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A number of years ago, The Acting Center was interviewing students about their careers and experiences as actors. Many students had recounted stories of ranting teachers, trying to use tortured memories for scene work and being embarrassed in front of their fellow classmates in an effort to learn acting. One interview, from an experienced actor, stood out that day. “They all say they are breaking you down to build you back up,” he said, “but where’s the ‘building back up’ part? I just feel broken.”
He laughed. I was floored by his comment and it still haunts me.
Acting is like any skill. Do it a lot and you get good at it. But just like riding a bike or learning to cook a soufflé, you have to get in there with the training wheels or practice making an omelet first. You certainly don’t gain confidence in yourself in an environment where you’re made to feel embarrassed or uncertain about your work.
Actor training is exactly that: it is training to know how to become a character and learning to identify and express each emotion as that unique person. A trained actor should also be able to layer on each part of a character and deliver the whole personality package—physical traits, attitudes about life, thoughts, rhythms, what the character has to say and more. And when an experienced performer does it well? The audience believes the character and is swept away in the story.
So what’s all this about “breaking down” a performer?
A performer needs to be BUILT UP at every turn. An acting school needs to provide lots of effective exercises that drill each particular skill an actor needs to be their very best at auditions, on set and on stage.
A school needs to provide lots of time during class for an actor to practice so they gain self-confidence.
A school needs to provide lots of stage time so the actor can overcome nerves and get comfortable in front of an audience.
And a school needs a kind, caring staff that is helping each artist succeed in achieving their dreams.
So get into a class where you can gain certainty in your work, one that builds you up—not breaks you down.
At The Acting Center, we are committed to building up artists, one-by-one, in every class.
Written by April Biggs, Executive Director of The Acting Center
The glamorous Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor died today at the age of 99 from heart failure. She was surrounded by family and friends.
In her youth Zsa Zsa attended private schools, and was ushered into stardom taking classes in acting, dancing, and music. She was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, and then moved to America just before the start of World War II with her sisters Eva and Magda in pursuit of careers in acting. The three of them became famous for their film careers and garnered public intrigue with their love lives. Indeed, they were often hot topics in society magazines. Merv Griffin once described their charm and popularity by saying, “All these years later, it’s hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamorous Gabor girls….They burst onto the society pages and into the gossip columns so suddenly, and with such force, it was as if they’d been dropped out of the sky.” Zsa Zsa lived the Hollywood lifestyle, and flaunted her diamonds and fur coats. Because she was famous for being famous, she has been described as the original Kim Kardashian. Watch this Hollywood Backstage clip, and you might see why.
Gabor’s film career peaked during the 1950s with memorable roles in films like Moulin Rouge, Lovely to Look At, Lili, Orson Welles’s classic Touch of Evil, and the camp-favorite Queen of Outer Space. She also appeared in over 60 TV movies. Most of her roles were in American productions, but she also appeared in French, Italian, and German films. Zsa Zsa’s career extended into the 1990s as she appeared on talk shows, game shows, comedy specials, and more.
But it’s hard to talk about Zsa Zsa without mentioning the fact that she had nine husbands including hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, actor George Sanders, and the toy designer who helped create Barbie, Jack Ryan.
Her famous divorces inspired her to make many quotable one-liners. Here are a few examples:
“A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he’s finished.”
“Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.”
“Husbands are like fires–they go out when unattended.”
“You never really know a man until you have divorced him.”
“We were both in love with him. I fell out of love with him, but he didn’t.”
“A girl must marry for love, and keep on marrying until she finds it.”
“I don’t take gifts from perfect strangers–but then, nobody is perfect.”
“I’m a great housekeeper. I get divorced. I keep the house.”
“A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never her age.”
With her thick Hungarian accent, Zsa Zsa frequently and famously referred to people as “dahling” (darling)–she once said because she can’t remember their names.
In response to the news of her passing, Piers Morgan tweeted, “RIP Zsa Zsa Gabor. 99 years old, 9 husbands, Miss Hungary & Hollywood star. What a life!” Larry King tweeted. “There will only be one Zsa Zsa Gabor. And, I liked her a lot. Rest in Peace, my dear.”
