Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Actors must always believe something WONDERFUL is about to happen

You have to be an optimist to be an actor. You get great reviews in a play, or your film wins an award, and then for months you get nothing and begin to wonder if you're on anyone's radar.

What keeps me going through the down times is the persistent belief that something wonderful is about to happen. Like now, for instance. For the past week I've been obsessed with organizing the house. Clearing out closets and attic storerooms. Hauling unused items to the thrift store, junk to the dump, trash to the curb. Cleaning out the basement and setting up a space to tape auditions. The last time I felt this obsessed with the nest I went into labor!

So what else is about to pop? A few nights ago I had this dream. I can't remember most of it, only the end where I walk to a picture window, pull back the drapes, and gaze up at that hill that has the #Hollywood sign on it. Only in my dream, instead of "Hollywood" it has "2014" in great big numbers.  Not sure what it means, but it felt way cool.

Auditions next week for a short film and an Equity play. Also lunch with my actress group. Feeling optimistic.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Look out L.A., I'm heading for the WebFest!

News just in that Rob Raffety's political comedy series CapSouth - which was shot over the summer with me in the role of Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright - has been named an official selection at this year's LAWeb Fest!  Naturally I'll be heading out to Los Angeles for the festivities and to connect with film industry friends in the area.

The LAWebFest is the world oldest and largest web series festival in the world. Last year saw entries from 33 states and 19 foreign countries. Workshops, networking, lots of good times. The New Year is already looking up.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An actress needs a little drama

With all the bustle of the holidays - not to mention the need to get out the door this morning to drive to a location shoot - I also have the pleasure of looking forward to appearing locally as Lady Stagg-Mortimer in a staged reading of #NoelCoward's anti-war (WWI) play "Post Mortem." It's one of Coward's lesser known and more vitriolic works, and as such not often staged (as it was here at King's College, Cambridge, in this old photograph.) But it's so good to appear in a drama, even briefly, and to dust off the old British accent.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Remember those who help you along the way

"Lights, Camera, Action!", the local arts & entertainment program hosted by Allison Howard here in the Washington, DC area, has aired Episode 2 and it is now posted to YouTube. The actors I appeared with illustrate the broad range of character types needed for film, television, commercials, etc.  But I also post it here because I think I did a good job of plugging the good people and productions I've been associated with over the years - #RobRaffety, Jonathan and Rick Robinson, #CapSouth, New River Media, #JamesFoley, #HouseofCards, #MollyParker, #MahershalaAli, Think Tank, #EricFelton, #BenWattenberg, and more.

Public appearances are a chance to say "Thank you" to those who help you along the way: directors, writers, producers, actors.  It's a good habit to have.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sexy or serious, and thinking long-term

Scarlett Johansson was named Esquire magazine's "Sexiest Woman Alive" a few weeks ago (for the second time).  Here's what she said:

"The 28-year-old cover star tells the magazine that getting older isn't all fun and games for a woman in Hollywood (shame on you for thinking it was), explaining how 'pretty soon the roles you're offered are all mothers. Then they just sort of stop."  Full coverage in the Mirror here.

Well, it occurs to me that if an actress projects largely her sexuality onscreen - i.e. the depth of her cleavage or the perfect roundness of her bum - then the bloom really is starting to go off the rose at 28.  But why does Hollywood do that to women?

Playing a "cougar"
Marion Cotillard tore up the screen in La Vie en Rose, a 2007 French biopic about the legendary Edith Piaf.  She was wonderful. Yet in the 2010 Warner Brothers Sci-Fi film Inception she is reduced to little more than an artfully positioned potted plant. Lovely to look at, but what a waste of talent.

Do British actresses hope to be named the "sexiest woman alive"?

I was thinking about this today because I met with a young woman filmmaker for coffee yesterday and she remarked that, in addition to playing congresswomen and executives, I could play a "cougar," a woman who makes a play for younger men.

Actually I took one shot at that last year for a pilot. It was played for laughs.  I prefer being a congresswoman.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Acting Tips: Defining the different acting schools

I've just come across an online post defining the different schools/approaches to acting.  It is as succinct as I've seen (original here) in outlining the basic themes, explaining that....

Adler is built upon Imagination
Meisner is built upon Immediate Experience
Strasberg (Method) is built upon Sense Memory
British is built upon Observation

"The Meisner system seems to produce actors that pay attention to their partner better. Some of the basic Meisner exercises include the YES/NO and various repetition and back-and-forth exercises that tend to 'bond' the actors together. "Acting is living life truthfully under imaginary circumstances". "The emotional life of a scene is a river and the words are the boats".

"The Strasberg system or METHOD system tends to produce actors that are a bit more tightly wound. The system is based on SENSE MEMORY, which is the process of recalling all of the attributes of an object, and EMOTIONAL MEMORY which is the process of recalling significant events and situations from the actor's past.

"This produces the best actors for Blue Screen and effects performances, but often at the expense of the actor's mental health. Stella Adler once said about Lee that "he would push people into spaces that they should not go without a licensed therapist present." Strasberg would often tell actors that they should get some therapy. Personally I feel the best improv exercises use sense memory. It catapults you into a sense of belief. PRIVACY IN PUBLIC. "Visualize a real situation in your own life and do your lines within that frame of mind."

"Stella Adler gives us the process of action verbs and is based on imagination as being the best motivation for a good performance. The imagination is very powerful in the presence of a director who loves to tell stories. " Get the verb of it, don't worry about the emotional thread".

"The British approach to acting is an odd one. Not that it doesn't generate spectacular performances or consummate actors, but rather is based on the actual achievement of acting. Rather than becoming the character emotionally or mentally, the British system actually emulates a character by adopting all of the physical traits and characteristics."

Let me jump in: the Brits get their character's voice and walk, for example, and then let loose their imagination. This approach has been described as "outside-in"and probably appeals to actors who, like me, are "thinkers" rather than "feelers."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Acting Tips: Method, Meisner....or is it possible there is something else?


I feel like I’m struggling.  Getting a fair number of film auditions, but not nailing as many roles as I should. Actors get a lot of advice when this happens, most of it vague and unhelpful.

  • You need to make bold choices (whatever that means).
  • Don’t rush your lines (but, on the other hand, avoid melodrama).
  • Just react (even if your scene reader is giving you dead lines).
  • Be the most interesting version of yourself (even if you got into acting because you don’t think you’re all that interesting).
  • Do it large (the director can ramp you down).
  • Don't do it large (they'll take you for a stage actor).
  • And (least valuable of all) if you didn’t get the part it’s not your fault; it’s because of a whole laundry list of reasons unrelated to how you did.

