Comments that professional actors have made about their craft.

Jeremy Strong on preparation

Jeremy Strong of Succession fame had this to say:

“Most of acting is about preparation, so that if you are armed with a visceral understanding of this character, you can get to set and essentially just play and be in the moment. And I’d say or do anything formed by that understanding.” – Jeremy Strong

This resonates with something Al Pacino said:

“A lot of acting is private time.”

A lot of people are attracted to the playing and being in the moment part of acting, but as Strong says, in order to do that playing and being in the moment effectively you need to have an understanding of the character that is visceral, that lives in your gut. In my Los Angeles acting class, a big part of what I teach is how to do that preparation to achieve that visceral understanding. It starts with the Five Questions framework, in which the actor is asked to identify and organize the given circumstances of the character as provided by the writer. The actor can use his or her imagination to extend and enrich those circumstances in a process called “fanning the flames.” The Five Questions culminates in the question of what the character needs, and we try to a identify a “hot”, visceral need that the actor can pursue as the character. Then I teach the actor the processes of particularization and personalization, so that he or she comes to know the world of the character and the character’s experience intimately, with sensory richness, and comes to care about what makes up that world in the manner that is appropriate to the character.

All of this is the instrospective work of the actor. It’s the work that the actor does alone. It’s the daydreaming and the thinking. It’s what orients him or her to be ready to play and be in the moment on set.

Jeremy Strong on preparation2023-05-24T13:27:15-07:00

Jake Lacy on how ‘The White Lotus’ reminded him that ‘the funniest thing is the truest thing’

The relevant discussion begins at about 12:00.


A couple of interesting things here.  First of all, Lacy’s insight that “the funniest thing is the truest thing.”  Someone once remarked that “comedy is serious business.”  What I take that to mean is that the humor is found through the deepest possible commitment to the given circumstances.  By taking the character’s situation to heart as seriously as possible, the actor finds the humor.  This recalls for me an earlier post I did on something Michael McKean of Better Call Saul said:

I don’t think that a comedy performance—You know, it’s essentially the same job, no matter what. You find out what your character wants and then you go for it. That’s really how to do anything. They’re just going to write more jokes for you if it’s a comedy.

Finding out what your character wants emerges from the given circumstances, so it all comes back to those.

The other thing is in reference to Lacy talking about

the honesty of someone seeing something they didn’t think they’d see and not knowing what to do and just being like– ahhhhh!

This reminds me of something I read recently in Isaac Butler’s book The Method How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act. Butler was talking about one of Stanislavsky’s associates, Vakhtangov, and the classes he taught in the wake of Stanislavsky’s creation of “the System”.  Butler says that Vakhtangov’s classes centered on “focus, relaxation, and naivete”.  The mention of naivete caught my eye.  Lacy is talking about someone encountering something surprising and being genuinely disarmed by it.  This is a challenging thing to achieve, as when we work on a script, we know what is going to happen in the scene.  Yet somehow we must be genuinely surprised by surprising developments.  I often find myself asking actors to allow themselves to be more surprised by something someone says. and I think this is because the foreknowledge that comes with having read the script is often more difficult to overcome than might be expected.  So the actor needs this naivete, this ability to “not know” what is going to happen next.  This in turn puts me in mind of the book Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, or the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn of the Kwan Um School of Zen, who taught the importance of cultivating what he called “don’t know” mind.  When we “know”, we close ourselves off to the reality of what is happening.  The actor needs this ability to “not know” in order to stay truly open to the moment.


Jake Lacy on how ‘The White Lotus’ reminded him that ‘the funniest thing is the truest thing’2023-05-19T14:00:02-07:00

rami malek on playing freddie mercury

NPR did a nice interview with Rami Malek about his work on the role of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. I particularly like this bit:

Malek speculates that the singer’s showmanship sprung from a desire to find his place in the world. Born in Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury had buck teeth and was called “Bucky” by most of the kids at the boarding school he attended in India. When Mercury returned to Zanzibar after boarding school, the country was in the midst of a revolution and his family had to immigrate to London. “At that point, trying to identify himself, [he] feels like a fish out of water,” Malek says.

But in front of a crowd, it was a different story: “When [Mercury] gets out on the stage, he holds everyone’s attention and says, ‘Hey, I may have been an outcast and a misfit, and I may feel like I don’t belong, but here on this stage, we belong together,'” Malek says. “It is the most beautiful thing to see realized.”

