Backstage Interview

‘The Real Life Actor’ Author Jeff Seymour’s 2 Things Actors Should Never Do

Jeff Seymour is an actor, a teacher, and now a writer. With a career spanning decades—35 years to be exact—Seymour’s done it all. With success in both Canada and the U.S., Seymour’s starred on shows such as “Being Erica,” “Jeff Ltd.,” and “Show Me Yours.”

He’s also started and operated a theater, the Gnu Theatre, and written, directed, and starred in the film, “Rave Review.”

But something was always missing for Seymour. After a successful run in Canada that lasted about 11 years, he returned to Los Angeles, which he says felt like “Superman returning to Krypton—you have no superpowers, you can’t fly, you have nothing.”

What Seymour did have, however, was his ability to teach—coming from a family of teachers—and a nag to write a book that just wouldn’t quit. He wanted to write something “that presented a stream-lined alternative for what [he] thought was a better method of working for those who want professional careers.”

The feeling persisted. “I said, ‘Jeff, if you don’t put something down, for whatever it’s worth, and at least offer up these findings, that would be a shame.’ ” And when he was done, Seymour admits, “I actually started blubbering. I’m embarrassed to admit it but it’s the truth!”

What he ended up with—nearly 20 years in the making—is “The Real Life Actor,” which is “not just about acting, it’s about everything: how to conduct yourself, how to handle the pressure of the business, [etc.].”

As just a sneak peek of the advice Seymour offers in his book, here are two things he suggests actors never do.

Don’t overthink things.
“I’ve spent [years]—most of the time teaching—telling actors most of the time, ‘You’re thinking way too much and you’re working way too hard,’ ” says Seymour. “Let me give you an example.”

“I always express the [question]: How much preparation does an actor need? You know what’s going on in the scene, you’ve studied that. You know your lines. It’s an emotional scene; you’re about to confront your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. They’re about to come through the door. How much preparation [do you need]? And I’d tell an actor, ‘I don’t know maybe a second.’ Why? I would always use life to try and draw examples that people can relate to. If you and I were talking and you had an ex-boyfriend or ex-friend, it doesn’t matter who, that you had a horrible falling out with, and suddenly they walked in…how long does it take a human being to completely change and click into this next thing? It takes a half a second, it’s not even a second.

“And so when you tell an actor that they have to do a whole bunch of things before they can do something else, I feel that disempowers the actor, because in real life—and what I do in my classes—I tell you, you can make up your lines in a second. And when you have that kind of power, that’s actually more what you need on a set.”

Don’t wait for others to create opportunities for you.
“If an actor really wants to make it in the business I’d say figure it out on your own. Create things, write things, make shorts, get involved, take it upon yourself,” says Seymour.

“And if you have an agent then consider your agent like a lottery ticket—if you happen to get a job with them that is fantastic; that’s wonderful, and not that you won’t and it won’t happen— it’s happening right now as sure as I’m speaking. But the point is that you’re gonna be better off in this day and age of electronic media if you’re able to make these movies on your iPhones. Create your own stuff. Make your own way.”

Learn more about Jeff Seymour and read sample chapters of “The Real Life Actor” here.