Came across this piece recently in the Hollywood Reporter, in which the remarkable Chloe Grace Moretz is profiled. She’s had a big year: she starred in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, and also in the much anticipated remake of Suspiria. She is a truly gifted actor; if you’ve never seen Let Me In, the British remake of Let the Right One In, do yourself a favor.
Anyway, one of the things I liked in the profile was her discussion of coping with anxiety:
Do you still struggle with anxiety?
Meditation has really, really helped me, and just getting on a workout schedule. Working out is something that really helps with my anxiety. But I know that the minute I fall off of that, for sure.
But I think as a woman, it’s very difficult to deal with the hormonal fluxes that we deal with monthly. I deal with so much anxiety hormonally from my cycle. Your cycle doesn’t know when you are going to be on the red carpet for a gala. So partner that with a lack of sleep and jet lag, and it’s like a total spiral.
So for me, I just make an effort to make sure that I give myself 30 minutes a day to walk away. That just means shutting a bathroom door and just standing there for a second and focusing on my breathing, and focusing on my brain, and reconnecting to my heart and understanding who I am. That gets rid of the anxiety for me. But I think that, yeah, as an adult, it’s never not going to be a struggle. There’s so much societal influx around you, and there are so many people who need something from you.
Performing is a kind of test: we want to be found to be a good actor when we’re done. In that sense, our identity as an actor is at stake every time we do it. This produced anxiety in many of us, and we each have to go on our own journey in learning to contend with that anxiety. A former student and working actor I know created a whole regimen that she does before every audition to help her with her anxiety, a regimen that involves yoga, eating bananas (for the tryptophan), and even medication.
What I liked about Moretz’s comments is that they remind us that success doesn’t mean the end of anxiety. In fact, it can often exacerbate it: if I screw up now, everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve will be taken away. So finding out how to face down the demon of anxiety is something that most of us performers will have to contend with our whole lives long. It’s not something that we graduate from. I remember hearing a story about Josh Brolin and George Clooney making plans to get together at Clooney’s house to work on the Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! together. Brolin, so the story goes, drove to Clooney’s house, parked in his car, and then sat in the car for an hour trying to muster the courage to go in. When he finally did, he confessed his anxiety to Clooney, saying “I’m scared to work with you. You’re George Clooney.” To which Clooney replied, “I’m scared to work with you. You’re Josh Brolin.”
Moretz’s open discussion of her struggles with anxiety is generous in that it makes room for the rest of us to feel ok about having similar struggles. If someone with her talent and skill still feels scared, then it’s no wonder that we sometimes do as well.
JACKSON: (As character) One of the most important things to being successful is listening and watching and being a good person to work with, easy to work with.
Listening to reporters talk about the devastation in historic Atlantic City, home of Grace Kelly, I can’t help but think of Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder’s great comedy on the human race’s prospects for survival, featuring dinosaurs, an ice age, and the boardwalk.
Here’s a picture of an Oregon Shakespeare production:
I recently had a Zen teacher visit my Essentials class to teach sitting meditation (zazen), and to talk about Zen and creativity. It was a great evening all around; the students really enjoyed the teacher’s insights, and he found the group to be very open and eager to learn.
The teacher presented a quotation from a Zen teacher named Kosho Uchiyama from a book called Opening the Hand of Thought which I wanted to share:
The persimmon is a strange fruit. If you eat it before it is fully ripe, it tastes just awful. Its astringency makes your mouth pucker up. Actually, you can’t eat it if it is unripe; if you tried, you would just have to spit it out and throw the whole thing away. Buddhist practice is like this too: if you don’t let it really ripen, it cannot nourish your life. That is why I hope that people will begin to practice and then continue until their practice is really ripe.
He also brought with that quotation another quotation, this one from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I have quoted more than once on this blog:
There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything.
So keep learning. Keep working. Keep asking for what you need.
You never know what might happen.
“I’m proud that I’ve been very dedicated to my craft. There aren’t many days when I go to sleep wondering if I could have done more as far as preparation or work or effort,” Roddick said. “So that makes it easier to walk off the court and be proud.”
Andy Roddick’s interview after his recent loss at Wimbledon.
h/t Brandy Zarle
From an enlightening piece in the New York Times:
Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.
Stanislavsky famously defined acting as “the life of the human soul receiving its birth through technique.” More basically, acting is bringing a kind of life into a being, it is coming alive. The above excerpt from the Times article is highly suggestive of the profound importance for acting. The actor wants to come fully alive, and reading provides a way of coming alive not only to actualities, but to fictional things as well, to a land of make-believe. We tend to think of acting as a physical activity, as something that we “do”: speak, move, gesture, grimace, etc. But all of those things are of interest largely because they illuminate inner movements: movements of thought and feeling.
In some sense, the actor works to allow these mental activities to manifest themselves physically, in movement, in speech, in expressiveness. However, if there are no mental activities to manifest, nothing much is going to happen in the physiognomy of the actor. Receptiveness and sensitivity to the power of words (scripts are written in words, after all) is an absolutely critical skill for any actor, and there is no better way to develop this receptiveness and sensitivity than reading.
We are prone to think of acting as a fundamentally extroverted activity: actors express things, we are told. And there is truth to this: acting is nothing if not manifesting some inner life. But much depends on the richness of that inner life, and that points to the “introverted” side of acting. Actors must possess a kind of practical psychological insight, in order to get at what “makes someone tick”, they must possess richly the sensitivity to language that I previously described, and they must be comfortable in trafficing with the unreal, with the imaginary. In that it depends on both extroversion and introversion, acting is a very special, if not totally unique practice.