Gabor is survived by her last husband, Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
During a recent meeting with some casting and film director friends about what actors needed to do to book work, two words were repeated again and again: Embodied and personal.
It is no longer enough to play your idea of the role, you need to be a living, breathing embodiment of the role.
To achieve this high level it’s essential to center your preparation in the body and heart – not the mind. The mind is a literal organ that exists primarily to keep you safe. It will tell you what the piece is about and give you a few obvious ways to play it. If you prepare from the mind – and too many actors do – you won’t be showing the people in the room who you are and how you feel, only what you think.
Your brain will have an opinion about how you feel, your body will know how you feel.
Everything that we experience is taken in thorough the 3 sense doors of the mind, body and heart. The body is the least explored and also the most revealing. We have a physical reaction to everything that happens to us and that reaction is the truest one that we can have, because the body has no agenda but to show you how you feel.
Remember though, it all starts at the very beginning. How you start is how you finish and many actors start their “preparation” before they have relaxed the mind and connected with their body. You only get the first chance with the material once, so make sure that before you begin your mind is calm and focused and your body is awake and energized. This mental and physical positioning will ensure that you are operating at the full strength of your creative (not mental) powers from the very start and that you will continue to do so throughout your preparation.
Here is a way to start your process by establishing a deep connection to the body so that you have access to all of the honest, clear, compelling information that lives there.
Read the piece through out loud feeling your physical reaction to all of your character’s words and all of the other characters words. Let your body tell you how you feel by where you might be tightening or relaxing. Do certain words make your stomach clench or your breath catch in your throat? Do others relax your shoulders and open your chest? Note it all – it’s the most specific information you’ll get about how you truly feel.
Now, note the emotions that the body sensation trigger. For instance, if someone says something that scares you and you tightened the stomach and held the breath, the associated emotions could be fear, or panic or even anger. Allow your body to instruct your heart and reveal your true feelings. These feeling will become strong, connected and honest choices – choices that the brain, by the way, probably wouldn’t have allowed you access to.
Working this way you become the actor who have instills the role with all of the power and truth that results from wrapping your body and heart completely around the words on the page.
The people watching will not be able to separate you from the words and will have no choice but to hire you – they have to, you’re already are the role.
Embodiment in audition is the ability to physically manifest the words on the page. If you have prepared correctly, you arrive at the audition needing to do nothing more than speak, listen and be. You are no longer an actor acting or reading the words, trying to communicate the thoughts of the brain. You are a person being.
Personal embodiment isn’t just the new battle cry in casting, it should be the goal of every actor who is in this not just to book the occasional job, but to have a long, successful career. This is not a time for shortcuts and tricks. It’s a time for the real actors to learn how to connect to their bodies and hearts, step up to the plate and start booking. You’ll never have a better chance than right now.
Craig Wallace’s background in script development combined with his 16 years of coaching actors enables him to find the job getting moments that others miss. His expertise in breaking down text and years of coaching experience has made him “L.A.’s go to private coach.” Sign up for his group or private classes at wallaceauditiontechnique.com
The uplifting musical love story La La Land pulled in seven Golden Globe nominations earlier this week. The film is up for consideration for best picture, best director, and best actor and actress awards for its stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The story follows the journey of two aspiring performers in Los Angeles. At one point, Stone’s character auditions for a small film role before a casting director who takes a phone call in the middle of her read.
During an interview, Gosling revealed that this scenario actually once happened to him during an audition. “Yeah, where I had to cry and this lady took a call in the middle of it. And then just told me to go on, ‘Pick up where I left off.’ That was part of what was great about making this film was [writer-director Damien Chazelle] encouraged us to bring our experiences to these characters,” Gosling recalled. Stone likewise relayed her own set of audition stories to Chazelle. Taking notes, he soon found a way to weave these experiences into the movie that’s being described as an “ode to those who dream of making it big.”