A film audition typically involves the barest summary of the story line and where your character fits.  The sides you’re sent to read could be satire, drama, farce….the words themselves don’t necessarily tell
you. If you’re auditioning for a small, day-player role in a big production, there won’t even be a character description, only a random title, such as “clerk #1.” This leaves you agonizing over those few lines and how to deliver them in the scene, because the director - who has bigger fish to fry - is not about to be bothered with any questions from you about your clerk character’s "motivation."

So I’ve been wondering if there isn’t a more nuts and bolts way of getting into a character, particularly for auditions, that would work under any circumstance…some general jumping off place.

Years ago, when I was working as a publicist for a Washington think tank, one of my tasks was to get the op-eds of young policy analysts published on the editorial pages of national newspapers.

The problem was, they didn’t know how to write op-eds.  They were used to expressing their thoughts in 20 pages or more, not in 500 words or less.  Telling them to focus tightly and to get to the point was about as helpful as saying “make bold choices.”

Well, I’m a problem-solver, and one day I sat down and spread out a half dozen published op-eds that seemed to be well-written and to the point, and I asked myself, what do these pieces have in common in terms of structure?  What kinds of information do they convey and where in the piece do they convey it?

It was a very mechanical way to go about it, but I found that – structurally – the op-eds did indeed have much in common. I started taking notes and I found that I was able to develop an outline for one approach to an op-ed that said this is the kind of information you put in paragraph one, this is what you put in paragraph two, etc. I can't say it was the best way to write an op-ed, and it certainly wasn't the only way. But following that outline, my young policy analysts started getting published and eventually they developed a style and approach to writing these kinds of pieces that was all their own.  The point was to first find a way for them to succeed and with some regularity.

So what I’ve been asking myself this past week is whether it’s possible to approach acting in that same way? To benefit by looking solely at what successful (even legendary) actors do in a scene, without necessarily understanding why they do it that way?  Just the mechanics.  Just a jumping off place.

I'm already seeing some commonalities.  Maybe there is indeed something there.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 30, 2013

I've been watching films, including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (because there are so many great British actors in it) and the quintessentially American Dr. Strangelove.  I'm going to be researching the British approach to acting, which I believe is quite different from the American way.  But for now, this is what I'm seeing in both kinds of films:

Line Delivery

1. Classically trained actors enunciate. You can understand every word.
2. In a dialogue, classically trained actors hold their gaze/expression still while the other actor is talking. When the camera turns on them, they think their words, take some action/reaction, and then they speak their words.
3. Classically trained actors pause – A LOT!

  • They make a slight but distinct pause between sentences. 
  • They pause before dependent clauses introduced by prepositions. 
  • They pause before and between lists of things.
  • They pause after interjections: “of course,” “actually,” “nevertheless,” etc.
  • Before emphatic descriptions and declarative statements.
  • For thoughtful emphasis, they pause between nouns and verbs.
  • They use pauses to breathe and to think the words of their next line.

4. They repeat words (stammer) to convey urgency/anxiety/doubt.
5. They hold their gaze at the end of a scene unless directed otherwise.  (The editor will love you for that!)

Movement

1. In long scenes, classically trained actors find some prop that they might logically pick up and have in their hand, which avoids random arm-waving while talking. (See George C. Scott fiddling with the gum package in the war room scene in Dr. Strangelove.)
2. If the scene seems to call for them to bend over to do something at the end of a scene, they fiddle with the prop and stay in frame instead (click/screw pen, feel edge of axe) unless directed otherwise.
3. Classically trained actors are not afraid to put their hand(s) to their face and to cover all or part of their face while talking.
4. They tap fingers rapidly to convey anxiety (on table, in palm, on ribcage, etc.)
5. They indicate for emphasis. i.e. they went that-a-way (point).

I will add to this as I see more.....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Picking up one of those "As Herself" credits

Taped an episode yesterday of "Lights, Camera, Action!," a local arts & entertainment discussion program hosted by actress Allison Howard.  It was great fun and an "As herself" credit for IMDb.  Also appearing on the program were actors James Bacon and Firas Natour.

I've lightened my hair (We all become blondes eventually, right ladies?) and this is the first time I've gotten a good look at the new shade.  I think I'm beginning to like it, although in going from almost black to a light honey brown I had to totally rethink my wardrobe and the colors that look good on me.

Anyway, the episode will air on local cable in three weeks and I'll be posting highlights.
Post taping (L-R): actor James Bacon, me, actor Firas Natour,
and show host Allison Howard

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Acting Tips: Important new feature at Actors Access

Actors Access, the casting section of Breakdown Services, has an important new feature for actors that is likely to fundamentally change the tools we make available for casting. Each headshot on your Actors Access profile can now include a 7-second clip of you slating to camera and in effect creating a "moving picture" of you for casting purposes.

Another option, however, and one that I've taken instead, is to take a 7-second clip from a past film and simply slate it on screen in print. You can actually grab quite a bit of dialogue and convey what you really look like in different roles and from moody interiors to sunny exteriors.

If you have a profile at Actors Access you should take advantage of this. They charge $5 per clip (first one is free) but you can upload but yourself, which is a big improvement over their arduous process for reels.  (My Final Cut Pro X editing software is again proving invaluable.)

I wonder if the broader pool of actors available because of video audition capability means that casting directors have less time to look at reels (rats!) and at the same time are too wary of relying solely on stills, which are often overly photoshopped.

In any case, below is one of my drama clips so you can see what is possible in 7 seconds. I'm going to post one slate to camera just to have it available, but my other 5 "headshots" are going to be screen grabs illustrated with the 7-second clips.

I think this is an exciting development as I've always thought my headshots were attractive but too limiting. They never seem to fit the role I'm submitting for.

Have any of you already taken advantage of this new feature and posted clips?  What is your view on this feature?  Is this going to make $500-$700 headshot photos obsolete? We can only hope.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fame and Patricia Bright


I'm a great fan of old radio shows (the acting is wonderful!) and sometimes I hear someone who's so good it makes me think "Whatever happened to......?" Such was actress Patricia Bright, who I heard for the second time yesterday on a January 12, 1941 broadcast of a show called Behind the Mike. She was only 19 at the time, and an up-and-coming actress with stars in her eyes.

The bit for the show was an audition for two well-known talent scouts. She presented a dramatic monologue and then did a very funny routine demonstrating how to play ladies of different nationalities, using the appropriate accents – English Cockney, Scottish, Russian, etc. She was terrific and, not surprisingly, the talent scouts praised her performance and said they would have no problem submitting her for work.

