PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK star Jonny Pasvolsky offers his tips for BUILDING A CHARACTER.
Jonny has worked alongside JOHNNY DEPP, THANDIE NEWTOWN, OLIVIA MUNN and is now starring in Australia’s much anticipated PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.
Building a character with JONNY PASVOLSKY
Read and enjoy…
A note for a bit of context:
This may be controversial but it’s my opinion: you as the actor are not responsible for telling the story. You are not the story teller you are in the story. The director gets to tell the story. You are responsible for living the story by engaging in the relationships your character has with the people he/she comes into contact with. Your job is to experience the world that has been created around you whether it be a set built in a studio or on location in the actual environment. Your job is to fill each moment that you step into with absolute commitment to the circumstances dictated by the script so that when the director gets into the edit room he/she can put the pieces of that story together. You are an undeniably important part of the story but you are not the whole story. Don’t burden yourself with the weight of the whole story. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the story inside out, it means know what your part in it is and do the best job you can.
You’ve been cast and now the hard work to find the fun begins. If you are not having fun relishing how evil or good, messed up or beautifully put together your character is then you must explore further. If the word “explore” short-circuits you or you find it intimidating then do one thing and one thing only: start asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question – at least that’s what my dad told me – which is bullshit because you’ll know when you’ve asked a stupid question because you will laugh at yourself in recognising its stupidity. If you’re laughing at yourself, you’ve started having fun.
Jonny Pas and Johnny Depp in action
BUILDING A CHARACTER – some tips:
- THE OBVIOUS – read the script as many times as possible.
- THE DICTIONARY – use any form of dictionary AND thesaurus to look up definitions of words. Even the words you think you know the meaning of – sometimes as you go down the rabbit hole of a word’s meaning, derivation, synonyms, antonyms etc. you will find a more accurate and visceral understanding of what your character might be feeling or how they might see themselves or other’s. Never trust someone who says trust me but TRUST ME – use your dictionary!!! WRITE THESE DEEPER DEFINITIONS BESIDE WHERE THESE WORDS APPEAR IN THE SCRIPT – they’re good triggers and reminders.
- THE BIGGEST TRAP in creating a character is getting stuck on the job he or she has been given in the script. Even if it’s a cop show and you are a cop remember they were a person a long time before they became a cop. Who is this person regardless of their occupation? If you focus on the occupation you will become a stereotype. Note: The occupation will tell you a lot about a character – no doubt – but not everything!
- THE MOUNTAIN AND THE RIVER – you can begin from within or without when building a character. If you think the outside is where you should start great! This is –
- THE MOUNTAIN. What’s this character’s external attributes? It’s structure? This could mean their physicality, how they move, their literal shape, size, fluidity or rigidity. Are they viscous or brittle? Are they pleasant to look at or repulsive? Smooth skin or rough? Most importantly what is the exterior they present? How do other’s see them? (Hint – many if not all the answers to these questions are in the script). What does this character show to others and does it change depending on who they are interacting with? What does EVEREST show from the outside? There are so many pictures of Mount Everest and each one has a distinct feeling about it even though this is just an inanimate mountain, recognised the world over. BUT the weather is never the same one day to the next and so once you’ve found the mountain of your character you’re going to go looking for;
- THE RIVER What flows through this mountain? Does it run cold? Is it a river of water? Or does it run hot and so it’s a river of molten lava? Does this river run close to the mountain’s surface or deep down? How much of this river can others see, hear, smell, taste, touch when we are close to them? Is the river so faint or slow that it’s going to take a monumental effort to find it? Or is it rushing so hard that hiding it is your Mountain’s biggest obstacle? How much of our river do we allow others to experience?
The MOUNTAIN and the RIVER sometimes run with each other and sometimes against each other – but always at the same time. Does the Mountain dictate how the river is flowing or is it the other way around? Have fun deciding your Mountain and River in each scene and/or each moment.
- THE WEATHER The weather is anyone and everything around you. The weather will determine if your Mountain changes or holds fast. The weather will determine what your river is doing too. Just be aware. Use all your senses. How malleable is your character? How well does your character control what’s running through them at any given moment? Depends on the weather!
- THE SENSES The Sound and the Silence. The Light and the Shadow. The Movement and the Stillness.