If there’s one thing for sure, when actors enter the audition room, it’s that they have to be ready for just about anything. Among the many actors who have shared their unexpected and awkward audition-room tales is Broadway’s Tracie Thoms. Here she describes something that just seemed to take over her as she auditioned before Quentin Tarantino for Death Proof.
And Color Purple star Heather Headley recounts the time casting seemed to pay her no notice as she sang her heart out with stunning brilliance.
Another singing audition came from CBS’ Two Broke Girls actress Beth Behrs. She recalls a bit of an embarrassing audition in which she sang with a mismatched style before casting. In return, she received feedback that opened her eyes as far as which kind of roles to pursue in her career.
And lastly, the next time you hear the Aflac duck in a commercial, you might think of Will & Grace actor Sean Hayes who did not land the role of the silly duck.
Have you ever had an absurd or awkward incident along these lines while auditioning? Please share!
What do you do when you first approach a script? Think about it. What’s going through your head? Are you thinking, “How should I say this?” Or maybe it’s, “I have no idea what they want from me. I wish I had some direction.” Do you find yourself ramping up into your performance and trying to accommodate direction you never got in the first place, then settling on a delivery that only pleased your comfort zone? Well, you’re not alone.
Regardless of your experience level, most talent settle for ‘good enough’, especially when we’re trying to turnaround 5 or more auditions a day from their home recording set ups. No wonder the failure rate is so steep for voiceovers. To add to this it’s very likely you’re attacking every audition with the same cadence, tempo, volume, and possibly even the same inflection, whether it was appropriate or not. Mostly out of habit more than anything else. The problem with this approach is it’s no approach at all.
Proper technique training develops performance agility, expression, and, among other things, challenges your imagination. It does if you’ve coached with us, that is. Much like circuit training fine-tunes your physical acuity with continued use, technique training conditions your performance muscle. You can’t expect to run a marathon if you don’t train. And, if you consider what your conditioning has been up till the present, coaching adds value to who you are and instills stamina to go the distance in your career. This is why every skill level benefits from proper coaching.
It’s always a challenge to bite the bullet and commit to training, and not just from the onset of your career. All talent need a couple of good coaching sessions no less than twice a year, especially once you’ve been given an approach that allows you to consistently discover the very best performance options and you’re able to fluidly adapt to direction when its offered.
Granted it’s commonly considered there’s no single approach more effective than another. However, that line of thinking tends leave far too many talent without any effective approach whatsoever.
‘Winging it’ isn’t professional because it’s unreliable, and could explain why there are so many one-hit wonders in this profession. You need training.
Every reputable agent, producer, and director wants to be reassured you’ve been well trained as a talent. Natural ability is never enough. Without an effective approach, the adage ‘vision without execution is hallucination’ applies. Technique gives you a process that might not be immediately intuitive, but will achieve improved results in your performance when applied with some routine. It takes practice!
The fact remains that in nearly every performance scenario you’re expected to offer options, rather than a single, solitary take. But, left to your own devices, if you inadvertently condition yourself to only deliver one repetitive performance option, then you will limit your delivery options and only be capable of a single solitary delivery. What makes you valuable as a talent, above all else is the simple fact that you’re capable of a limitless number of remarkable deliveries. Make it your mission at the onset of every audition and every session to discover just a few of them. It’s what you’re paid to deliver. No one is interested in hiring a robot. You’re paid to have a pulse.
Our goal, when we coach, is to man you with exceptional techniques and tools that will condition you to deliver your best while developing your ability to self-direct. Mastering these techniques will make you indispensable to every production you’re involved in, regardless the medium.
Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, and founder of both Big House Casting & Audio (Chicago and Los Angeles) and Actors’ Sound Advice. She’s a seasoned industry veteran and actor who has trained actors and produced demos for more than 5,000 performers over her 30 years in the business.
McClanaghan has cast and produced thousands of national commercials, including spots for McDonald’s, J.C. Penney, State Farm, Sprint, Chase, and IBM, to name a few, and has produced documentaries and assorted narratives for the likes of HGTV, Discovery Channel, and A&E.
