A Better Actor

Over the years I have been asked quite a few times how someone can become a better actor. While there is no easy answer to this question, I can go about it from the reverse and explain what I have seen on sets that makes much more sense, especially since I’ve lived/seen it.

So, as it always comes down, let’s create a little list of things and put some perspective on it:

  • MEMORY. The first thing to concentrate on is your memory. You need to be able to have time to sit and concentrate on the importance of your career, if acting is indeed your career. That means you should bulk up your memory in order to be successful. There have been numerous times on the set when an actor is not prepared or basically ad-libs (improv) their lines. Sometimes it’s acceptable. But, the Director and Producers are taking note of how well you’re not only prepared, but able to read from the materials. And you’re insane to think that you can improve the material on your own (make up your own lines). Usually a script has gone from a Writer to a creative team, then to a Director and Producer(s), then back to a writer for improvements, then back to all of these people, and completely approved all over again. So, what makes you believe that you’re going to make it that much better by adding your own lines? You’re not. And you’re not impressing anyone, either. But, many times on the set you’ll find Directors who will “go with the flow” only to be mentally recording your ineptitude. So build up your memory.
  • CLASSES. So, you’re an actor right out of the box. You’ve learned and studied on your own and have worked on several projects with much “success”. Bullshit. You are doing an injustice to the system and to your career if you think you’re above taking some classes to help grow yourself and your career. Many times I see people who think they have it all figured out. Whether they’re a bus or cab driver, secretary, nurse, or doctor to make ends meet, they still need that structure in their life. And the ability for someone to coddle and scold you is even more important. But, better than that, you need to be able to play off of like-minded people in creating anything that you do in filmmaking. Very rarely do people become actors without guidance. And very rarely do those people who got a “lucky break” go without eventually seeking out classes to better themselves. If they do, they’re foolish. And if you’ve made it this far without even one class in your life, congrats! You’ve now been selected because you’re either being stereotyped into roles (ie. you’ll always be a gangster or cop), or because you’re just right for those productions that need people to populate their movie for free or on the cheap.
  • PAY ATTENTION. Learn everything that you can about the craft. Acting is one of those careers that doesn’t offer much help without paying for it, so do things that are going to help your career, not hurt it. Realize that there is always something going on around you and pay attention to that. Or rent some movies and pay close attention to the methods utilized by the professionals. It never hurts, but only helps. Just don’t lose yourself to those endeavors.
  • OPEN YOUR MIND. Without having an open mind, you’re locking yourself out of much potential. Being closed-minded, or more importantly unwilling to do what the character might need, is only going to keep you from shining. If the role calls for you to spit at someone, make it a loogie. If you’re supposed to show off your charm, make that actor across from you desire you in every way imaginable. And if you’re supposed to play the leader of a hate group, make the targeted audience (and potentially other actors) hate you for what you’ve portrayed. If you need to say the N-word because it’s that important to the role, especially for a hate group, say it with conviction and without remorse. Everyone knows that you are not that person, and that you are only acting. And the more powerful you can come across – the more that people around you hate you for your great portrayal – the more you’re going to get praise and recognition.
  • LIVE YOUR LIFE. Make sure that, outside of acting, you’re living your life. It reminds me of the scene in Tropic Thunder starring Ben Stiller (who I don’t really appreciate as an actor) and Robert Downey Jr, where Downey’s character (inside a character) tells Stiller’s character, “You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.” Same applies here. Never go full actor. Make your life enjoyable outside of your acting career. Visit museums, parks, and other states. Get out and enjoy your life. And while you’re doing that, make sure you see what life has to offer. Watch people and their reactions. Live to find out what others live like. And later, when you’re about to dive into a role, use those thoughts and images in your portrayals.
  • READING. This also goes back to the number one thing about memory, but reading is going to help boost that twenty-fold. In this fast-paced, action-packed world, we’re more about reading something that is 140 characters long (think Twitter) and less on reading a good book. We want everything spoon-fed to us, and that’s bullshit. Hit up a library or bookstore and buy yourself something to keep you occupied. And, if you find that you can’t keep with the material, start reading it and then acting it out in front of a mirror or in your living room. No one knows better on how to get a book read than you, but try some of this advice.
  • BUY A CAMERA. Now, I’m not trying to put myself out of a job here, but get yourself an inexpensive camera. My suggestion (at the time of writing this) is to buy a Canon T3i. You don’t even need to buy expensive lenses or anything… Just use the lens that came with it. Now, figure out how to record video and DO ACTING IN FRONT OF IT. Nothing will prepare you better for being in movies and television better than doing it alone.
  • UNION or NON-UNION. This question always comes up, but not usually to me. And it’s a good one. You trade off things when you make this consideration, and some are good and bad. For instance, if you remain non-union, you’ll be excluded from specific (union only) gigs. Paying, I might add. But, you’ll have the ability to work on so much more, simply because there are more non-union roles available to take. Belonging to SAG/AFTRA has a few benefits, though. You’re required to be paid (unless you choose otherwise), have access to insurance and health insurance, and you can always find jobs if you know where to look.  But being a part of the union means that you’ll have to do as they ask, be an active member, and lose out on casting calls and auditions that are looking more for non-union people. (And yes, most of the time management looks down on people in SAG/AFTRA if they’re only looking for non-union folks. And for different reasons.)
  • DON’T F*CK WITH THE MANAGEMENT. You should NEVER approach the management of a production with your ideas or “insight”. And certainly NEVER EVER demand something from them. If you’re in a position to request something in your contract, fine. But if you’re looking to change the course of a production, have ideas about changing something on the official website, believe that there should be episodic commercials made for episodes that already exist in the world, or feel that you’re doing a better job at something, keep it to yourself. SHUT YOUR MOUTH and realize that you signed on to act, not be a part of the management! You signed on to be UNDER the creative control of another. Do not think that you have the ability to request or demand something just because you’re a (replaceable) actor.
  • GO WITH THE FLOW. Which leads me to the last part of this sermon… Just go with it. Be as open and accessible to the people you are working with in order to make the production work. If they ask you to change something, be okay with that. (Unless you’re not okay with that, because being asked at the last second to get naked isn’t cool… Well, unless you’re cool with that.) If you can prove that you’re not only a great talent, but you have the ability to go with the flow, you’ll see more work in the long run. You’ll gain more respect by being open and available to many things, and I promise, that can only be a good thing in the long run. Most Directors and Producers do not want to take advantage of you, but things happen, usually at all the wrong times. And that is when you can become an asset.

This is just a beginning of helpful advice you can receive over time as an actor. Many of these are excruciatingly important. And some are very important. But all-in-all, they are important and should be heeded by every actor to ever have that title.