This is one of my favourite things to do to understand how my character lives in the world. At any given moment, anywhere at anytime, with your eyes open or closed – how does this person you are trying to understand react to the SOUND and the SILENCE. The LIGHT and the SHADOW. The MOVEMENT and the STILLNESS. Do this everywhere, all the time when approaching a character. You’ll either learn a lot about your character or a lot about yourself.
- STAPLES Common approaches that I know many people use: What animal is my character? What is the rhythm that dictates this person? Does this person have a particular voice and is it in the pace of how he/she speaks or in the pitch or in the clarity? (mumbling never stopped Marlin Brando from articulating…)
- YOUR SHIT Probably the most fulfilling part of acting, I think, is that we get to take the shit that’s going on in our life and layer it into our work. So, my last tip is: recognise attributes, moments, things, experiences in the script that you may be closer to than you think. Find YOURSELF in the character you are building. Take all that shit and place it into a moment, a gesture, a sound, and turn it into gold!
My favourite example of turning things into gold: My daughter was having problems with another kid at school. It was eating her up. She was coming home from school really angry and stressed. I took her to her dance class a few weeks ago and watched her improv a dance. There was something particularly beautiful about a certain gesture she did as she rolled her arm out sideways and the movement seemed to go all the way through her fingers and beyond. I told her afterwards that I thought that movement was beautiful. She said to me: “That was Diego”. I said “What was Diego?”. She said “remember you told me to turn my worries into gold?” (Yes, I blended an acting lesson with parental advice…) She went on: “I turned Diego into a flower at the end of my hand and I let him go”. Suffice to say I was in tears. She not only incorporated it into her solo dance routine but she’s been happier ever since. If my 8 year old daughter can do it…
Self Taping – The master of this art could be the super talented Georgina Haig who is making waves in LA, how; by nailing self taping. She has booked huge Hollywood TV shows like Once Upon A Time, Fringe, OutPost (Lead in a US Pilot), Reckless and many more via self taping. In addition to her 40 plus episodes of US television, Georgina is a staple in Australia appearing on shows such as Moody Christmas, INXS Story, Underbelly, The Sapphires and too many more to mention. The lovely Georgina has taken time out of her schedule to offer her advice to our SAC peeps on the skill of SELF TAPING.
The island looked like something out of Jurassic park- granite boulders nestled between tall dark pines and soft sweeping gum tress. The view from our honeymoon hideaway over looked a tiny beach, which sparkled all day, beckoning with its cocoon of lapping water. Josh and I had our freshest seafood ready to BBQ, and were excited about heading out to sea for our scuba diving trip that next morning. This is all so bloody gorgeous I thought. I’ll just quickly check my e-mail cause I’m a terrible person…An audition. “Um, Josh!? Can we just real quick real quick get this down after seafood BBQ but before scuba diving?”
Even though as actors we often find ourselves powerless and at the mercy of an alarming array of elements out of our control “when it comes to casting, there are still some things we can control.” If you can find passion, power and joy in these moments, in this part of the process, I think the overall ride can be a happier, more fulfilling one. I think that’s why I’ve always loved making self-tape auditions; I love getting to send something off that I feel good about, no matter what the outcome is. And it’s a small creative process, a little art form in itself that I really get into.
Apart from when you’re on your honeymoon. Maybe I shouldn’t have done a self-tape on our honeymoon. But I also booked one of the most important jobs I’ve done from that tape. And if you are going to be a dick and self-tape on your honeymoon you might as well do a good one. We’ll get to that bit soon, but first, my love affair with self-tapes.
Of all the things that have made the biggest difference in my career, I’d say the “ability to send off good self-tapes has been one of the most advantageous.” It’s not a skill we were really taught in drama school. No one will teach you how to do good self-tapes. And for us, it’s like being able to write an awesome resume. It’s so so important.
And there are many advantages to getting your DIY on instead of relying on paying others to self tape for you. As well as being cheaper, it saves you time cause you don’t have to travel to someone else, or find a studio in a city or town where there might not be those facilities. “It really is freeing to be able to do this anywhere. ANYWHERE.” For example, slightly hangover in Florence, in a tiny hotel room in NY or, ehem, on a remote island mid honey-moon (I’m soooooo sorry Josh) But jobs, proper jobs came about from all those examples. It also might be a necessity if you’re on a gig already and someone needs a tape, again, there’s no time to get away and find a studio, so it’s great if you can just grab a cast mate and do it around shooting.