McClanaghan’s unique, custom-tailored approach to establishing, expanding, and maintaining a professional career as a working actor and voiceover performer is detailed in her book “The Sound Advice Encyclopedia of Voice-over & the Business of Being a Working Talent.”
Rejection is something that all people experience in any number of ways throughout life. But if you’re an actor, it’s essentially a way of life. For example, repeatedly waiting in groups of 60 actors and knowing that perhaps just a couple of you may have the pleasure of landing the roles at hand can be an unnerving experience. But it’s clear that the more auditions an actor goes on increases his or her chances of booking jobs. So it’s essential for actors to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection. Do you ever find that rejection is interfering with your ability to move things forward in your acting career? If so, you might find Jia Jiang’s personal struggles with rejection to be edifying.
Jia Jiang is not an actor. Rather, he was an aspiring entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States in hopes of becoming the next Bill Gates. And while he did find accomplishment in the corporate world, his real dream of being an entrepreneur evaded him. After all, right from the get go, he constantly heard “no” from potential customers or investors which left him riddled with self-doubt. In fact, he described the rejection as “crippling.” In his What I learned from 100 days of rejection Ted Talk, Jiang attributes a specific childhood experience in which he was publicly rejected by his peers with haunting him well into his adult years.
Determined to become “a better leader, a better person,” Jiang decided to take action. He discovered a game called Rejection Therapy invented by Canadian entrepreneur, Jason Comely. The game’s premise was to actively seek rejection for 30 days. Comely argued this consistent exposure to rejection would essentially desensitize any participant to the pain associated with being brushed off. Inspired by this idea, Jiang decided to go a step further: He determined he would seek rejection for 100 days, and document his experiences on a video blog.
Whether or not you have struggles with rejection, viewing Jiang’s video entries makes for fun watching. They include “Borrow $100 from a Stranger,” “Request a ‘Burger Refill,'” “Play Soccer in Someone’s Backyard,” “Ask for Olympic Symbol Ring Doughnuts,” and the list goes on.
In time, Jiang learned to steel himself against rejection, and develop self-confidence which holds strong even when he experiences setbacks. And now he dares us all to live more boldly and boost our bravery.
Is entertaining large audiences or winning awards in little-known films more important for an actor?
“Do you think acting is a kind of goal in itself, and almost a quasi-religious experience, and it’s like therapy and you’re trying to please your fellow actors? Or do you think it’s just a tool for entertaining people?” Hugh Grant recently posed this question to Colin Farrell. The two actors spoke at length during a one-on-one interview for Variety’s Actors on Actors and towards the end, Grant asked this “penetrating question.”
Farrell responded, “I think all of the above. I think it can be quite often a different thing for the actor than it is for the audience. But I think if there’s an experiential symbiosis between what the actor is experiencing in their own lives and internally, and what the audience is experiencing in purveying the work that the actor presents, I think that’s a state of grace.”
Grant, who is famous for his roles in romantic comedies, box-office hits like Notting Hill, and is regarded as an international heartthrob, agreed with Farrell’s assessment. But, he then presented this line of questioning in more practical terms; that is, delving into how an actor is likely to make decisions throughout his or her career. Grant asked: “If you had two scripts on your desk, and one was almost certain to be a big smash hit because people would really be entertained by it. But the part is kind of 8 out of 10. Then you have one where you know no one’s going to see this outside the San Sebastian Film Festival, but the part is 10 out of 10. Which do you choose?”
Irish actor, Colin Farrell’s career reflects a wide range of roles. He portrays the powerful magician Percival Graves in the box-office smash Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But just before that, he starred in the science-fiction drama The Lobster, which garnered a small overall audience but which has received several nominations and awards.
So when considering which kind of scripts he gravitates to, Farrell revealed that although he has a “really healthy appreciation for the nature of commerce of the film business,” and he loves doing action films, he tends to favor the the “smaller, more intimate stuff.” He likes roles in lower-budget films, “because the characters don’t have to find such a big audience, the characters have a greater sense of specificity to them and maybe a greater internal struggle that can find avenues of emotion or intellectual exploration that the hundred million, hundred-fifty million films don’t afford.”
