4 great bits of advice
Never limit your character’s capabilities
I always cringe when I hear an actor say, “My character wouldn’t do that.” It is such an artistically limiting statement. Who knows what anyone would really do? How often in life do you observe friends, people you know, doing things that are out of character? I see or hear about things like this all the time. In fact, I defy you to point out a day in world news without a story of someone doing something horrible that everyone agrees was completely out of character. The reason the stories are in the news is because people find it fascinating. It stuns them. Why? Because we are fascinated by the things people do that seem out of character. Why is this? Because the things that people do that are in character are generally not as newsworthy. The more out of character the action the more fascinating and newsworthy it is. It is a more fascinating story.
If you would accept the fact that the things done out of character are often more fascinating than the things done in character, then you would have to accept the fact that what makes it fascinating is that we don’t know people as well as we think. You’d also have to accept the fact that anyone is virtually capable of anything. If you have any difficulty agreeing with that last statement, I’d ask you once again to follow the world news for a few days.
So now, can you see how silly and limiting a statement like, “My character wouldn’t do that” can be? Statements like that generally speak to actors ideas of how they think their character should be directed. But here’s the thing, the only thing that’s really important is the collaborative effort to tell the story as well as possible. That means that everyone writers, actors, directors, and producers are all on the same page with wanting to do whatever is necessary to tell the best, most entertaining story, they can. If it adds, entertains, and moves a good, clear story forward, then we should all make the choice to put it in. If it doesn’t , if it isn’t useful, if it’s perhaps confusing or superfluous, or doesn’t add or enhance the direction we are collectively going in, we don’t use it.
Every time actors tells me they can’t come up with the reason why their character would do or feel a particular thing, I tell them I will give them 10 reasons right on the spot. The only thing an actor should limit his character’s actions or thoughts to is this; nothing. Since we can prove that anyone is capable of anything why on earth would an actor limit his characters capabilities?
It’s very simple, the actor comes up with their rendition of their character but remains open and is capable of integrating into their character any choice, action or thoughts that will be good for the story. The most engrossing and interesting stories told are the ones which remind us that we don’t really know what we think we know about other people.
Be open for the twist, it’s always more interesting to play and much more fascinating to watch.
Actors tend to show too much. This is because they want to make sure they’re being clear and that the audience isn’t missing a single nuance in their performance. While this is understandable, it’s also unrealistic. In life, most people don’t concern themselves with whether or not everyone in the room is getting every nuance of what they’re feeling.
In real life, if we had five cards in our hand that explained what we were about, most people would reveal one card, maybe two. An actor with the same amount of cards will flip over all five over as if transparency were a virtue in acting. Wrong. Transparency is boring and uneventful. The fact that most people tend to keep a few cards covered is what makes them more interesting and mysterious. It keeps the audience interested and more importantly, it keeps them awake.
In life, I try to be clear about what I need to be clear about in order to get what I want. As for the rest of it, people can take a guess. Most of the time, people guess well. People are smart enough to figure out what’s going on between the lines. It makes them think. It’s what draws the audience to the performance. Audiences love to figure things out. They enjoy connecting the dots.
Actors feel obliged as storytellers to make sure they’re telling their story clearly. Unwittingly, they end up betraying the reality in their work by behaving in a way real people don’t. They say one thing and not so subtly indicate something else. They clear their throat right before they, “make something up.” They pause too long or stare too long or stumbled too much and it’s all done to subtly underscore a message being secretly sent to the audience by the performer. But it’s neither subtle nor secret. Worst of all, it’s a message that need never be sent.
Audiences revel in the small revelations they experience as they are made to figure out what’s actually going on. They chortle with delight when they, “figure it out.” Have faith that the story, as it honestly unfolds, will give the audience all the clues they need. A treasure hunt is never as fun if the clues make it too easy.
If you want to do the real deal, fully connect with the other actor and don’t worry about who’s watching. Don’t worry about whether or not the audience is, “getting it.” Do your scenes as you would in real life and trust that the audience will connect the dots.
Creating real tension in a scene
The invisible line that is crossed whenever tension fills the room. Social customs, manners, etiquette, and acceptable behavior all stack up, just on the inside of that line. Whenever this line is crossed, whenever this boundary is breached, everyone in earshot is aware. Like in the old West, it is the moment the gunfighter stands up and flips his jacket back revealing his six shooter. Someone has a problem with something, and it’s going to need to be addressed. The air gets thick with anticipation. What is going to happen next?
In life, the amount of tension that can be felt at times can be gut wrenching. Similar scenes acted out don’t seem to create that same thickness in the air. The audience doesn’t quite feel the same tension one feels in a real life circumstance. Oh sure, we understand the story and we know that a particular moment is meant to be tense but I’m talking about the tension you feel when some, almost innocuous short phrase slips out that stops the room. As an observer you feel the air gets so thick you could cut it with a knife and at that moment you wish you were anyplace else. Why don’t we feel that same thickness in the air when we watch a play or movie?