“It’s also satisfying for the soul to call up a good actor mate, work through a scene together and then tape it.” The small collaboration might help you find something you didn’t see before. And you’ll learn through helping them with tapes. You’ll also learn through watching and editing your own tapes.
I should add here that yes, definitely, it’s really important to get in rooms and make those connections. Do it as much as you can! Get in that room! Get in there! Especially if you’ve never met that casting director before, or most importantly if you know producers or the director is going to be present.
But if for whatever reason you need to DIY here are some practical tips-
- Invest in a decent digital camera. I use a Canon HD DSLR. The better the lens the less you need to worry about lighting, as you can make the most of natural light by playing around with the aperture. Being able to go without electric lighting and just using good natural light can be a lifesaver when you are traveling.
- Do your tape during the day and set up your camera with the natural light source behind it. Point towards as plain a back ground as you can find.
- Find the best quality lightweight proper tri-pod you can. It’s an annoying extra thing to lug around but it’s so much easier then trying to balance your nice camera on an upside down trash can on your hotel bed (done that), also it’s easier to find the ideal light, as you don’t need to rely on furniture or dustbins to dictate where the camera has to go!
- Frame one scene mid shot, so from the shoulders up, then one closer to show more and give variation.
- Have your scene partner stand as close to the camera as possible for eyeline but make sure they don’t speak too loud as they will be closer to the microphone.
- I use I-movie on my computer to edit, but could also use Final Cut.
- I upload everything to Vimeo but there are other options there too.
For travel you can keep it simple with just the camera, tripod and computer, but your set up at home can be as fancy as you like. At home I have a 2-meter x 2-metre stretched canvas that I use as a background that I painted a charcoal grey- it’s fun playing around with differnet background colours! And many guests come over and think it’s a minimalist modern artwork, haha. (Feel free to ignore this and just get a normal backdrop or just use a blank wall…it all works!) Lots of people also set up fancy microphones, have extra lights etc. Basically find what works for your home situation, experiment, get some feedback from your people, and have lots of fun with it.
Wishing you all the best with your self-taping adventures!
Georgina Haig is an Australian actress based out of LA. She would like to add that she is still happiliy married despite the honeymoon episode and she would like to thank her husband Josh for continuing to help her with many inconveniently timed self-tapes.
Who wants some audition tips? We all do! Auditioning is the bedrock of our craft and being able to audition well is a crucial skill. The waiting room before an audition can be a daunting, nerve racking and possibly make you want to vomit kind of place. But it can also be a fun, focused place that gets you perfectly ready for when you walk in front of the camera and do what you love…ACT!
Here are a few audition tips for the audition waiting room that will help.
1) Sit in KNOWING, not hoping.
If you are ‘Hoping’ the Audition is going to go well, then there’s a good chance that’s your red flag letting you know you have under prepared. Make sure you are prepared both with your lines and your character and sit in knowing that this is going to go well because you are a good, no GREAT actor who has done the work.
2) Know your MOMENT BEFORE.
Remember your scene starts long before action is called and your first piece of dialogue is delivered. If you are already alive and active in your scene before you say your first line then you are going to start with a BANG!
3) It’s not about you! It’s about the CHARACTER.
Remember focus on the WANT of the character and the story of the scene. Try not to focus on your performance.
4) KNOW THE STORY, don’t just memorize lines.
If you have just memorized the lines then you have a chance of forgetting them and not “delivering” them they way you envisaged when the nerves kick in. But if you have gone in knowing the story and what happens in the scene you can never get lost, even if you fluff a line.
5) The Casting people are ON YOUR SIDE!
They want you to be the one. They need to find their person, and they are hoping almost as much as you are, that you are it!! They want you to SUCCEED! (also it makes them look good to Producers when they bring in good actors).
Crushing on Katie!!
KATIE ROBERTSON is one of those people that are so delightful, fun and sweet that when you hear how her acting career has taken off, you can’t help but be completely happy for her! As amazing as her story is how it all unfolded, there’s no doubt that Katie being so pro active and following her heart played a big role in being in the right place at the right time!
