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So you want to be an actor and why not, it does seem pretty easy these days, just win one of those reality shows, get your picture in the paper and online and off you go. There are additional ways, what we used to call the dreaded casting couch, ie sleeping around with the right people and it’s no problem. Well my friends let me tell you that is NOT the way to go, any of it. One or or all of those ways could work, but believe me it wont last and what’s the point, if you want a proper career in the industry. None of those routes will build you a lasting career, the respect of your peers, which you will need and the stamina to stay in the race. What you need is some training, body and voice, some experience, preferably on the stage, to give you amazing confidence and inside knowledge, lots of luck and a great sense of humour. Get your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!
Picture by Evelyn Wood.
So you really DO want to be an actor!! If you’re reading this after my last blog about acting, you must be one of those with the love and the passion, in other words The Bug. Good for you, if you have that, you have the basics for a proper career. Hopefully you will have the talent too, we actors are blessed with talent in varying amounts. Some are blessed with the kind, that will nearly always will send them soaring to the top. The rest of us will have enough to give us a fairly steady career as a good jobbing actor. However do not forget my friends that we all need a bit of luck! So I wish you luck and Bon Voyage on your acting career!
So let’s look at your options. Please, please get some training. If you’re in or able to get to one of the recognized drama schools, go. You will learn the basics, put down the foundation on which to develop your talent. I say get yourself to one of the better schools as this is where you will really learn. There are dozens of places put there who will happily take your money, promise you trips to Hollywood, New York, London for a glittering career and give you exactly nothing. Usually the reason is they know less than you do, only how to take your hard won cash. So first do your research! It is vital you know what the training schools can really offer you.
I was lucky, I lived in London, in a relatively small country the UK and knew that there was only about three academies to choose from and I got into one of the best, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art…RADA. I had to audition, you will for most, but the better the school the fiercer the competition. Apart from me, a few other people went there! Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Tom Hiddleston to mention a few!
I know today the fashion is to tell all young people that they are wonderful. But this is no help to you in a brutal profession like acting. This will be your first lesson in toughening up and toughing
it out. More to come …..stay tuned!
Work hard, study hard.
So off to school we go, I hope. It’s a long time since I went to RADA, but learning and controlling your assets was one of the most important aspects. By assets I mean your voice and your body. Learn how to project and control your voice, I dont care whether you’re using it on Stage or in Film, if you want to get your performance to get across to your audience, they need to be able to hear what you are saying! This point seems to be a bit lost on many modern actors and I read in the paper the other day, that one eagerly awaited Television show had to use subtitles, in the language they were transmitting in, because the actors were mumbling so much and the public was complaining in droves. If you as an actor learn how to control your voice, up or down in volume, you will never have a problem. And speaking comes with breathing properly. Learning to sing, whether you are pitch perfect or not, is a wonderful way to full voice control! Moving your body and being in contol of your body has equal claim on your training. The gym, dancing, fencing isn’t just about losing weight and staying fit, it’s about being in control of your body, so that it will obey you when you want it to. These are your tools, to work your talent. Train them and use them and look after them. Those are the basics…keep them fit and practised and you are the Boss.
This might help: Voice and Speech in the Theatre by Clifford Turner, a great voice coach.
Breathe…the Breath of life, the breath for your voice, for your career, to calm your nerves, your stage fright, breathing is the answer. No doubt you know already that the right breathing techniques are vital to your work and your voice and the control over your performance.
I will go on about being heard, until you are sick of it and it is nothing to do with how loudly you speak, but how much control you have over your voice, starting with your breath. Breathe from the diaphragm and let the words flow on that breath. You will be amazed. I am not sure that places like the Actors Studio were so concerned with the right breathing and body techniques, but I do know that if you learn these basics, they will become second nature, like going to the gym and when you come to the stage of building your character, your body will be in your control and at your command.
The right breathing is the basis for so much and the technique can be found on the Net, just practise them. The one thing though to remember is to deep breathe from the diaphragm and never shallow breathe from the chest.
Just remember ‘Head in the clouds, Feet on the ground’ as in Thoreau ” First Build your Castles in the Air and then put the Foundations under them”.
