genuine gratitude and humility is palpable. Inspiring.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
Saw Tarsem Singh's magnificent film The Fall yesterday. Gorgeous images and exquisite performances from Lee Pace and Cantinca Untaru. Here is a link to the website: The Fall
Singh's direction of the young Ms. Untaru is masterful. He pulled such unguarded truthful moments out of her--in particular the scene where "Roy" asks her if she was lying about his being able to feel his big toe. Her performance was breathtaking. It never felt like she was acting. We, the audience, were watching her as she lived through the events of the film. All acting techniques are designed to bring us to this kind of performance--back to a childlike, simple, ability to, as Sanford Meisner so famously said: behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
Friday, June 6, 2008
What is an actor? Is being an actor about how many jobs you book? Having representation? Making money? If so, how much do you need to make? And what if you haven't worked for a while? How long does one need to be out of work to no longer have the right to call himself an actor? Three months? Three years? And who gets to decide the length of time?
It's remarkable what people will say to actors. Once, when I was on the phone discussing rates with a car insurance salesman, he asked me what I did, and when I told him that I was an actor he said “Someone once told me that if someone says they're an actor you should ask them if they make their medical to find out if they're the real deal. So” he asked, “do you make your medical?” I was astounded at his rudeness—I replied “Well yes actually. Now tell me, did you meet your sales quota last month?”
I have the blessing of being an acting teacher as well as an actor and my students are a constant source of inspiration. Being in class with them every week keeps me connected to what being an actor really means. Dedication, determination and most important, the heart of a champion.
I am reminded of the Dodgers in that amazing game in 2006. It was the 9th inning and the Padres were winning 9-5. Figuring that their team was beat, the Dodger fans had begun to leave the stadium. Then, at the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers came back and hit four consecutive home runs--only the fourth time that's happened in an inning in major league history. Then Garciaparra hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Dodgers ended up winning 11-10. Now, if the Dodgers had lost their heart in the 9th—thought to themselves 'we're obviously losing—there's really no reason to keep trying since we don't have a chance'—they would never have won that game.
I have a student with Parkinson's disease. This guy is one of the best actors in my class—very talented, but what blows me away is his heart. He has a full-time job, his arm shakes like crazy when he's tired or nervous, and yet he shows up every week rehearsed, his lines cold, and plays full out every time he gets on the stage. When that arm really gets shaking we say he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” I don't think the deal gets anymore real than that.
I have another student who also works a full-time “straight” job and is tremendously talented. He is so driven by his desire for excellence that he almost always has two scenes going at any given time. He is always meticulous about every aspect of his craft. The other day I received this email from him:
“…after 9 years of busting my ass, doing drops on lunch breaks, class, workshops, mailings, student films, working survival jobs that suck the soul out of me,…I have had a grand total of about 3 auditions for paid gigs…If I could ever get in the damned room, I could do some damage.Then again, no one said it was going to be easy, did they?”
This actor has the heart of a champion.
I don't believe that being an actor has anything to do with how much money you make or what kind of recognition you get from the industry. When someone is lucky enough to make their living solely from acting that's wonderful. But what really impresses me is what an actor does when he is not working.
Do you have the heart of a champion? Do you keep playing full out when the fans are leaving the stadium and it looks like there's no hope? Are you an actor? The real deal? The answer is in your own heart.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
“A famous Trapeze artist was instructing his students how to perform on the high trapeze bar. Finally, having given full explanations and instruction in this skill, he told them to demonstrate their ability.
One student, looking up at the insecure perch upon which he must perform, was suddenly filled with fear. He had a terrifying vision of himself falling to the ground. He couldn’t move a muscle, so deep was his fright. ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it!’ he gasped.
The instructor put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “Son, you can do it, and I will tell you how.” Then he made a statement which is of inestimable importance. It is one of the wisest remarks I have ever heard. He said, ‘Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.’…
Heart is the symbol of creative activity. Fire the heart with where you want to go and what you want to be. Get it fixed so deeply in your unconscious that you will not take no for an answer…’Throw your heart over the bar’ means to throw your affirmation over every barrier, throw your visualization over your obstacles. In other words, throw the spiritual essence of you over the bar and your material self will follow in the victory groove thus pioneered by your faith inspired mind. Expect the best, not the worst and you will attain your heart’s desire.”
____Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking.
“The victory groove”…love it. Sounds like a Beat Poem. This book was written in 1952. Check it out…
Saturday, May 17, 2008
It was great. The producers, director and the regular actors did their best to make me and the other guest actors feel welcome, from the table-read through the shoot. Just a wonderful experience.
