Know Your Movie History

February 8, 2013

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Aspiring actors can do all the right things traveling along their career path: learn the craft, gain experience, rehearse lines, post quality headshots, honor punctuality, etc.. But what happens when a director in the callback says, “We’re looking for something along the lines of Bette Davis ,” or “Put a little Atticus Finch in there?” Would you know what they’re talking about? Or would this sound like adults jabbering in a Charlie Brown special? (And if you’re not sure what that sounds like, well, either you’re very young or I’m very old!)

The theater arts deal with an agonizing array of personality facets. Even if an actor is being cast as, say, a cop, he or she will be asked to portray a distinct quality that defines that particular officer. And sometimes adjectives like “quirky,” “nonchalant,” or “naive” just don’t cut it. If the casting director is older than yourself, he or she may refer to something or someone beyond your years. On the other hand, even if the casting director is the same age or younger than you, he or she may be well-versed in all things film and TV: we’re talking a voluminous knowledge of actors, directors, studio history–you name it.

If you’re an actor who knows their entertainment trivia, this is your chance to shine! Besides the obvious ability to communicate effectively, you’re also able to demonstrate you have a thorough knowledge of the industry and take your career seriously. For those actors with less command of the epic annals of Hollywood, you could be in for an awkward situation. If you’re asked to act “along the lines of Mary Tyler Moore and you’re wondering if she’s Mandy Moore’s sister, you’ll have to make an on-the-spot decision about how to handle it. There are two basic choices: A) Admit you don’t know who she is and respectfully ask for specific qualities Mary Tyler Moore exhibits; in this case you may seem uninformed and may even insult the speaker; or  B) Pretend you know exactly who she is, and commit to faking it. If you start portraying Mary Tyler Moore with an essence of Courtney Love, then you’ve just verified you’re misinformed or too insecure to admit you don’t know what in the Hades you’re doing…or both! But, with a little luck, you may succeed and come off as the girl who can turn the world on with a smile! (If you don’t understand that reference, it’s good you’re reading this blog.)

This contretemps could just as easily happen to a more mature actor who’s asked to draw inspiration from a newer, younger artist.

So, what would you do? Or, has this happened to you? How did it go? Please share!

Either way, it’s wise to become as well-informed concerning entertainment history as possible; this is your career, and the more you know, the more you grow. Besides, it’s always a good day when you can cozy up on the couch, watch a movie like The Graduate and call it legitimate research.