You see what he did there? He identified a couple of gaping wounds from Mercury’s past (having buck teeth and being teased for it, having to immigrate to London as a young adult and feeling like a fish out of water) that produces a need (for belonging) that he as the actor can pursue throughout the film. This is exactly how we break things down in class: we look at the character’s past to identify moments or periods of profound loss (which we call gashes or tumors, respectively), and also moments of triumph or completeness (which we call trophy moments), and then try to articulate what the need is that arises from those past events. In this way, we find a need that can be pursued under all circumstances, which we call the underlying objective. Then the question arises, with regard to a particular scene: how can this underlying objective be productively pursued in the situation of the scene?

No wonder Malek was so good!


rami malek on playing freddie mercury2023-05-19T14:00:51-07:00

on acting in comedy, according to Michael McKean

Came across this gem in a Slate interview with Michael McKean of Better Call Saul:

I don’t think that a comedy performance—You know, it’s essentially the same job, no matter what. You find out what your character wants and then you go for it. That’s really how to do anything. They’re just going to write more jokes for you if it’s a comedy.

And he should know:

Like Odenkirk, McKean is best known for comedy, with a career that stretches from Laverne & Shirley through his roles in This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Clue. But his dramatic talents are on full view at the moment, both on TV and on stage, where he’s appearing in the Tony-winning production of The Little Foxes at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

The defense rests.

By gdcgraphics, CC BY 2.0, Link


on acting in comedy, according to Michael McKean2023-05-19T14:03:07-07:00

advice from Phillip Seymour Hoffman

“Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money. Do plays. It’s not worth it if you are just in it for the money. You have to love it.”–Phillip Seymour Hoffman

advice from Phillip Seymour Hoffman2023-05-19T14:08:34-07:00

on not judging the character, Tom Hiddleston as Loki edition

I’ve been indulging myself with the relentlessly posh miniseries The Night Manager, and as a consequence I have read a bit about the star, Tom Hiddleston. I came across this:

Is Loki a villain or an antihero?

“Ha ha. Well, every villain is a hero in his own mind. The key thing about any character I play is I have to start from a place of compassion, my stepping into the silhouette comes from a place of attempting to understand his point of view, so even though he is and has been regarded as villain, antagonist, antihero, in my mind as I play him I have to fight in his corner…. Having said that, from an objective intellectual standpoint, he is a deeply mixed-up cat .

Sound familiar?

Hiddleston clearly feels very strongly that compassion is at the center of his work as an actor, as is evidenced by this video:

and more on approaching Loki with compassion:

At the end of that last interview, Chris Hemsworth asks him how he knows so much about this. Maybe he learned it during his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), one of the world’s great drama schools?


on not judging the character, Tom Hiddleston as Loki edition2023-05-19T14:16:42-07:00

Morris Chestnut: “I always try to get better. I still see acting coaches.”

Terrific interview with Hollywood veteran Morris Chestnut. And speaking of chestnuts:

Interviewer: Morris, you’ve had such a longstanding career in TV and in movies. What do you attribute that to? Some actors, you know, have a hard time sustaining their careers, but you’ve had such a long career. Why do you think that is?

Morris Chestnut: Wow, I think there are a number of different factors. I believe, for myself, a) I try to be a nice person. I come to work on time. I try to be prepared. But I think first and foremost, is I always try to get better. I still see acting coaches. I still go to acting classes. Even if I’m not in them, I go to watch them, because, I think as an actor, the more experiences we have, the more we need to be able to incorporate them in our work and use them for our work.

I know a lot of actors, once they get a movie or once they get a show, they think that, that’s it. They’ve made it, they don’t need a coach, they don’t need an acting class, they’re good, but I feel that every actor can always continue to get better. I mean, Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, he had a golfing swing coach. Michael Jordan had a coach. So, you know, I would say first and foremost, you’re just continuing to try to get better each day.

So much wisdom in here.

Like that whole always-trying-to-be-better thing, which I wrote about in discussing Gary Marcus’ book Guitar Zero:

The second prerequisite of expertise is what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice,” a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect. Sooner or later, most learners reach a plateau, repeating what they already know rather than battling their weaknesses, at which point their progress becomes slow.