House has a table-read (a read-through of the entire script with the full cast) before each weeks episodes filming begins. This is usual in half-hour comedy but not so much in one-hour. The pace of one-hour television shoots is usually too intense. In fact the actors on House give up their lunch hour to do the table-read. It is nice to have the opportunity for a read-through because you get a feeling of the flow of the show. And speaking for myself, it really helps create a feeling of ensemble. I feel like I am a part of the process of the whole show rather than just a gun-for-hire coming in for a day or two to shoot my scenes, often never even meeting the other actors on that weeks episode.
One of my students asked me how the regular actors performed at the table read---he asked if they were at “performance level”. He assumed that the guest actors would be because they could easily be replaced, but wondered about the regulars. The regular actors on House gave as much at this reading as the guests. In my experience most actors do. I think they realize how important is for everyone to get a real sense of the script. Especially the writers. There will often be re-writes after the table read. Especially in half-hour where the script changes sometimes after every run-through.
When I do a guest role on a show I really look at it like I am a guest in someone’s home. If I am invited for dinner I don't complain about the food, I don’t tell my hosts how they should rearrange their furniture. Likewise, on a set, I don’t change my lines--I learn them “word-perfect”, I show up on time. I know that if I am a gracious guest, I may be invited back. This was a great “House” to visit, the “hosts” were incredibly warm and gracious, I would love to visit again…
FYI: my episode is the first of the new season. It will air in the Fall.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Friday, May 2, 2008
I’ve had a string of good luck lately. I’ve gone from acting job to job for the last couple of months—did a pilot for a web series called In2iton, the episode of Two and a Half Men (read below) and now I am doing House M.D. It feels absolutely wonderful to be working and I am so grateful. For each of these jobs there were at least five other women who could have done the role as well as I, but I was lucky in that I matched the producers and/or directors visions for these roles. But I wouldn’t have been lucky had I not performed to the best of my ability at each of these auditions.
Before I booked these roles there were several auditions that I didn’t book. My auditions for those roles were just as strong as these last few. It’s not like suddenly I have changed—suddenly I have discovered some kind of booking “trick” or “formula” or “right” way to audition. Well, actually I am doing the one booking “trick” that I teach—the one I have always used in my thirty-year-plus career as a professional actor—the one “booking formula” that gives you the best shot at getting the job. Do great work. Always act to the best of your ability every time you get the chance to put your work out there.
Now I know that this probably sounds obvious, but believe me it’s not. I was talking to a Talent manager friend today and he shared with me a story about a client. This is a client who doesn’t often get a shot at series regular roles and my manager friend was thrilled that he was able to get this client an appointment for a regular role on a top series. He emailed the client the appointment and the sides two weeks ago and then today, the day of the audition, the client calls the office and says, “I can’t open the attachment that contains the sides.” My manager friend said he was absolutely speechless. He is considering dropping the client.
A few times a year I bring in a working professional from the entertainment industry into my Acting Studio for a seminar. I have a dear friend who is a top Talent manager, and she agreed to do a Q & A and then let my students read for her. I thought this would be a great opportunity for them to hone their audition skills in a safe environment and get their work seen at the same time. I pulled scenes from TV and Film for each student—doing my best to tailor them to each student’s strengths and I gave them the material a week before the she came out for the visit. The night of the seminar I found out that at least half of them had barely looked at the material!
When I was in classes when I was a young actor, if an industry guest came out and I had the chance to have my work seen I always did everything I could to make sure my work was as good as I could possibly make it. I was shocked when so many of my regular students didn’t’ do the same. I knew these students. Most of them had been with me several months--even several years. I knew they were hard workers, so what could explain their apparent laziness? And then I realized, it looked like laziness—but it wasn’t—it was fear.
Fear has many disguises: It can show up in the form of not putting enough time into preparation for auditions; not dressing appropriately; not keeping your PR tools (photos, demos, etc.) up-to-date; missing class; resisting direction; or being late for professional appointments. Recently I suffered from this last one myself. For a while last year I just could not seem to show up on time for my auditions. After a few weeks of this, I took a hard look at my behavior. And I realized that I was sub-consciously withholding from really doing my best at my auditions. I hadn’t booked in awhile and I was feeling frustrated, so, like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum, I was acting out by being late. But of course the only person being hurt by my tantrum was me.
If I pulled my punches, if I didn’t give my all, I was not really putting myself completely on the line. If I didn’t play full out--to the best of my ability--and got rejected, a part of me could think, well, I didn’t really show my best, so therefore it’s not a complete rejection, if I show my best and don’t get the part—that really hurts. But of course that was wrong thinking.