On the other hand, Hugh Grant expressed concern that actors can take things too seriously. He said, “I sometimes think we are in slight danger of disappearing up our own a**es–actors–and really we should be there to entertain people. We shouldn’t forget that. It’s an entertainment business.”
How about you? When you dream of your optimal career as an actor, which category of scripts and roles do you yearn for more? How important is the quality of the work in comparison the the size of the audience a project garners?
Sometimes the process of acting goes beyond being more than an exploration, passion, or career goal. And it, in fact, has the power to transform its participants’ lives in a healing manner.
Take Michael Shannon, for example. Shannon is known for his versatility on screen in films like Revolutionary Road which earned him an Oscar nomination, Take Shelter, 99 Homes for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, and Nocturnal Animals. In this Off Camera interview, Shannon describes his difficult childhood. His parents divorced early on, and he describes his high school years as “a disaster”–and he eventually dropped out of school.
Painting a picture of his high school social difficulties, he says, “I was in a different city with a bunch of kids I didn’t know at a very large school. So my freshman and sophomore year I couldn’t make friends to save my life.” On top of it, his father with whom he was living at the time, was going through his own hard times, which ultimately lead Michael Shannon to move. In turn, he immersed himself in community theater.
Indeed, the more he performed, the more he realized acting “might be more than just something I’m doing to kill time and ease the pain.” Instead, the theater allowed him to change how he and others perceived him. Shannon revealed:
“I guess I had a lot of inappropriate behavior, or I didn’t really fit into like normal societal situations. I struggled with those, but the great thing about the acting is that I could go on stage and act insane, where in real life if I acted that way, I’d get chastised and punished or told to shut up. But when you do that on stage, people applaud and say, ‘Wow, you’re a genius.’ So it was a pretty easy bridge to cross.”
Sally Field is another example of an actor who found acting to be a healing force. In an emotional interview for Variety’s Actors on Actors, Field opened up about a deep depression she experienced in her late teen years. She told Hailee Steinfeld, “It took me a long time to get to anybody to really learn a craft, and that wasn’t until I was in my second television series, and unfortunately it was something called ‘The Flying Nun.’ I was suffering so badly, I was so depressed and I was 19 and I didn’t want to be playing something called the Flying Nun. I did not want to be dressed as a nun all day long.”
But fortunately she found a support that helped her emerge from the depression. For Field, that support was The Actor’s Studio. Field admitted:
“[The Actor’s Studio] really began to form who I was not only as an actor, but helped me be who I became as a person. Because it gave me tools…so that I never lose my own voice…acting tools, that I can go into myself and if I can call on those pieces of myself as an actor, then I can call on them as a human, and I couldn’t do that before.”
To hear Field’s entire comments on the topic, you can view the interview on Variety’s Actors on Actors which debuts on PBS SoCal on January 3rd.
Do you attribute acting with being a healing force in your life as well? Please share.
It’s hard to stand in a market line and stop yourself from reading startling headlines like “FBI Captures Bat Child!” and “Dolphin Grows Human Arms!” And then in the midst of it all are the hysterical titles about the tabloid-favorite Jennifer Aniston. For two decades, publications have been grabbing our collective attention with headlines like: “Angelina Jolie Beats Jennifer Aniston Down the Aisle,” “I Can’t Stop Loving Brad,” “How Angelina Tortures Jen,” “Jennifer Aniston Strapped For Cash,” “Jen Gets Revenge,” “Jen Jilted by Her Fiance,” “Jen Confronts Fiance’s Secret Girlfriend,” “My Life Without Justin,” “Yes, I’m Pregnant–with Twins!” “Pregnant and Alone,” “Jen’s Baby Dream Shattered”–and on and on it goes.
Well, a “fed up” Aniston insists this steady stream of false reports is “getting old.” So, shepenned an essay in The Huffington Post writing, “I don’t like to give energy to the business of lies, but I wanted to participate in a larger conversation that has already begun and needs to continue.” In turn, she calls out the multitude of authors who claim to write “under the guise of ‘journalism,’ the ‘First Amendment,’ and ‘celebrity news.'”