Patricia Bright's "Oscar"
I always wondered what happened to her. She was so talented. But there is little beyond her IMDb listing of a few roles in early TV (and a couple of old photos being auctioned this week on ebay).

But the Internet is a wonderful tool for finding things and as it turns out Bright's daughter-in-law, Cindy Waitt, has a blog where I found a lovely retrospective on the actress's life. (You can read it here.)

I learned that her only Oscar was a prop from the Janet Gaynor/Frederic March version of A Star is Born, which she had won in a contest. That she had filmed a scene for Woody Allen's wonderful 1987 film Radio Days, a favorite of mine, only to have it cut. (At least he wrote her a nice note.) I learned that she was a funny lady who had a stage act and could do a drop-dead impersonation of Katharine Hepburn.

I also learned that she extended her career doing voice work. In fact, Waitt tells a very funny story about Bright leaving "a recording studio furious about a bad audition.  In the days of pay phones, she picked up the receiver, deposited a dime, intending to call her agent and chew him out, and was startled to hear her own voice, telling her to deposit more money.  Bright had done the recording for the phone company."

Sadly the talented young actress did not have the big screen career one would have hoped for. Marriage and children intervened, and in a field that requires full focus and determination, it's hard to retain both a marriage and a career. She retained the former. Still, I would have loved to have seen her impersonation of Hepburn. It must have been priceless.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Acting Tips: Learning from actor audition tapes

I'm one of those actors who never sees much benefit from audition classes....probably because I've never understood the phrase "make bold choices."  Like what the heck is that?

But watching top-level actors auditioning for roles they got (or maybe didn't get) is gold free for the mining.  I've figured out more about auditioning from that than anything else.

YouTube has a lot of audition tapes and other tapes can be found at various sites online. Below is Steve Carell auditioning for The Office, and here's a link to more.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Acting Tips: Your acting career doesn't hang on a headshot

I don't often just repost an email, but David Patrick Green of HackHollywood.com, has a particularly wise piece of advice this week that I'd like to share. For actors, dealing with career anxiety comes with the territory (Here is a very funny spin on that at Buzzfeed).  We are frequently told to keep ready headshots, business cards, a change of clothes, etc. and to be prepared to jump on a set at a moment's notice.

When we don't, this is typical: One anxious actor wrote to Green that he'd "made a mistake last night. A personal manager of one of the biggest A-listers asked if I had a headshot and resume on me so he could have it for possible future opportunities. I did not have one on me!!! I usually do, but I did not last night. Mistake, yes. Career ending mistake, no, but possible missed opportunity."

Here's how Green responded: "I actually think the fact you didn't have your headshot on you is a good thing. First, anything is good if you know how to make it good, but in this particular case it illustrates a couple of things. First, it illustrates how actors generally have a desperate mentality....like because you didn't have a particular item at a particular time that it's going to make any real difference in your life and that there aren't a million opportunities always presenting themselves over and over if we simply put ourselves out there. You are putting yourself out there so that is the main thing.

"But we actors need to get ourselves out of the mindset that if you don't have a headshot with you it means something. I think the opposite is true. If you think you need a headshot with you all the time, it means you are terrified that you are not enough on your own. A headshot is a representation of you for people who either don't know you or who do know you and now know you for a particular part. Some guy at a party is neither of these. He has met you so he doesn't need a pic to know what you look like. He took interest in you so he has something in mind for you.

"Does that end because you aren't a walking office with pen and paper and headshots and demo reels on you? Not at all. It's almost comical to think it would make any difference at all in your life. He liked you, not your picture, so all you do is follow up with him. To think he will do anything with your headshot anyway after one meeting is fairly optimistic. Most of these people throw around favors like they throw around cocktail napkins. It's only in the follow up that you will see if he is serious.

"What people are interested in (or not) is you. Everything is about relationships, not pictures, so focus on getting to know him and him getting to know you. That is what will stick. Take him to lunch, help him move, play tennis, babysit his kids, whatever, but forget the headshots. That is a weak surrogate for developing a relationship, but it's a great out for people like that to end a conversation and feel good about themselves at the same time. Oh, you should give me your headshot...I will pass it around...whatever...see you later...If he says pop into the office next week, now you're talking.

"You don't need anything at a party except yourself. If someone takes an interest in you, it's just the beginning, not the end. If you don't have a pic, it's actually better because it forces you to have meeting number two to drop it off and you can see on Monday if they are serious or just a serious flake, which most are.

"You want to really see what you're made of? Don't even have headshots at all. Force yourself to live and die on your relationships and your name. Your agent can submit pictures, but they're pretty worthless with people who don't know you unless you have great credits, and then it's your credits, not your pictures that are getting you called in.

"Go headshotless for a month and see what happens. You will be amazed at the stares you get if you said 'I don't have headshots. I only work with people I know...'"

"Hacking is about doing things the right way and the right way is rarely the way everyone else does things. All those silly rules of thumb, like always carry a change of clothes and always have your headshots, are for people who think opportunities appear and disappear based on clothing and pictures, and that's simply not true. Anyone who won't hire you because of those things isn't worth working with anyway, because they don't know what to focus on, which is your work and your work ethic, not your picture and the fact that you have a lab coat in the trunk.

"You got me fired up because I know you are smart and you will see the light here. Stand on your own two feet. You aren't your headshot. You are either great or you are not great, but what you have on your person does not change that. Someone is interested in you. Great, let's talk. If they ask for your picture, they don't want to talk and by giving it to them, you are basically handing them all your power by saying, 'OK here it is. I hope you can help me,' when in fact your mentality should be, 'Let's meet and I can tell you how I can help you!"

You know, that is very smart advice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

#CapSouth wraps Season 1

Taped the Season 1 finale of CapSouth, the web series about the antics of Congressional staff, i.e. those who really run Washington. Since yours truly plays their nemesis, Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright, and we taped in a popular DC pub, it required me to essentially be "in-character" through the four hours it took to shoot my scenes. Whew!  Pretty tiring.

The series has a fine cast though and it was a lot of fun. As I tweeted earlier today, I'm an introvert and a non-drinker (well, a rare drinker) and the scene involved me giving a nearly 5 minute speech to a big crowd in the pub announcing my intention to run for re-election - oh, and it had to be funny. I was feeling a little pressure.

Here I am with the principal cast.
(L to R) R. Michael Oliver, Kathryn Browning, Andrew Heaton, and Naomi Brockwell
  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shona Auerbach is back!