For me the worst feeling is when I have a chance and I don’t grab it. When I don’t make the best of each and every opportunity. Of course it hurts when I give it my all and don’t get the role, but at least I gave it my best shot. I can live with that. When I don’t do my best, that’s what eats away at my soul. So, I have to be willing to go out there and put myself on the line, over and over again for as long as it takes. And then of course, I may get lucky
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
On the night of the show, there were several times (between scenes of course!) that I felt moved to tears for being there. Having the perspective of knowing so many talented actors who rarely if ever get the chance to work (and spending plenty of time out-of-work myself!) makes me so appreciative when I get to work as an actor. It really feels like a gift. The auditioning, the rejections, the having faith when all seems lost is the real work of the actor. The job is the pay off! A manager I know tells new actors that their job is not acting, it is auditioning, and I think she’s right. And I don’t just mean the audition itself. It’s all that in between time. Keeping your spirit and your acting chops up when you don’t have any auditions. Then finally getting one and preparing—giving it your all and then after the audition—what I call the after-burn—not hearing anything. Was I good? Did they like me? We actors rarely get feedback on our work. Certainly if you get the job or a callback after a pre-read that is your feedback, but at the producer callback level the playing field is pretty even-most everyone there can do the role and do it well—at that point it’s mostly a matter of type. Are you the producer and/or directors vision? All you can control is the quality of your acting work; you can’t control their creative process or subjective opinions. The fact is that you are probably not going to book most of the roles you go in for but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing a bad job. Look at me and my Two and a Half Men experience—I auditioned for that show four times before I got a role. Believe me, if I had been doing a bad job on my auditions the producers would not have kept bringing me back.
And now for the other kind of “after-burn”, the post-job blues…sigh…but before that, here are some pics from Two and a Half Men.
Robert Wagner. Yum! I love having the chance to work with Hollywood Icons like "RJ." I always feel like I am connected to Hollywood history. When I touch him I am connected to Natalie Wood, Jill St. John--wow! And he is still such a looker!
Jon Cryer is an absolute sweetheart. And of course a comic genius. Turns out that our parents worked together in the early 1960's! It was a production of Guys and Dolls, my dad played "Skye Masterson" and my mother and his parents were in the chorus!
Holland Taylor has been added to my list of all time favorite actresses. Watching her work was an acting lesson. Brilliant! And gracious and beautiful too. (BTW: that chest is not entirely mine...part of a gag in the show...EGADS!)
Conchatta Farrel is warm, kind, supportive, sensitive and yet another comic genius. Meeting her was an absolute gift. The women on this show are incredible.
OK. Remember to watch on Monday May 5th! (I play a CSI-Marg Helgenberger type....)
Friday, April 18, 2008
My role is great. I get to work with every actor on the show and they are all magnificent. Particularly Holland Taylor. I can't take my eyes off her. An amazing actor! Watching her work is a lesson in comic acting--always based on truth and frigging hilarious.
I tape most of my scenes tonight in front of a live audience. Can't wait! Details in my next blog.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Several years ago, my father understudied a role in Joe Bolonga and Renee Taylor's Bermuda Avenue Triangle during its LA run. Because of prior commitments Bolonga and Taylor couldn't use him when they took the show to New York, but they told him that they loved him and were determined to work with him again.
I was going through a very dark time in my life, my teacher Roy London had just died and I was going through a very painful breakup of a long-term relationship. I was feeling very pessimistic. I said something to my dad like, “Oh people always say stuff like that, you’re such a dreamer.” He replied, “ I have to have my dreams, they’re what keep me going.” I felt like I had snapped out of a dream. A bad one. And then I felt so ashamed.
This interaction led me to a real change of heart--I vowed to never stop dreaming and staying positive and to always be supportive of my fellow actors— ultimately it led to my teaching career. Well, last Monday, my seventy-five-year-old actor father learned that he is joining Joe Bolonga, Renee Taylor and Lainie Kazan on a tour of Bermuda Avenue Triangle in Florida later this month.
Then , Thursday, I went to Hollywood Blvd to see a family friend receive a star on the legendary walk of fame. The friend is actress Kate Linder. She has had a regular role on the Soap Opera, Young and the Restless for 25 years. Her longevity on the show plus her abundant philanthropic work—Linder is active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is a founding board member of TV Cares, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ AIDS awareness charity and also spent this past Thanksgiving visiting troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the USO—is impressive enough, but what blew me away was when I found out that she never gave up her day job after booking the Soap—on weekends she still works as a flight attendant for United Airlines! I just love that!
