Friday, March 26, 2010

You know that dream everyone has where you’re back in high school and it’s final exam week, only it suddenly dawns on you that you haven’t been in class all semester, have no idea what you’re going to be tested on, or even where your classroom is and you’re going to fail miserably and why-oh-why aren’t you more organized and prepared?

Yes, that one.

Last night I created a variation: I dreamed I was in New York and had a 3:15 p.m. appointment for an audition, only I didn’t have my monologue with me and I couldn’t remember which one I was going to use or even all the words, so I got in a cab and tried to find a bookstore thinking that, hey, it’s only 1 o’clock and I have time, only the cab gets lost and I can’t remember the address where I’m to audition and I’ve muffed my big chance and they’re never going to let me audition in New York again!!! (shriek!)


Well, at least I wasn't naked.

The weekend is here. Shooting through Monday night. I must say that working seven days a week certainly helped me drop the 10 pounds I was trying to lose. Have a lead on a web series in its third season that has parts for older actors. Checking on it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Watched Louis Malle's Au Revoir, les Enfants last night - an engaging and thought-provoking film - and was again struck by how difficult it must be to direct children and get a natural and touching performance. Children cast in American television seldom capture anything that looks like genuine childhood, but perhaps it's because they are shown talking too much and thinking too little. What I mean is, and I’m sure there’s a term for this, Malle keeps the adults’ and children’s visible emotions to a minimum, allowing the viewer to project his or her own emotions produced by the story onto each character. Julien doesn’t cry, the viewer cries. Shona Auerbach achieves a similar result in her wonderful film Dear Frankie.

I’m becoming increasingly aware of this in films and working hard to tone down my own performance so that I get less “acting” and more being. Interestingly, I’m finding that film directors seem to respond very positively to that, saying things like “I like that subtle thing you’re doing.” This is, of course, exactly the opposite advice I was given for stage work, where directors said they wanted an all out, eat up the scenery audition because it was easier to tone that down than to ramp up a performance that was too low key. All I can say is that it must take a tremendous amount of experience and confidence to move easily between stage and film.

It’s warming up. Scouting out some film work for the summer as the two short films I’m working on are wrapping up. Not as easy to find roles for older women, but something will turn up. My employer is casting an industrial for a physicians’ association on Hypo Sexual Dysfunction Disorder. I’d ask to do the doctor part, but I think I’d get the giggles. Not good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Got a call from the local PBS station about jumping in last minute as host for a web series they’re taping for the Department of Education (a friend in the business recommended me). On three hours notice I just couldn’t do it. (Rats!) They may be looking to sign on rotating hosts for the series, however, so still a potential opportunity at some point down the road. Concerns that this might get me off message though.

Getting a pass this weekend this 25-minute film being shot up in Maryland. I’m not in any of the scenes so I can sleep late and run errands. Last weekend I was on set or en route from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Monday I had a drama class after work downtown that involved setting up to do another short film. This one involves a hostage situation cop scene – comedy, although my part is more ironic than comedic. (The important thing is I get to use the BIG prop gun. My “partner” gets the small one.) Fun to rehearse, but by Tuesday I was really beat.

Finished the Mark Viera book on Irving Thalberg and am now deep into Foster Hirsch’s book Acting Hollywood Style. Both of them (and my experiences in class) have me thinking about the need to create a recognizable personal image (or brand as they say in marketing circles these days). Every actor has a look, a sound and a pattern of behavior that forms the basis for getting his initial foot in the door. I need to find mine.

The old studio system, which was in existence from the 1930s to the 1950s, did a lot to help actors find their personal brand. It wasn’t just having a stable of stars under contract and putting them in as many films a year as you possibly could (although some studios did that and many actors certainly felt they were being used that way). Thalberg raised the “system” to an art form by viewing actors as raw material that studios invested in, mined, refined and protected to ensure that they retained maximum value. He would put up-and-coming actors in a variety of roles in low budget films and then track the fan mail. When he saw a spike in interest he took another look at that particular picture and role and tried to analyze what the actor was projecting that appealed so much to the audience – and then he’d put the actor into more of those kinds of roles.

That approach had the huge advantage of helping an actor to find his niche fairly quickly. Until an actor finds that he or she shows up in a lot of unsuitable roles. Take The Conversation, where Harrison Ford plays a corporate CEO’s stooge – smart but hardly the smart-aleck who endeared himself to Princess Leia. Or The Big Clock, a rather plodding murder mystery from the 1930s, starring Charles Laughton, where Harry Morgan plays a glowering thug with no lines – Harry Morgan who eventually wound up in a raft of successful comedic roles in television series from December Bride to MASH. I watched Evelyn Prentice a few weeks ago, a groaner with William Powell and Myrna Loy that introduces Rosalind Russell as a helpless, soft-voiced society woman in distress. This was a standard-issue portrayal in scores of films being made around that time, but one that completely obscures the brassy, loud-mouthed personality that made Russell a star. The movies are full of eventually great actors in initially bad roles.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because from time to time I find myself frustrated in class by a drama instructor who seems to think roles are one-size fits all or that I will learn something from trying to “act” a part that is radically different in age, gender, or personality type. (Yes, I guess I can roll around on the floor and play a baby, but where does this get me in the long run?)

So, the immediate goal is to find my niche, my recognizable brand. My height and voice seem to make female authority figures a natural fit, but it’s too easy to play those cold and come off like Louise Fletcher. That would be a bad move; if there’s no warmth, audiences don’t like you (and I don’t think they liked her unfortunately). I’m trying to be sensitive to the warmth issue and create a more nuanced authority figure, adding irony, vulnerability, intelligence, layers of personality, but without taking those elements so far that I lose the authority. Having decades of life experience, I think I can do that.