My husband and I were up last night watching director Shona Auerbach's 2004 film Dear Frankie for about the 20th time. This is a brilliant and moving film, beautifully shot, and incredibly her first attempt at a feature, having made a slew of commercials and one short prior. (It is quite possibly the best role ever for Gerard Butler, who plays The Stranger.) Written by Andrea Gibb, produced by Caroline Wood, a lyrical score by Alex Heffes (composer on the just released Escape Plan), the film won raves at the Cannes International Film Festival, BAFTA and London Film Critics nominations, and a slew of film festival wins from Bulgaria to L.A.

I have searched the Web repeatedly over the years for word of her and any follow-on projects.  Nothing. I had this sinking feeling that something terrible had happened to this incredible talent, because she had seemingly vanished. Last night while watching Dear Frankie I got out my laptop and gave it another try. And there she was!  She has a website, which you can see here, and a new film Rudy that just finished shooting and has a Facebook page here.

I sent her an email, thinking it would take a week to get passed through her London film agent. Surprised to get a response back from the director herself within minutes. Extremely happy to see her back in the game. Can't wait to see Rudy in theatres. Wow!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grabbing and sharing your actor clips


Technology is playing a larger and larger role in our lives as actors. Not only do we share our demo reels and send taped auditions via the Internet but we also – after we’ve gotten that coveted role – use the Internet to grab our performance clips off of the films and television shows in which we appear.

Uploading and Sharing Video

Taping an audition, as I’ll be doing later today for an HBO series, typically means shooting a big HD file and then creating a smaller size or different type of video file that can be uploaded to the Internet and then pulled down by your agent and the casting director.

Here are some low cost/no cost options for creating and sharing smaller files:

1. Try Mpeg Streamclip, which is a free program that you can learn about here and download here in versions for Mac and Windows and others. I use this and find it super easy to create smaller files of sufficient quality to share with agents and casting.

2. Open a free account at Vimeo.com or Wistia.com, where you can upload your video files to share and also create smaller file versions that can be downloaded by others.  I have a Vimeo channel and like the quality and versatility better than YouTube. Some casting directors will ask you to upload to YouTube, however, so it's good to have both.

3. If you edit on a Mac with Final Cut Pro X, as I do, you can use your compressor. Select the YouTube video settings, then change the size of the video to 50 percent before exporting.

4. Try a program called Handbrake. I haven’t tried this one, but it came highly recommended.  You can learn more about it here and download it here.  It's available for Mac and other platforms.

5. If you're using Mac OSX 10.8, you can create a smaller file with Quicktime. Just open your video and go to file/export. In the drop down menu in the bottom of the dialogue box choose "iPod Touch & iPhone 3GS" or "iPad/iPhone 4 & Apple TV."  This reportedly works great and is very fast.

Need to send a video file?  Try WeTransfer.com, which will send files up to 2 gigs for free, and larger files through a paid account. Better than DropBox.com, in my view. Very easy and fast.

Of course, for an actor the bigger issue is snagging performance clips for your reel.  Since I have some TV performances coming up, I put this question to my online actor group.

Getting Clips from Film and Television

When an actor is just starting out, the biggest problem can be getting clips from student films, which can sometimes involve chasing down the student’s professor and making a formal appeal. I never had to resort to that fortunately. All of my student filmmakers behaved like pros, posted the finished video, and sent me the download link.

Footage from feature films and television gets trickier unless you make friends with someone in production. To get performance clips from these, actor Michael Alban suggests using a program called Video Clone. You can download the trial version for free and capture up to 5 continuous minutes of streaming video to test it. If the clip you need is more than 5 minutes, you can pay for the full version to get longer clips. It’s easy to use and the footage looks decent, he says.  You can access it here.  I suggest doing a test run first to make sure you're getting the quality you want.

Michael says an easy software program for pulling clips from non-streaming sources is Mozilla's Firefox browser with the Video Download Helper add-on. You can grab any file that's on Youtube and on most other sites. With VDH, you're grabbing the actual file since it's directly available to you, whereas with streaming video, you're making a copy. Find the Mozilla VDH link here.

Net Video Hunter, available here, was recommended by another Mac user, but reportedly would involve a second step through Mpeg Streamclip to get it to an editable version.

If anyone has gotten good results by getting their clips through other programs, please let me know.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

CapSouth continues to gain media attention

#CapSouth, the new online political comedy about the antics of the Capitol Hill staff of yours truly (as Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright) continues to gather media accolades: the Washington Post, Washington Times, Morning Express, Politico (full page spread with photos), RollCall (twice), The Hill, and online at Cynopsis.com 7/9/13 and Comedy TV is Dead.  Creator Rob Raffety also got a radio interview with CBS radio affiliate WNEW here in DC and a write up in his hometown paper the West Virginia Gazette.  I think that has been more attention than even House of Cards got - at least from the inside-the-Beltway press.

"Gracie," by the way, is very media savvy.  She has her own Facebook page for responding to "constituents" and tweets at @HonorableGracie.  Episodes of CapSouth can be found online at YouTube, and I appear (so far) in episodes 2 and 5.  We'll see where this takes us.  Will it prove a hit or be too inside baseball for the rest of America?  Here's the latest episode.



Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Atlantic gives the lowdown on awful blockbuster movies


Cinemas full of loud, dumb, crash-bang movies is why my husband and I are spending Saturday nights this summer staring at each other instead of gobbling up popcorn. The Atlantic just weighed in on why thoughtful film buffs can expect more of this schlock....it's all economics and a foreign market that has developed a taste for it. (The French loved Jerry Lewis films, remember?) See the full article here.

Let's hope that Netflix makes a ton of money with brilliant programming like House of Cards. (More please! And not just because I got a few lines.)



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Acting Tips: Writing your Actor Bio

Actors often have trouble writing their actor's bio, which is probably why Playbill bios tend to be folksy/cutesy. We feel awkward and self-conscious, and it shows.

Gwyn Gilliss has an informative piece on the topic in Backstage this week (you can see the full article here) that gives useful guidelines that sound right on the money.  I will say that having been a professional writer I still managed to miss most of this, so my next task this morning is rewriting my bio.

Here's Gwyn's step-by-step advice:

Paragraph 1: Recent roles/Strongest credits. (Theater if you’re in New York and film/TV if you’re in L.A.) Try to use recognizable plays and roles, not just “showcases.” If you’re just starting out, you can include “representative” roles. Those parts from Shakespeare or Chekov done at school outweigh showcases of unknown writers Off-Off-Broadway.