Later that day I learned that I booked a really great guest star role on one of my favorite shows, Two and a Half Men. I have been auditioning for this show since it began. I thought I would never get hired, and this despite the fact that the creators of the show are both friends of mine. But, once again, it is proven to me that life has endless possibilities and surprises if you just keep showing up. And, of all the roles I have auditioned for on that show, this is my favorite-the one I would have picked for myself!
Keep showing up. Never stop dreaming. And remember, the person who’s star catches your gaze as you stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame can be the same person who asks if you want an extra pillow on your next flight out to New York…
Friday, April 4, 2008
Whew. Most of the actors I know can relate to this. It is so tough out there. Tougher in many ways than when I started out. But, I remember when I started out, the older actors would complain about how tough the business was compared to when they started out. So, the business is always changing. And it's always been tough. I am reminded of Norma Desmond from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd who couldn't make the jump from silent pictures into “talkies” and probably even more relevantly, from ingénue into woman-of-a-certain-age. She couldn't let go of her image of how her life was supposed to be so she was cut off from the possibilities of her present. What if she had allowed herself to change? To play supporting roles? I bet Mr. DeMille would have given her a job..another close-up.
The same day I received the email from that actor, I visited a manager friend in his office and guess what? The manager was despondent! He was so frustrated that he couldn't get a certain client in for a role--he was worried about changes in the business--he was worried that there will be another strike. So here you are—people on both sides of the table struggling with the same feelings. So what do we do? Well, the business has always been hard. It has always been a miracle that any of us have gotten work. But I know personally that the way to become really despondent is to focus on the problem. And from my perspective, I think the actor has it better in many ways than the manager. The manager is totally dependent on the acceptance of others—the casting directors etc. to give his clients an audition. His fulfillment comes from getting people work. The actor is also somewhat dependent on others too but the actor can find a way to do what he loves. He can go to class, if he can’t afford class then he can learn a new monologue or a new dialect, he can contact the AFI or one of the many local universities with great film departments and offer his acting services, he can audition for a play.
I saw the comedian Margaret Cho on TV the other night on a great show on CNN called The Big Idea. She was discussing how many times she was told to forget her dream of becoming a stand-up. In fact a top agent she met early on told her to give up because Asians never make in in show business. She didn’t listen because giving up was simply not a choice. She was doing what she loves. And she was going to continue doing it whether or not she was “successful” at it. I feel the same way. I know that as long as I am doing my work I am happy. When I am in the moment—that glorious moment when I am really “in” the scene-- where it feels like the part is playing me—I have no idea if I am getting paid, or how much I am getting paid or what my billing is or if I have a dressing room. I am just experiencing pure joy. And often, when I am completely fulfilled by the process of doing what I love and not paying attention-I get a little break. I’ll get an audition or role or maybe a sweet note from a student thanking me for something they heard in class. And it's enough to keep me going.
I always tell actors to give it a finite period of time to see if the acting thing works out—say thirty or forty years—if it doesn’t work in that time, then give it another twenty. You may or may not “succeed” (whatever the heck that means), but what a great time you'll have trying.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
How apropos that I would make my first blog entry on April Fools Day. I love being foolish. I think that’s part of why I love being an actor and working with actors. Permission to be foolish. In Shakespeare’s work the Fool is often one of the wisest people in the story. In Twelfth Night, Feste the jester is described as "wise enough to play the fool." The fool was often sort of the conscious of the play. In that way I think actors can be society’s conscious. I think actors supply a real need. People go to the theatre, or to see a film to see their feelings, hopes and dreams depicted and played out, and, to use Aristotle’s word, to experience catharsis. And I think this catharsis is necessary for people. That is why we keep telling stories and listening to them--going to the theatre, seeing plays, reading stories. I am reminded of a few years ago when I did a play at Playmakers Rep in North Carolina. I have lived in Los Angeles virtually my entire life and started working as a professional actor at the age of six. With the exception of a few plays in High School and College, all the work I have ever done as an actor has been professional. Every time I did a play in Los Angeles, it seems there was always talk of this or that casting director or agent or movie star in the audience. There was always a bit of a “showcase” feeling--like doing the play might lead to more work. Don’t get me wrong—I know there is plenty of great work being done in the theatre in LA—I am just talking about my personal experience in some of the productions I have been involved in. So, anyway, when I did this play in Chapel Hill, NC it was really the first time in my life that I knew that there weren’t going to be any casting directors, or agents, or movie stars out in the audience. That my performance was completely between me and god and the audience. A contract based on love. I, the audience, come here to be entertained, moved, possibly changed. I, the actor, step onto to the stage to hopefully entertain, move, and change you. The theatre was filled every night. The people came to the theater—they needed to come--to share their humanity. I fell in love with acting in a way I never had before. Foolishness. What a gift.