If you want to be an actor, you should watch James Lipton, who does wonderful interviews with many of the good and the great who are currently successful in the business. You will learn a lot, plus have the odd laugh and generally enjoy hearing the actors talking about their work and experience.
The TV show “Inside the Actors Studio” (1994) has become a substantial success. In the more than 12 years that it has been on the air, the craft of acting has been discussed by the show’s over 200 guests who have included Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Tina Fey, Robert de Niro, James Gandolfini, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams, Jake Gyllenhall, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, Cate Blanchett, Martin Scorsese and Dustin Hoffman, to mention but a few. The show is viewed on the Bravo cable channel and is seen in 125 countries.
James Lipton is a man who loves the business and loves the talent, whom, it seems love him right back. He talks about their careers and their craft in a lively, searching and intelligent manner. There is no gossip, maybe the odd funny ‘on the set’ story, but nothing like the salacious, horrendous rubbish that is currently gracing our Internet,Televsion, newpapers, magazines. You will learn nothing about your chosen profession about much of the current media, but you will learn about by watching Mr Lipton. He is one of a very rare breed, who interviews these actors out of real interest and is not trying to build himself, his brand and his show on the backs of these talented people. He wants to know about their work and wants you too, to watch, enjoy and learn. You will learn a lot from those actors who are currently doing it! It’s getting more difficult to hear their real voice as most of their interviews now are done by people who are trying to be the ‘star’ and the actor is being interviewed to promote a film or a TV show and rarely are they asked an interesting question.
WATCHING THE BEST.
You will learn a lot about acting by watching the best do it and when someone tells you that they can’t tell if you’re acting or not, you’ve ‘nailed’ it. It will change from take to take on film and on stage, but every good actor knows when they’ve ‘nailed’ it and when it isn’t quite right. And right means believable, truthful, honest. One of the most riveting performances I have seen lately came from the uncredited Robert De Niro, in the small part of the infamous gangster Meyer Lansky or someone based on him in the film AMERICAN HUSTLE Anyway it’s a mesmerising performance and young actors, and old, if you want an acting lesson watch this. Mr De Niro has been offered and played some fairly uninteresting roles of late, but he is at the top of his game in this film. It also goes to show, that you do not have to have the biggest part or star in a film/play whatever, to demonstrate your talent, if you are a proper working actor. There are so many talented actors in this business and some have been lucky and focussed enough to make it to the top, but never forget the others, who can work and make a living as an actor. One more quick story, told to us, when we were making THE LION IN WINTER, by Katharine Hepburn. She was filming GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER with the late great Spencer Tracy. They were filming a simple scene when he orders an ice cream at a drive in store. The scene started, but the young actor playing the server did not realise that Spencer Tracy had started ‘acting’, that he missed his cue and did not deliver his line, that’s how real and believable Mr Tracy was.
Work hard, study hard and watch the best.
OK Everyone listen to this…Over Easter the BBC put out a new production, in the UK , of the great book by Daphne Du Maurier JAMAICA INN. Over 2 million people ( a lot by UK standards) settled down to watched it… AND over a million people turned it off. Why? BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT HEAR THE ACTORS. I have banged on about this before, but if the audience can’t hear you, you can’t engage it and the viewers are NOT interested in you or any of it. The BBC huffed and puffed and said it was sound problems, but it wasn’t, it was untrained actors or at least under trained and Producers and the Agenst should learn a lesson from this. Be sure the actors you engage can speak and be heard.
Mumbling actors became all the rage after James Dean and Marlon Brando came on the scene. They were wonderful, they were real and they talked naturally. However although it seemed like a mumble, you could hear everything they said, because they were trained actors and Brando had done a lot of theatre work. And so many untrained actors now think that to be believable you have to speak very quietly. Do we do that in real life? No. Do we speak in a voice so low that our friends, family, co-workers cannot hear us, NO, we do not mumble and whisper in real life, why do it on film? Again this comes from the idea that if you are a theatre actor, they shout (no they do not, they project) so that everyone in the theatre can hear them. For film you just bring it down a notch, but you still project as you would in real life, but at a more normal level. When you are trained you learn how to breathe, to speak and use your breath to speak…it’s just a different level for film or theatre, but the technique is the same. Here I am on stage with Keith Michell in THE KIN’GS MARE…not shouting, although I had to sing, not one of my strongest features