Paragraph 2: Training. Don’t be afraid to name drop master teachers or prestigious drama schools, as well as directors you’ve studied with. If you’ve worked with “greats,” they will assume you will be great!

Paragraph 3: Recent work. (Switch what you included in paragraph one.) Include Indie films and appearances on primetime or daytime TV or include all major stage credits from Off-Off-Broadway to Broadway. Your credits tell them how to cast you and what roles you are consistently hired to play. Don’t include extra work—it's not considered a professional credit if you’re standing in the background.

Paragraph 4: Personal Life. Here, write about your interests, skills, travel, languages, or musical instruments—anything that makes you memorable. Elaborate don’t just list.

She also weighs in on style, advising actors to keep it short, avoid lists, give the "what" not the "why," and write in the third person and in inverted pyramid style that puts the most important information first.

Good stuff!

I would only add that somewhere in there - probably up near the top - you find a way to work in the three on-screen qualities that make you compelling as an actor.  For example, I'm often cast in power roles - judge, corporate executive, member of Congress - so my three qualities are "forceful, intelligent, pragmatic."  It can help in casting.

I would also advise that you downplay training as you build experience. Once you've gotten recognizably good roles, training becomes less and less important.

Monday, July 8, 2013

#CapSouth sees print in today's Politico

An actor will take good news wherever he/she can find it, and this is the week my horoscope said my career was going to take off! I know nothing about the movement of the planets but - so far - it's looking pretty darn good!

Check out the spread on my new political comedy #CapSouth in today's edition of Politico!  That's me as Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright in the photo at lower right, with the statue of former House Speaker Sam Rayburn. The series was created by Rob Raffety, and the cast (playing my Capitol Hill staff) includes NY comic Andrew Heaton, R. Michael Oliver, Allison J. Howard, Naomi Brockwell, Satya Thallam, Chris Mannix, and a host of others.

The CapSouth Marketing Team has been working overtime and doing a bang-up job.

July 8th spread in Politico

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright arrives in Washington!

Gracie arrives in Washington, DC, this week in the new YouTube political comedy #CapSouth. The nation's capital may never be the same.

Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright in #CapSouth     Photo by Lauren Shannon

Finding comedy in a scene

My new political comedy, CapSouth, is launching this week on YouTube. Whew, high tension!  It's already been written up in RollCallThe Hill and Politico, and rumor has it that an important announcement will soon be made in Buzzfeed.

I don't think of myself as a comic actress and, as I've said before, feel somewhat like I'm playing the Margaret Dumont role in a brilliant cast of Marx Brothers.

But there are tips even second bananas can draw upon to find comedy in a scene. Backstage magazine recently had a nice piece by actor and audition coach Michael Kostroff that outlined some of the frequently recurring elements to consider when approaching a comedy script. They are:

"Disproportion: an extreme reaction to a small problem; a small reaction to a huge problem; lots of effort for an easy task; little effort for a great task.

"Lack of self-awareness: an unattractive character who thinks he’s irresistibly good-looking; a drunk who thinks he’s behaving normally.

"Awkwardness created by obligations, such as manners, customs, etiquette, social norms, restrictions, or assignments: trying to stay awake while a talkative dinner guest overstays his welcome; hiding an embarrassing stain at an important job interview; Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory…look it up!

"Skewed status: a bossy secretary; a wimpy king; a snobby beggar.

"Wrong person for the job: an insecure psychotherapist; a squeamish surgeon; a tone-deaf backup singer.

"Recognizable human foibles: nervousness about asking someone out; dissolving at the sight of a baby; pining for food while on a diet; not making sense first thing in the morning."

There are many more elements than these six of course. For a more in-depth look at playing comedy, check out Scott Sedita's excellent book The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting and Writing, which is available in both hardcover and Kindle editions.

Now, on to the launch! By the way, my CapSouth character, Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright, has her own fan page on Facebook, where she responds to questions and comments from her "constituents." This is going to be a fun run.   

Acting Tips: Defining acting roles on your résumé

What am I?

I just posted a new television credit to my résumé, which again raised the issue of billing and how to officially define a role. Résumé credit terminology can be dizzying shades of gray and for years the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) had different terms for similar roles.

There are clues.  If you’re working a union television contract, your billing should be spelled out specifically in your contract.  If you have no contract or deal memo for your work, you can check the original breakdown for the project, as the billing for the role is often listed after the character description. You can also check with your agent or someone in production.

This is what I came up with, broken down by genre:

FILM

Lead (Star): The actor appears in most scenes in a role that is central to the story and without which the film would not exist.  His/her name is often in the on-screen credits at the beginning of the film, in addition to appearing in the complete end credits.

Principal: In film, this term refers to a speaking role, without getting too specific about how central the actor’s character is to the story. It has also been used to denote non-contract players who have five or more lines.

Supporting: The actor fills a principal role and appears in one or more scenes.  Although important to the storyline, the role is not a lead character.

Featured: The actor has one scene with one or more lines; not big enough to be a supporting role and easily cut from the final version of the film. If the role stays in, the actor’s name appears in the end credits.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role.

Background: The actor fills a non-speaking role with no on-screen credit given. Sometimes you will see the term "Featured Background," which means you're not in a crowd scene but clearly recognizable, i.e. standing next to the star. Either way, Background should not appear on an acting résumé.

TELEVISION

Series Regular: The actor is under exclusive contract with the show to appear (or be paid regardless of appearing) every week.

Recurring: The actor returns as the same character over multiple episodes, either on a standing contract or contracted periodically, with payment based on the terms negotiated and the number of appearances.

Guest Star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character's storyline is central to that particular episode. The actor works at the standard union weekly rate, even if filming takes place over only a day or two.

Co-star: The actor appears as a one-episode guest whose character may or may not be central to that episode’s storyline.  Co-star billing is typically negotiated and is unrelated to the size of the role.

Contract Role: This is an AFTRA contract term for a series regular or recurring character on a daytime soap opera.

Under 5: This is an AFTRA contract term for a role with between one and five lines.  You could also use the term “Featured,” but it is so often applied to a role as an Extra, where you appear prominently in a scene but without lines, that it may be misleading if you have lines.

Cameo: A term that designates an established star in a stunt-cast role, i.e. Brad Pitt appearing in an episode of Friends.

Extra: A non-speaking role with no on-screen credit. This billing should not appear on an acting résumé.

THEATRE

Theatre credits on a résumé typically include only the character name, as the role size is generally known. If the production is an original work or a recent play, however, an actor may note "lead" or "supporting" after the character name. Also noteworthy is whether the actor originated the role, especially if the play later becomes well known.

