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What I’ve learned about actors, by actors

Lesson #1: When All Else Fails, Just Be Clive Owen.

I’ve never wanted to really be an actor, but I’ve always found actors to be interesting (kind of like business affairs). One of my mom’s besties is a working actress; we would go to her house and she’d braid my hair quite often as I was growing up, or my mom would bring my sister and I to come to her house to play with her dogs Winnie, and later Biscuit. My aunt, as I typically refer to her, is highly engaging, and charming (even though she’s kind of a ham). Still, you can’t help but like her. And I thought she was insanely cool because she got to play Storm in The X-Men in a traveling performance-thing. As I’ve gotten to know her, I was able to see the complex life and attitudes of a working actor in New York City. It often made me angry if she didn’t get a part, or rejected for something. It was as though the rejection was a slight against me, too.

Anyway, she was the first actual person in my life that I knew who actually acted aside from kids in school plays. Seeing the experience, rejection, and hard work she would endure certainly turned me off from the acting thing (even though I’ve been told I do have a knack for it by people who don’t matter haha). Still, as an aspiring writer/producer, I am interested in the craft and business of being an actor — the rejection, the fear, the work, the sacrifice. I wanted to know when an actor comes to me, what are their goals? Their needs? So, I sent out to learn a little bit about what an actor goes through, from process to preparation, and practice. This is what I’ve come up with: 6 items that I’ve learned about acting, as expressed by actors and instructors themselves.

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Stella Adler and Uta Haden Would Slap Will Ferrell Across His Face

OK, I watched an acting class that legendary acting teacher Uta Hagen had filmed a few years ago, and I’ve also read Stella Adler’s amazing lessons on the craft of acting.

Both of these women — who I imagine to be the baddest, most feared women in the Theater District at one time or another — each mentioned how much they couldn’t stand to actually see a person act. Acting is supposed to look effortless, as though you’re not actually doing it.

Last week we saw Everything Must Go, starring the wonderfully hilarious Will Ferrell. And yes, he can act. Usually. However, this movie was clearly intended for a smaller-name actor, or someone who has more experience with small indie films, who is in tune with their inner-fine-actor. Will Ferrell is larger than life. He can make me laugh unlike no other. And I’ve seen him in more serious roles, and he’s fantastic. But, I think this is his most serious role yet — he plays a drop-down alcoholic who comes back from a business trip only to find his wife has left the house (after changing the locks), he can’t access any of his assets, his car was taken away, he’s lost his job, and all of his possessions are out on the lawn for everyone to see.

The story, I think was good, and the other actors’ performances were pretty good (including the Notorious B.I.G.’s son, Christopher Wallace Jr.!). But there were two things that bothered me overall:

1. The movie felt like it was pushing the audience away. There were moments that were fairly intimate, but there was something that felt like a cold distance was being placed between the film and the audience. When I watch a film, I think I want to feel more submerged into the scene, and this was not inviting enough for such a movie.

2. I think part of this was that Will Ferrell understood where this character was coming from, but there was a distance put up between him and his character. We could see him “contemplating” and “feeling” and “thinking” and “reacting” and “hurting.” It didn’t feel natural enough.

Otherwise, I actually really liked the story, and how it didn’t end so cookie-cutter sweet, and predictable. I mean, it’s a happy ending, but not too happy. It is an indie movie, after all.

Also, I <3 italics!

Acting = Doing Stuff.

Armpit Exam by Dakini03

As an attempt to understand why I find actors so odd, I have started reading The Art of Acting by Stella Adler. After a few pages, I understood why actors are odd: they were taught by eccentric instructors like Stella Adler. But now, at chapter 3, I have a slightly better understanding of where she’s coming from. In the most basic sense, acting should be coming from an organic place,  and in order for actors to become organic in vastly different situations, they have to build a vocabulary of “naturality,” if you will…

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