In real life, society’s lines and boundaries are always present. They are a given. When you act, unless you impose them and are hyper aware of them, they do not exist. Poof! They disappear. There is no line to cross; no boundary to breach. The reason they disappear is because deep down the actor knows there will be no real consequence for their actions onstage. There are no real ramifications or repercussions. The actor will be able to be as mean, as rude, as cutting, as inappropriate as he wants to be, and the worst thing that will happen will be the other actors pretending to be scared or hurt. The air never gets thick. The audience never feels the same tension they would feel in life.
There is only one way to make these moments of real tension, palpable. You have to impose the same penalties on your actions you would encounter in life. You have to take responsibility for crossing the line as you would in life. In life, there is a funny little thing that happens to you when you’re about to cross the line. You realize you’re about to breech some etiquette, some form of social order. You are aware that you are about to hijack the current situation and divert it. It’s a brazen move and you know deep down once you make this move, things may change forever. You may never be able to go home again. But you don’t care. The thing you need to do next has become more important. Things are about to radically change and you’re willing to suffer the consequences.
Tension can’t be acted. Tension needs to be provoked. It needs to be prodded. Impose the same standards on your character as you do on yourself. Most people hate confrontations. When they are pushed to the point of having to confront, you can always feel there distaste for having been put in that position. The toughest guys in the world get nervous before a fight. Because the consequence is real and they know they will have to live with.
Actors need to make their work more personal. The more personal it is, the more sensitive you become to the material. The more sensitive you are to material, the more likely you are to be honestly provoked. This is how the air thickens up.
Between the words, “Action” and “Cut” you want to be the type of actor who takes it all very personally. You want to be the actor everyone else is a little intimidated to work with. Other actors are intimidated because when you’re in a scene with them and argue or criticize, or chastise, you never go easy. Your onstage confrontations seem more caustic, more hurtful. It’s because you actually seem to mean everything you say. It’s not the way you read your lines; it’s more than that. It’s as though you actually believe everything you’re saying and worse still, you mean it.
If you want to create tension, you need to pull the gloves off when you act. The other actor needs to believe you have crossed the acting line and are actually taking him to school, or to task in front of an audience and with no holds barred. You may have been friends before the curtain went up, and you may be grabbing a beer after, but right now you’re giving your friend the business and he’s feeling it all the way down to the soles of his shoes.
Remember, creating tension is never a result of the volume. It is when intention clashes with the order of things. Make sure your character is as aware of lines and boundaries the same way you are in life. Be hyperaware when you cross them and you’ll create real tension. Just like you do in life.
(Crossing the line creating tension)
Being the CEO of your career
When you confront a problem in your career take a step back like a wise CEO and assess it from all sides. Don’t be the lazy actor who is always complaining and blaming their current state on everyone else. Complaining becomes the lazy actor’s vocation and it’s so easy to do. You can relax on your front porch, complaining while rocking in a chair and sipping sweet tea. Complaining about the problem takes the place of correcting the problem.
Actors don’t become stars by complaining their way to the top although, they have been known to complain their way to the bottom. Being a smart, detached CEO means being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses for what they are. Try not to look at your self through rose colored glasses just because you’ve been intimate. Don’t be unnecessarily harsh either. Just be reasonable and honest with yourself. Ask yourself the question, “Why would they benefit in hiring you over someone else?” Your answer can’t be because you would promise to do a really, really good job. Everyone says that one. You have to be smarter than the rest of the highly inpatient mass. In 21st-century show business, you need to be a sharp, measured CEO.
Look at the market and use your logic to guide you into making the best moves. Accept the fact that the industry is overrun with way too many actors wanting far too few jobs. How do you separate yourself? How do you get noticed? How are you different and why is your difference so good? Anticipate where most of the mass is charging the wall and come up with a better point of entry that’ll better suit someone of your skills. Think outside the box. Don’t worry about how everyone else is doing it, come up with the best way for you. Blaze your own trail. Make up a new way to get where you’re going.
Don’t be the lazy actor who never acquires skill because it’s not a prerequisite to apply for the job. These types flood the market. If you really want to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd, get really good at what you do. This will immediately make you stand out. Don’t kid yourself, this industry loves talent. The hard part will be to have you work seen once you’re ready but, once they see it, the industry does recognize talent.
Avoid discussing how good you think you are. The truly talented ones never do. Their work always speaks for itself. These are the real actors, the real artists; they don’t go on and on about how good they are. They just get up and do it. They let their work, like the gunslingers pistol, do all the talking.
Be a smart CEO, get your talent in a training program and develop standout skills. Don’t rely on other people to get you where you want to go, figure it out for yourself. Take control of your career like an ambitious CEO and find the best way to get your product to market.
(Sample chapter: A big black monolith)
(The Real Life Actor on Amazon)