Understudy:  A stage term for an actor who will only appear in a principal role if the primary actor cast in that role (and for whom the actor is understudying) cannot perform.  It should be noted however that some theatres guarantee a certain number of performances for understudies.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's almost Emmy time

The producers of House of Cards are getting creative in touting their cast for the upcoming Emmy awards. Here in Washington, DC, where the show is a hands down favorite of Hill staff, we love the yardsign idea.

The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will honor the best in primetime television programming airing from June 1, 2012 until May 31, 2013, so the 13 HOC episodes released by Netflix slide right in there. But will they consider it officially television? Well, it's being broadcast in Australia!

The awards ceremony, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will be held on September 22, 2013 at the Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles, California.  I'm pulling for Corey Stoll, who gave a riveting performance as Congressman Peter Russo - tragic, human, heartbreaking in his final scenes on screen.  Illuminating interview of Stoll at ET Online here. This was truly a breakout role for a terrific actor. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

An actor's Klout number: What does it mean?


I attended a SAG workshop a couple of weeks ago where a recent arrival from New York City was adamant that an actor’s Klout number was now checked by every casting person in NY and Los Angeles and that it was entering into the decision to hire.

I queried my agent about this and she said her talent in LA talked about it a lot. They told her it is a number that tells how well you are doing in the acting business. Famous actors have a large number;  new talent much, much smaller. Actors have to work their way up the ladder, they said - work hard, get great roles - to increase their numbers.

The SAG actress who insisted it was a big deal said she had 2,500 Twitter followers and a 28 Klout number, which she said was pretty good. Well I decided to run a test using my Twitter account, because I had until then seldom tweeted anything and had only 4 followers.

I started out with an 11 Klout number and within a week had manipulated it up to 31, simply by replying to tweets from large entertainment organizations and famous industry people in a way that encouraged them to retweet my comment to their own followers. So instead of just reaching out to my 4 followers, I was suddenly reaching out to director Ron Howard’s 650,000 followers, or FilmFestNews' 49,000 followers.

Basically, what I did was write every reply as a complete thought that repeated the basics of the original tweet and added information the author might think valuable.

Interestingly, the rise in my Klout number did not affect my IMDb rating, which actually dipped slightly during the same period. (My Twitter followers went up though; I now have 11!  Hah!)

Surely there must be more to this because, as my experience showed, an actor does not have to work hard and get great roles (not that I object to that!) to get their number up. On the other hand, every big name in the biz seems to be on Twitter, including people like Ron Howard, who you would think would have far more important things to do than post a tweet every hour! (Love ya, Ron!)

So I'm going to keep my number up.  At least until somebody figures out that this is not the best measure for box office.

Anyone have any more on this? Am I confusing this Klout number with a different Klout number? Please chime in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Acting Tips: Defining an actor's type and brand


What’s the difference between a type and a brand? What’s a logline? As an actress, I can see where knowing my type is important; it keeps me from wasting my time auditioning for roles that don’t suit me. Brand and loglines are marketing tools, however, and since I’m out there networking at industry events and have reels that I think convey my performance skills to some advantage, I’m not sure I need these last two. People can see how I come across on camera, right?

If you’re starting out and your strategy involves standard actor marketing (and who’s to say that isn’t just fine), it’s probably good to know what these tools are and what they can potentially do for you.

An actor’s type is a combination of the criteria found in the breakdowns when a role is being cast, i.e. sex, age range, physicality (short, tall, thin, heavy, light, dark, race), and the job titles that fit (soccer mom, corporate lawyer, big city cop, international spy, blue-collar worker, teen, medical professional.)

Brand is your type plus something of your personality that is uniquely you. Are you sexy, charming, wicked, quirky, serious, intellectual, mysterious, innocent? The qualities that others find most memorable about you is your brand, and the word on the street is that conveying the essential you to casting can help you to book roles more frequently.

Actor Josh Murray has the idea. Murray’s website says he projects “intensity,” “intelligence,” and “intrigue.” (The alliteration here doesn’t hurt either.) For a price, Los Angeles image consultant Sam Christensen can help you toward a brand that is even more fully developed.

Why is a brand important? Well if casting needs to fill a role, do they audition actors solely on a photoshopped headshot and credits on a résumé? Or do they gravitate toward those who give some hint at what’s inside the can? A brand tells them what kind of actor you are and to some extent your level of performance so they can call you in to audition with some confidence that you are what they’re looking for.

Also, hiring an actor with a recognizable brand, can make it easier for producers to get distribution, raise capital, hire a good crew, and get other top level actors on board. It doesn’t guarantee a film’s success but it can provide status and credibility. Movie stars all project a brand, but it’s based on years of public exposure through their film roles. If you’re not yet at that level yet, you may want to create a brand.

One way to do that is to draw up a list of adjectives and short phrases you think might describe you. Then ask friends and family what three words or expressions best describe you and your personality.  (Tell them you want them to be completely objective.) When you see the same words cropping up again and again, you have your brand. And if you reflect on some of your best roles and then use the words in a phrase, you’ve got a logline.

A logline is a short phrase that sums up your essence and personality. It tells others how to cast you, how you’ve been cast in the past, and what you will bring to a role. Christensen has examples on his website. After reading about his image design process, I frankly wish I had the cash to sign up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Acting resources in India

Long before Bollywood became a popular term in the West, and Indian films started turning up on cinema marquees in American suburbs, India was turning out world-class filmmakers like Satyajit Ray.  In fact, his lovely and moving 1961 film Two Daughters (Three Daughters in the original release) introduced me to Indian film and remains one of my all time favorites.
Now of course, actors in India are making much the same effort as actors anywhere to further their careers, turn in good work, and hopefully make a recognizable name for themselves in the credits. Kiran Pande, a Facebook friend of mine who has done more in film than his IMDb page would indicate, just posted a list of agencies and acting resources to his blog.  You can see the list here.

If you aspire to be an actor in India, this may be a good place to begin your journey.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding the perfect monologue

I've been looking for a new monologue, and although there are plenty out there, even plenty of obscure monologues out there, it's unclear what makes an appropriate monologue....for me.

I've read enough about auditioning to know that no casting director wants to see a piece they've seen done a million times. I want them to focus on my talent and personality, not be sitting there thinking, "Oh no, not this again."

