In launching my Los Angeles acting classes, I met with a talent manager in Los Angeles, to try to interest him in sending me some of his clients. I was struck, nay, dumbstruck, by one of the things he said to me.
“I don’t need my people to be that good. They just need to be able to, you know, have a conversation.”
He meant have a conversation in a scene, as in, talk and listen naturally. This is what it took for them to be able to book. The rest of getting acting jobs wasn’t really about acting.
That Tinseltown works in this way is hardly news, but I was surprised that he would speak in this way to a stranger about the people he represents.
At any rate, I understand that for purposes of getting work, this may be enough. If what you want is to be able to land jobs in Hollywood, then finding someone who can teach you to do this, and only this, may be enough for you. And there are lots of people around who can teach you that (lots of people who can’t, too, but I won’t go there.)
I had a conversation with a professional soap opera director years ago, on a date, if you want to know, and he told me the secret of his success: everyone working in soaps KNOWS that what they are doing is unadulterated schlock, but they ALL want to believe that THEY bring that spark or creativity or originality to what they are doing that elevates their little corner of serial daytime drama above the churning morass of mediocrity it usually is. He found that if he let them believe that he saw this in them, he would earn their undying gratitude.
The point of this is that getting in the door is great. But the novelty eventually wears off, and then you are in the position of having to deliver. If the only people you want to make an impression on are the people who think believable talking and listening is enough, then, well, you deserve what you get: a perhaps long, but probably undistinguished career as a serviceable working actor. However, if you want to be someone who leaves people wanting more, in particular the people who want to make movies and cable series that leave viewers wanting more, if you want to be able do something memorable, something that inspires people, that adds something to their day or night, in short, something that means something to someone for longer than the time that they watch it, well, you need someone who proposes that acting is more than believable talking and listening. Believable talking and listening are essential, but it’s totally possible to be believable and natural without being compelling.
Not to mention the fact that if you have embarked on acting as a career, as a profession, you need to take seriously the fact that it is your responsibility to find ways to keep it fresh and challenging. You cannot expect the projects you get to do this for you, much of the time. Occasionally yes, but anything you do for a living is in danger of becoming a chore with time. Finding ways to keep yourself interested in what you do will prevent burnout. It would be terrible to work hard for years to penetrate the Hollywood membrane, only to discover that you just don’t like doing it that much anymore.
This is another reason to look for someone as a teacher, like me, who proposes that acting is an endeavor that asks for much more than believable, passable talking and listening. Someone who claims that acting involves the simultaneous exercise of empathy, imagination, agility, spontaneity, and discernment. It is ultimately up to you whether you have the resources to find the interest in ANY job you encounter along your path, whether those around you see that interest or not.
The talent manager who I talked about at the beginning of this piece suggested, none too subtly, that what I was offering could be dismissed as “academic.” Given the professionals that I have studied with and worked under, I was at a loss for words as to how to respond. What I WISH I had had the presence of mind to say was “Oh, well, I guess that academic training worked out pretty well for the likes of Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Frances McDormand and the other Yale School of Drama alums who have had distinguished Hollywood careers.”
Oh well. Next time.