Thursday, July 31, 2014

Michael Chekhov's 3 Archetypes

As I've often said in this journal, I'm a thinking actress, not a feeling actress, and I'm always looking for shortcuts to developing a character. Brits are known for an outside in approach, for example: get the walk and the talk first and then to let the character develop from there.

Actor Michael Chekhov, nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, developed a system that can help in capturing the walk and the talk. Chekhov said all characters fell into one of three archetypes, which he called Head-, Heart-, and Groin-centered.

“Head” characters seem to draw their emotional energy from the head and all of their gestures seem to come from there. They slap or tap their head, scratch their head, make sweeping farewell gestures from the head. They also sit forward in chairs and walk forward on the balls of their feet. Head characters are perceptive. Consider Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who frequently tips his hat, touches his moustache, and nods his head, not to mentioned constantly referring to those “little grey cells.” Or in the photo, Laurence Harvey expressing frustration as a Head character.

“Heart” characters draw emotional energy from the chest and heart area. They may place a hand over their heart when they speak, clasp or wring hands at the waist, and make open-handed gestures from the waist to convince you of their sincerity. Their intelligence and emotions are more balanced. They sit up straight and walk with their feet flat on the ground. Think of the characters in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Sincere, honorable, doing what’s right.

“Groin” characters are earthy types with a low center of energy. They slouch into a chair, hook their thumbs in their pockets, and lean back when speaking. All gestures, from amorous caresses to a threatening fist, come at hip level. Marlon Brando personified the "groin" character. Think Stanley Kowalski or Don Corleone.

It sounds simplistic, but with practice the Chekhov system can have enormous value to the actor, including voice actors. Try it when preparing an audition and see how your read changes from type to type.

#KayBrowning #MichaelChekhov #ActorsAccess #SagAftra

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Auditioning for Network TV vs. Auditioning for Cable

Australia-based casting director Greg Apps has an interesting piece in Backstage magazine, pointing to the differences in auditioning for shows on network television and cable.  While these won't hold true every time, the basics are these:

Network is plot driven. Cable is character driven. Network shows are self-contained within one hour. The baddie must be caught, a relationship must be resolved. What happens is more important than to whom it happens. You need to deliver clear concise characterizations for network. Pace is more important than a pause. Do not overcook the character, because that is secondary to the story rhythm being clearly communicated. Cable characters make the audience work that little bit harder.

Network delivers recognizable emotions and relationships. Cable delivers conundrums. Network programs concisely deliver a character’s feelings and emotions. The audience is comfortable. They know the territory. Cable series performance hints at a character’s feelings, leaving subtle clues. The audience savors the intrigue and tension of being delivered morsels of information. It sets up discussion. If network TV did this, the viewer would reach for the remote.

Network is about style over substance. Cable is substance over style. Look your best for a network test. Look even better than your best. Network needs their audience to know exactly who the character is the moment they appear on screen, so dress appropriately for a network audition. Cable takes the audience into foreign territory —emotionally not geographically. A place where they have never been before. The cable script is the map, but it is the characters that create the emotional environment.

Network decisions are driven by how you look. Cable is driven by “Have I seen this character before?” Characters in a network show need to be instantly recognizable. We know the character in a short time. In your cable audition you can make bolder decisions about your character. Warning: Be careful to not make your character bigger, but rather more obtuse, more perplexing. Find moments that give your character added dimension.

Interesting points! Read the full article and more on Greg Apps here.

#KathrynBrowning #Backstage #Auditions #GregApps #ActorsAccess

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Best Thing that can happen to an Actor

You lost out. You auditioned and they loved you. Casting was so moved by your performance they were in tears. You were called back, more than once. They said you nailed it. Or maybe you even got the part in the big budget production and shot the scene. The famous director told you how terrific you were on camera. You went home walking on air. You told all of your actor friends. Everyone said you were on your way. And then….nothing. The part went to a different actor. Your scene was edited out of the film. Your big moment turned to sand.

It doesn’t feel like a gift at that moment, (No, it hurts like hell.) but for an actor early in their career it may just be the best thing that can possibly happen. Why? Because you want that role desperately.  You need it. Your sense of self-worth hangs on it. You leave auditions replaying the scene in your head: “Maybe I should have done it this way, maybe I should have done it that way.”  You’re a bundle of nerves with no sense of who you are or what you bring to a role, and that is wrecking your chances for more work. 

Let it go. Film and TV production is a hugely expensive business, and a score of considerations go into deciding who is cast and whether a scene stays in the picture. You can’t possibly know what all of them are, so more often than not you are going to lose out to some other actor. There is no magic strategy to a cold read.

But once you stop agonizing over it, once you learn to deal with career disappointments, suck it up, and keep going, something magical DOES happen. You begin to relax during your auditions. You become more sure of yourself as an actor and as a human being, and your performances become more natural. You still want the role (Of course you do.), but you’re not going to lie awake at night beating yourself up if you don’t get it. You give the audition your best shot, and then you walk out the door and let it go.  

In short, you become a real pro.

#KathrynBrowning #ActorsAccess #KayBrowning #SAGAFTRA #ActorAuditions

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Being an Actor means getting up early

Auditioned this morning in NY for a role in a new TV series that's been green-lighted. A lot of production companies with streaming capability are bypassing pilots and committing to projects right off. This is a positive new trend, because it means they're putting thought and money into development of a superior product, like House of Cards. Anyway, this one is with a major production house. I think I did well, but two other actresses auditioning for the same role were on a first name basis with casting. It's a tough market.
4 a.m. in Washington's Union Station, waiting for a train.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Making Progress

I was off the radar this spring overseeing repairs to the house. Now things are picking up. I shot a principal speaking role in the Netflix series House of Cards, Season 3. Last summer I auditioned twice and was cast twice in speaking roles for two Season 2 episodes, both directed by James Foley, a wonderful director. Lost them both in editing.