I also need to avoid over-long memory monologues (When I was a little girl growing up on the farm in Kansas....) or monologues intended to shock (swearing, screaming, crying, engaging in repulsive acts). I once saw a quite beautiful actress perform a monologue that involved a detailed analysis of picking her nose. It was grim.

But I recently came across an otherwise so-so book called 10 Steps to Breaking into Acting that contained a good definition of the perfect monologue, and I think this is the place to start. Here it is:

  • A good monologue is one where your character is urgently going after something that he or she needs right now. It is active and alive, powerful and conversational, and engages the listener quickly and effectively.
  • It has a beginning, middle, and an end.
  • Your character goes through the journey in 1-2 minutes tops.
  • It reflects your age and type.

The standard advice is to have four monologues memorized and ready - two for theater and two for film - but I rarely find a monologue being asked for at a film audition, only for casting agency open calls. I have one that still works for agency open calls, so I'll be looking for one that encourages projection. 

Open Call

Up at 5:30 a.m. yesterday to fix my hair and make-up, put a suit on, step into high heels, and drive nearly two hours to the Armory in Bel Air, Maryland, for an Open Call for day players and extras. This was for Season 2 of the Netflix series House of Cards, and I was only one of many who'd had a long trek in. The actor behind me in line had driven four and a half hours from Pittsburgh. Fortunately the staff at Kimberly Skyrme Casting had the drill down pat, and union actors were ushered in first. In and out in 20 minutes. Hundreds more non-union actors showed up and had a longer wait.

I'd already submitted for this series online and pointed out in writing that I frequently play members of Congress, lobbyists, judges, etc., but there is something to be said for letting the casting people see you in person and having a minute to chat. A plus was that the guy checking us in recognized me from Meghan Reynolds film The Monopoly Club, where I played a Senator, and had lots of good things to say about the film and me. (Always good to hear.) I introduced myself and got his name for future reference. Saw a lot of people in line that I knew and met a few new ones.  Then the long drive home and a nap.

Kimberly Skyrme Casting throws a wide net for actors on this series. Hoping for a part with lines. 

Searching for Crystal Liu

This is why we don't have more women filmmakers....no confidence. I saw a 2007 film at the DC Shorts Laughs festival Friday night called "Speed Dating," which was written and directed by Crystal Liu. It was not only funny and original (and my favorite) but it had that element that makes a great story - surprise. But is there a trailer or clips on YouTube or anywhere that I can link to and give this young lady a plug? No. Any contact information? No. Not even a poster to go with the listing on IMDb. Only a few positive write-ups, but otherwise nothing. And Ms. Liu hasn't made another film since, apparently. Instead she's working as a script coordinator for TV. What a waste! Hey, Crystal, you've got talent! Make movies!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On David Patrick Green's "Become a Famous Actor" Book Series

In this business it quickly becomes apparent that paralleling the entertainment industry is a whole other
industry of people who claim to have the key that unlocks the door of success, and for a (small to very large) price they'll sell it to you. You can spend thousands of dollars on pricey headshots, classes, seminars, intensives, meet and greets, showcases, you name it, without ever earning a penny as a working actor. I've learned to take a long, hard look at who's providing the product or service before whipping out my credit card.

Well a couple of weeks ago, when I was online looking for a book on the actor-agent relationship, I came across the Become a Famous Actor series of ebooks by actor David Patrick Green, available for $3.99 each and readable in about an hour. Judging from the large number of dropped words and garbled sentences, these ebooks are apparently self-published, certainly self-edited. Also, the author has played mostly minor roles in individual episodes of TV shows, despite the rather grandiose title of his book series. But I looked at the reviews, considered the price, and decided to give them a read. My conclusion? They're a terrific bargain.

Acting, and the business of acting, has so many elements to consider that it's easy to lose track of what's really necessary to get started and make progress. Green breaks it down for the actor in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, with strong emphasis on building relationships in the industry. I found shortcuts, strategies, and some real gems of wisdom that I'm already putting into practice, and in his audition book, arguably the clunkiest, I found myself experiencing more than a few "Aha" moments. They're a quick read and easy to go back and review.

Here are the titles: 20 Acting Career Questions….Answered, 5 Insider Acting Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know, and 10 Auditioning Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know.

Now the caveat: one purpose of these ebooks is to generate interest in Green's HackHollywood website, which requires a monthly membership fee of $27, with a pitch for a "Master Class" for an additional $20 a month.

I checked with an actor friend who signed up for HackHollywood, and he said the advice is all in the books. The online program has ongoing content, like video tips and interviews with actors, and an online forum that adds accountability and allows you to ask Green and other members questions. That's $47.50 a month for a program that sounds largely motivational.

Check out the books. Decide for yourself on HackHollywood. My sense is that if you need to spend nearly $600 a year just to keep yourself motivated as an actor, you're in the wrong  business. My actor friend, however, has booked roles in six low-budget feature films in the past 6 months, so who's to say. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Playing it straight


Catching my breath.  Shooting scenes yesterday for Rob Raffety's new comedy series Capitol South, with Allison Howard, R. Michael Oliver, and stand-up comic Andrew Heaton, who came down from New York for the filming.  The initial scripts from Rob and his team of writers are brilliant.  So many talented and funny people!  I play Congresswoman Gracie Todd Englewright, who provides the raison d’être for the shenanigans of the Capitol Hill staff.  Rather like being the Margaret Dumont of the series!  Hah!


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Found an agent


Just signed with the Maultsby Model & Talent Agency, which reps other actors in this area, including Ken Arnold, Regen Wilson, and Joe Hansard.

Maultsby is expanding. The agency currently covers the Southeast (which is getting a lot of new business, and where casting is running short of local actors and will readily accept video auditions), as
well as NY and LA (where casting still wants most auditions done in person, although the "greenness" of a link over travel may be having an appeal.) The agency is also in the process of opening an office in Florida.

The film industry is seeing an exploding market for feature films/documentaries in the under $5M budget range. This means more opportunities for non-name actors to gain significant speaking roles and work experience, often alongside actors who are better known. For example, actor Eric Roberts, brother of Julia Roberts, was recently a late addition to a local very low-budget Western, Day of the Gun, which is filming in Maryland and using many area actors. You can get a heads up on productions shooting in your area at this site:

http://www.thelocationguide.com/blog/category/on-location/

Since video auditions are become more common, it may also be a good idea to know how to self-tape. Some videographers will tape your audition for a fee (Studio Boh in Baltimore provides that service, for example), but if you're taping your own the SAG Foundation recently sponsored a presentation on self-taped auditions and posted it to YouTube.  Anyone can view Parts 1 and 2 here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D79zOFTiLfs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9umJNHgRVwk

Auditioning for TV means watching the shows that are booking locally to get a feel for the pacing and tone.  You can access these on pay TV, but past episodes may also be available online for free so check these sites first:

http://webtrends.about.com/od/profile1/tp/Watch-Free-Tv-Shows-Online-Full-Episodes.htm

Yes, I am excited about getting an agent, although at this point in my career I hold no illusions and am still planning on doing 90 percent of the work myself.  An agent's real value comes in when you've booked a big role and you need someone to present your utterly ridiculous contract demands to the producer.  (The arrangement also allows the producer to say "no" without hurting your feelings.)