Or take the whole every-actor-can-always-continue-to-get-better thing, which I have discussed in blogging about Josh Waitzkin’s remarkable book The Art of Learning:

So one of the first important distinctions Waitzkin makes is between different theories of intelligence. We all have a theory of intelligence, that is, a picture of what our mind is and how it faces challenges. Here he is on the two types:

Children who are “entity theorists” — that is, kids who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to think in this manner — are prone to use language like “I am smart at this” and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain thing to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve. Incremental theorists, who have picked up a different modality of learning– let’s call them learning theorists — are more prone to describe their results with sentences like “I got it because I worked very hard for it” or “I should have tried harder.” A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped — step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.

Waitzkin goes on to cite a study by developmental psychologists that beautifully illustrates the hold that these theories of intelligence has over the minds of learners:

a group of children was interviewed and then each child was noted as having either an entity or a learning theory of intelligence. All the children were then given a series of easy math problems, which they all solved correctly. Then, all the children were given some very hard problems to solve– problems that were too difficult for them. It was clear that the learning theorists were excited by the challenge, while the entity theorists were dismayed. Comments would range from “Oh boy, now I’m really gonna have to try hard” to “I’m not smart enough for this.” Everyone got those problems wrong– but evidently the experience of being challenged had very different effects. What is most interesting is the third phase of this experiment: all the children were once again given easy problems to solve. Nearly all of the learning theorists breezed right through the easy material, but the entity theorists had been too dispirited by the inability to solve the hard problems that many of them foundered through the easy stuff. Their self-confidence had been destroyed.

Or the whole I-try-to-be-prepared thing.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I think that was from a shampoo commercial in the eighties. But it’s undeniably true. And showing up prepared is the best hope any of us have for making a good first impression.

Thank you, Morris Chestnut. Very inspiring words.

Morris Chestnut: “I always try to get better. I still see acting coaches.”2023-05-19T14:17:41-07:00

Glenn Frey and acting

NPR had a nice appreciation this morning of Glenn Frey of the band The Eagles, who just passed away.

Apparently he was an actor as well as a musician. Who know?

Glenn Frey also acted. He was in the movie “Jerry Maguire” and on the TV show “Miami Vice”.

But something else in the piece caught my ear.

In 1980, Frey quit and the Eagles broke up. Don Henley said they’d reunite when hell freezes over. Glenn Frey went on to a solo career, with hits like this one.


FREY: (Singing) The heat is on.

ROBBINS: Glenn Frey also acted. He was in the movie “Jerry Maguire” and on the TV show “Miami Vice.” Then, in 1994, the Eagles did reunite for the “Hell Freezes Over” tour. In 1998, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Glenn Frey told the audience he thought their disagreements were overplayed.


FREY: We got along fine. We just disagreed a lot.


FREY: Tell me one worthwhile relationship that has not had peaks and valleys.

Exactly. Acting is fundamentally about engaging in pretend relationships. And there is nothing more definitive of longstanding, significant relationships than peaks and valleys, as I have written about previously.

One important means of lending depth and substance to an imaginary relationship is to bring imagination and specificity to the defining moments of a relationship, the major milestones that I mentioned. How did the relationship come into being? What were its origins? What were the high points? The crisis points? How were the crises overcome, so that the relationship survived? Making these little short films of the imagination is a great way to begin to give the relationship a specific gravity. It’s backstory, yes, but not a more or less arbitrary stream of factoids strung together into a “”backstory” or character bio; it’s backstory that focuses specifically on the defining moments of the relationship, its origins, peaks and valleys. We can call this process particularization of the relationship.

So, thank you, Glenn Frey, for the music, and for reminding us of the importance of peaks and valleys!

Glenn Frey and acting2023-05-19T14:24:16-07:00

what Christian Bale regrets

interesting find:

Since a young age Christian Bale was very ambitious about attending Drama School, and auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and the Central School of Speech And Drama at the age of twenty. He was accepted to all, but was convinced by his parents to continue working instead. To this day, he regrets not attending drama school for his personal passion of learning his craft.

He seems to have found his way ok, but it’s interesting that as late as 2013, post Dark Knight Rises, he still had this regret.

what Christian Bale regrets2023-05-19T14:27:56-07:00
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