Getting edited out is one of the hazards in this business as filmmakers typically shoot much more footage than they can use. But actors mourn it when it happens (and I did). I have my fingers crossed that the scene for Season 3 stays in. So far, it looks good.  House of Cards is a wonderful series, beautifully shot and extremely well written. 
A short film I was in earlier this year is about to come out, Shoshana Rosenbaum's supernatural thriller "The Goblin Baby." Looking forward to seeing the finished version.

I was also just cast in a lead role in a new Laurence Peters play, "The Illusionist," about the world of art forgery.  The play will have a brief run this fall, with me as Barbara Goldberg, the disgruntled ex-wife who blows the whistle on the fraud scheme.

Looming large on the horizon, is an audition I just taped for a terrific role in Jon Jashni's feature film Brilliance. The production is gathering steam for fall filming up near Pittsburgh. No word yet. Noomi Rapace, who was so brilliant as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, is the only name showing in the cast so far.

Actors get a bit rusty during down time, as I had this spring, so even though I'm getting some booking I think it's time to head back to acting coach John Pallotta's Studio in New York. John Pallotta is also an actor, writer, and director, so he has instant rapport with his actor clients, who continue to turn up regularly in feature films and in TV shows like Arrested Development, Blue Bloods, Boardwalk Empire, CSI, VEEP, Orange is the new Black, and many others. John has a unique approach to getting into character that is very accessible. And he's right, to be successful you have to love this business of acting more than anything.

 So, off to New York!

#KathrynBrowning #JohnPallotta #HouseofCards #ArrestedDevelopment #BlueBloods #OrangeistheNewBlack #BoardwalkEmpire #VEEP #CSI #ActorsAccess #SAGAFTRA #Brilliance #NoomiRapace #JonJashni

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dealing with Actor Stereotypes

Last week I got together with a group of local actresses to discuss career issues, and one of the topics that came up was how we get stereotyped into certain roles. Some of us had brought our headshots along with a list of our last six bookings, and the niche each of us filled was pretty clear: “wholesome mom,” “woman on the edge,” “intimidating authority figure,” and so on.

A stereotype isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s common among actors for the roles we book to run against the image we have of ourselves. One actress friend books a lot of blue-collar "lady plumber" roles, but feels frustrated she’s not playing executives and attorneys. I’m typically wearing a suit or upscale casual clothes in what I book, but long to play hardscrabble, Depression-era types. (High drama!)

Stereotypes are your bread-and-butter and can help get you in the door on a big budget film or TV project. That’s why your headshot folder should always have at least one photo that reflects the kind of jobs you typically get. But if you feel like you’re not getting a chance to break out of the box, you may have to become more discriminating, start saying "no" to some of those stereotyped roles, and show casting where else you might fit.

African-American males, for example, often complain about being cast as drug dealers and thugs. Older women see too many breakdowns for shallow “supportive” figures or crazy mothers. When that happens, make sure you have shots of yourself that fit the roles you want, not just the ones you get. I tell AA males to try submitting for white-collar roles, even when the breakdown specifies a different race or ethnicity, and even if the character name is Hispanic. Similarly, women can submit for every male role they think they can fill because "father" is the only one they definitely can't. Doing that can encourage casting to think differently about a particular role, and then who knows what might happen?

Another strategy is to take the stereotype you’re stuck with and make it memorable. Playing a lot of “thugs”? John Travolta plays a lot of thugs, but keeps his eyes fixed and his voice low and controlled. You won’t mistake him for anyone else. Dennis Farina played a thug for laughs in "Get Shorty" and was hilarious. Farshad Farahat could have said, "oh please, not another terrorist." Instead he made the checkpoint agent in "Argo" absolutely riveting and stole the show.  

Yes, we all get tired of playing the same kind of person over and over. But casting calls on us for those roles because we’re good at them. So read the script first and, if you accept the stereotype, give it one hell of a performance.  Eventually other kinds of roles will come along.

#ActorTips #KathrynBrowning #SAGAFTRA #ActorsAccess

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Acting Tip: Skip the Industry Mixers

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of invitations to TV/film industry mixers, large gatherings that promise to provide access to those in the business who can help your career. 

To be sure, networking can be critically important to getting better roles, but large crowds annoy me and I have to wonder if these events aren't too dark, too crowded (300-400 people said one invitation) and too noisy to be worth anyone's time? Yesterday I turned to L.A. networking guru David Patrick Green with the following: What do you think of the networking value of industry mixers? His answer? Not much.

The main purpose of these mixers, Green says, is to make money for the organizers. Sure it’s possible to meet producers, casting directors, and other industry people there, but if you just go and don't know what you want to accomplish, you're not likely to accomplish anything. If you go in with a specific purpose, he says, then maybe something can happen, but even then you need to be disciplined and business-like, find the people you want to connect with, and try to arrange a meeting with them later (or at a later date) when there’s less noise and competition for their time from other actors like yourself. Large events can leave you lost in the crowd. Who wants that?

What might produce better results, says Green, is to volunteer to help out at an industry mixer – or organize one! - so that you have a reason to chat with important guests before or during the event. That gives you an edge in arranging private meetings later. 

Even better, he says, simply approach industry people directly at their offices. Just be sure to have a clear idea of where you are in your career, and what you need to be going for at this stage. A meeting is a valuable opportunity. Don't waste it.