By the way, a decent book on the agent-actor relationship is An Agent Tells All by Tony Martinez, which is available cheap in an e-edition. More later, after I get all of my materials and headshots up online at the agency. I am told it takes a week to 10 days.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Finding an agent

I've spent the past three years building experience and accumulating footage that gives me enough face time to show some of what I can do as an actor (I can do more obviously.)  Since my primary goal is to act in films rather than commercials, industrials, etc (although I'm always happy to get work anywhere),
a logical next step it seems to me is landing significant speaking roles in small features ($500K to $5M budget range).  To that end, gaining representation through a talent agency may give me a leg up.  In fact, I'm sure it will.

Interestingly, Backstage magazine has an article this week by Dallas Travers that addresses just this issue. You can see the full article here, but these are the salient points:

1. Stay focused and call repeatedly. Don’t assume that one mass mailing to a target list of agents will be successful. Instead, contact the agencies on your list a minimum of three times within six weeks to be sure your message has been received, but expect that more calls may be needed to secure a meeting. Be sure you've researched your agencies and have narrowed your list to no more than 10-15 agents at a time. Marketing to a list longer than that might deplete your resources and create confusion.

2. Ask for Industry Referrals. But don't just say “Can you refer me to an agent?” Research your target list (being sure they have agents who represent actors at your age/gender/skill level) and then run that list by fellow actors, drama teachers, producers you’ve worked for, casting directors who call you in often, etc. and tell them that you’d like to get their feedback. Ask questions such as, “Do you know anyone on my list?” or “Is there anyone else you know who I should reach out to?”  That makes it clear that you are doing the legwork and takes the pressure off of anyone who may feel uncomfortable about referring you.  You are, after all, just asking for feedback.

3. Go for the low cost/no cost marketing options.  Don't try to wow them with gimmickry. Make an impact without wasting money by relying on email marketing, social media, telephone calls, or even drop offs. These avenues can be effective while remaining easy on your budget.

As Travers points out, "when you have a well-connected, hardworking agent on your side, auditions come a lot easier and more often."  She also states that spring is a good time to seek representation, so I'm on the right track.

I've already reached out to a list by email and letter.  Phone calls are next.  I'm also going to follow her advice and ask for more feedback from people I know in the business.  I really feel like I'm doing everything I possibly can to land work on my own. It's time now to get some assistance.  I would tend to question the need for repeated phone calls, however.  Contacting an agency three times doesn't seem excessive, but if I had to call more than that - 10 times - I think I might question the agency's effectiveness and ability to take on another actor.

Here's what I've done so far:

I contacted the agencies by email prior to sending an agency specific letter with my resume and headshots.  In both the email and the letter, I outlined my type, gave them links to the work I am most proud of, and made reference to referrals or connections we had in common.  I asked to meet with them.  For those agencies that haven't yet responded, the next step will be to call.

Here's what I plan to do when I get a meeting:

Bring extra resumes and headshots. Dress in a way that reflects my type. Keep the conversation sociable and have a list of positive attributes I want to convey.  Have a list of questions pertinent to gaining representation.  Find a point on which to follow up.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I find an agent that's a good fit.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kind words keep you going

I went to the Helen Hayes Awards Gala last night at the Warner Theater (lovely event.  So many hugely talented people in theatre here in DC), but I got my own "award" this morning.  New York acting coach John Pallotta shared the link to my clip from The Monopoly Club with his Facebook network and included the following note:

"I am honored to have had the privilege to coach Ms Kathryn Browning in my class in DC. She can become any character, anywhere on a drop of a dime. Not because of me, but because she is that gifted and talented."

I read that over my morning coffee and my mouth fell open.  Things like that keep you going in this business.  I suspect I will be smiling all day. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Getting past the gender barrier in acting

A big obstacle for actresses of a certain age (mine, for example) is too often being relegated to roles as disempowered characters, even though the world reflects a very different reality and the majority of casting agents (and now many directors and producers) are women.

You would think that they would make the connection that if a 55-year-old man can play the "powerful person in charge," so can a 55-year-old woman. Not so. If a woman is cast as a district attorney, for example, she'll more often be 27 and chosen for reasons other than her credibility as a D.A. (Which brings to mind Danny DeVito in Norman Jewison's 1991 Other People's Money, opposite Penelope Ann Miller as the D.A. and his love interest. I think Norman Jewison is terrific, as are both actors, but Miller looked like she was 12 at the time and, yes, the pairing was cringe-worthy.)

E. Katherine Kerr as Sen. Grace Comisky
In acting, what I see being offered to older actresses are roles as little old ladies in track suits and sneakers, mothers with no defined personality, or women who are in some way objects of pity.  That hardly fits someone like me (and I'm no exception) who is nearly 6 feet tall in high heels, just appeared on stage in a negligee, and still gets whistled at on the street by young guys driving pickup trucks (last night, in fact! Tah-dah!)  Look at E. Katherine Kerr as Senator Grace Comisky in the 1987 film Suspect.  She had personality.  She was tough. Her character beds a younger Dennis Quaid, credibly, and without all this self-conscious, painted up "cougar" business.

To get the meatier roles, I first have to make sure my audition monologues reflect the roles I'm after and I sometimes have to plant a few seeds, i.e. approach producers/directors/screenwriters and ask if their senator, doctor, CEO or other gender-neutral role wouldn't work just as well with a woman of the same age in the part.  (Let's face it, the only role a woman definitely can't play is "father.")

The short film I just finished, for example - The Monopoly Club - was originally written for a male Senator. The director changed her mind when she saw me in an open call audition doing my scene from Virtuosity.  I've improved the presentation of that brief monologue over the years, but it still works for me.

I guess the point is that older actresses can't sit back and bemoan the fact that there aren't as many good roles being offered to them. You need to get out and network, introduce yourself to filmmakers who are creating the kinds of films and roles you want. Many times they're fixed on the casting as is, but every now and then you get a taker.