“For the record” she states that rumors of her being pregnant are untrue, and she’s had enough of all the speculation about her relationships as well as all the “sports-like scrutiny and body shaming” she’s endured. Also, the Friends star hopes to raise readers’ awareness of the negative ways such stories can shape our ideas about ourselves. She insists:
“We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
More recently, the Office Christmas Party actress shared in a Marie Claire interview the reason why she authored the op-ed. She answered, “My marital status has been shamed; my divorce status was shamed; my lack of a mate had been shamed; my nipples have been shamed.” With all the quality relationships she’s enjoyed over the years, the popular roles she’s performed, the awards she’s won, all the most-beautiful lists she’s graced, and being a top-earning actress for 15 years, she continuously sees a pathetic portrait of herself being painted in the press. She said, “It’s like, ‘Why are we only looking at women through this particular lens of picking us apart? Why are we listening to it?’ I just thought: I have worked too hard in this life and this career to be whittled down to a sad, childless human.”
So when asked to come up with her own celebrity headline, Aniston replied,“How’s this? ‘When I’m pregnant and married, I will let you know,” and adding, “And by the way, stop stealing my thunder! Let me have the fun of telling that story.”
Florence Henderson, famous for playing Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, died of heart failure on Thanksgiving night at the age of 82. In the 1970’s sitcom, Florence as Mrs. Brady would warmly give wise and sensible advice to her TV children, thus earning her the title of “America’s Mom.” The Brady Bunch played for five seasons, and continued for decades with reruns in America as well as 122 countries around the globe. Henderson’s portrayal of a widow with three daughters who marries a widower with three sons, represented the first blended family in television history. The Brady husband and wife also represented the first couple to sleep in the same bed before TV audiences.
Henderson was born on Valentine’s Day, the youngest of ten children, in Indiana. But unlike her iconic role as Carol Brady, her own mother left the family when Florence was just ten years old. Indeed, Florence grew up in poverty with her father working as a tobacco sharecropper. During an interview on CNN, Henderson once revealed that to play Mrs. Brady, she created the kind of mother she wished she’d had.
Henderson started acting at the age of 17, and debuted on Broadway the following year. She went on to perform in Broadway hits like Fanny and The Girl Who Came to Supper before landing the role of NBC’s first Today girl in 1959 broadcasting the weather, fashion topics, and the lighter aspects of the news. In 1962, Henderson was the first woman to guesthost The Tonight Show before Johnny Carson took the lead.
Just last year, Matt Lauer interviewed Henderson who revealed that she felt younger than she did at the age of 30. The star beamed as she said, “I try to get up every day and say, ‘Wow, it’s a great day, and I’m alive. I have four healthy children, five healthy grandchildren, I have granddogs. I have friends. I am so blessed to be able to still do what I love–I work all the time, and I’m just grateful!”
Upon hearing the sad news of Henderson’s passing, Maureen McCormick who played the role of Marcia Brady tweeted, “Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years & in my <3 forever. Love & hugs to her family. I’ll miss u dearly.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic, who worked with Henderson on the music video Amish Paradise, tweeted, “So terribly sad to hear of the passing of the great Florence Henderson. It was a true honor to have known and worked with her.”
In fact, Florence Henderson’s impressive resume was quite long and varied. Besides starring in Broadway hits and being ranked among the top one hundred Greatest TV Icons according to Entertainment Weekly, Henderson has worked as a talk show host, a cooking show host, she authored the book Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond, and worked as a certified hypnotherapist. Additionally, Henderson was a commercial spokeswoman for brands like Oldsmobile, Wesson oil, and Polident. And at the age of 76, she even competed on Dancing with the Stars!
Her later film works include The Grandmothers Murder Club about “Four older women who kill people–but they deserve it!” Henderson said. And she appeared in the parody Fifty Shades of Black with Marlon Wayans.
The advice she often gave to kids was: “Keep a cool head and keep a warm heart. And always remember those who helped you on the way up.”