Friday, June 20, 2008

The Fall

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.

See it!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Real Deal

I was talking to a a student the other day and he was apologetic that he "still had a day job." This guy is a high-school teacher who is so devoted to bettering his craft that he takes the bus across the valley (during rush-hour) to my acting class in Sherman Oaks after teaching all day in Pasadena. The trip can take up to two hours. To me he has no reason to apologize--he is a champion! Given these tough economic times--the fall out from the writers strike, the glut of reality TV, the high prices of gas and food--isn't it about time that we all stopped equating our acting income with our artistic worth? I thought this was a good time to share an article I wrote awhile back....

The Real Deal

Recently I was at a party and overheard someone say in a derisive tone “he describes himself as an actor but he's only had one job in the last five years.” I had to join in, “That's interesting. How often would he need to work for you to consider him an actor?” The person looked uncomfortable and couldn't come up with an answer.

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.