From starting her very own professional Theatre Company LOUD MOUTH THEATRE COMPANY (with a full season slated and all) to 2016 being the biggest Breakthrough Acting year of her life, with not one but two roles on Australian Television!! First a Support Role in the highly esteemed Kettering Incident and the second a Lead Role in ABC’s comedy hit Rosehaven.
We couldn’t of been happier or prouder to hear how Katie is rocking it and how exactly it all came about!
How did The Kettering Incident come you way?
I still pinch myself! I mean, it is crazy to me that a project of this scale and this calibre just happened to be made in my hometown, and they happened to want to audition local actors and there happened to be a role that was suited to me in it. I mean that chain of events – I can’t make sense of.
It’s definitely luck and right place right time stuff, but it also feels like it has a bit of magic in it. I’d followed my heart back home to Tassie to be there for my Dad who was having Health issues at the time and then low and behold The Kettering Incident is filming and casting out of Tassie!
What was your process around the audition?
I remember the first time I read the sides for Sandra I instantly just knew her. And that feeling was really powerful. Normally I do a heck of a lot of preparation for auditions and I think that comes from me trying to alleviate nerves. But with Sandra I did an unbelievably small amount of work compared to what I normally do. I read it and I sort of gently talked it over with a colleague and friend maybe one or two times, then ‘rehearsed it’ aloud once and that was it. I just left it and trusted this weird feeling I had in my gut and let that do all the work. It was like pulling out a chair and sitting in it and that was all I felt I had to do. I went through two call backs and a table read before they told me I had the role and that feeling stayed with me the whole time. Certainly the closer I got to getting the role, the more nerves and anxiety I had surrounding it, but I remember the producer told the casting director to ‘tell her to just keep doing exactly what she’s doing’ so I did.
What was it like to be on your first professional set?
Terrifying. Completely terrifying. It’s no lie that the second the excitement and the squealing and the joy upon getting the role wears off it is instantly replaced with fear and insecurity.
I was lucky in many ways in that there were a few other locals who I knew that had gotten roles as well, so we were all in it together. They took us all out to set on one of the first days of filming and let us hang around and watch what was happening. I remember this day vividly. We drove onto this old wood chipping mill, turned a corner and saw big lights and smoke and a crane, and cameras and trucks and people everywhere – it was surreal. We stood and watched Damien Garvey and Sacha Horler do a scene who are both stalwarts of the industry – we must’ve looked like deer in headlights. It was everything that I had always imagined it would be, so in one way it felt oddly familiar but on the other hand it felt like an of out of body experience.
So how did you get from terrified to knowing you belonged on the set?
About a week after getting the role I was told I had my very first rehearsal with the director Rowan Woods and Elizabeth Debicki. I was really intimidated and nervous and all those things you’d expect. I walked into the room a ball of anxiety and then we started talking about the scenes we were working on and I had this wonderful moment where I realised ‘I know how to do this’. I had been dissecting scripts, and talking about character and breaking down scenes in class and different rehearsals for years and I’m good at that! That’s what I do! So every anxiety instantly evaporated and I just did the work. And that’s what I always come back to, if I’m ever feeling anxious or nervous or intimidated, I just come back to the work.
So really the answer to this question is; You (Marti) and Chum. You and Chum prepared me to feel as comfortable as I did through years of taking your classes. All the work that I did each week, being allowed to make mistakes, being pushed to dig deep, learning script analysis and going through the process of making a scene work, hearing about other people’s stories and experiences on set, learning the language of ‘beats’ and ‘objectives’ and ‘the moment before’ meant that when I was in that rehearsal room it became an even playing field. We were just three people trying to tell a story and I already had all the tools to be able to do my job.
What did you learn from working with the other Actors?
As it was my first big job, I went into it with the idea of being a sponge. I was surrounded by acting royalty, talented professionals who have been working in the industry for decades. I wanted to watch and absorb as much as I could from them. What struck me the most was how differently everyone approached their time on set. Really, when you’re on set, such a minuscule part of your day is the moments between ‘action’ and ‘cut’.
For the most part I noticed that ‘being on set’ is a huge part of the job that you can really only learn by doing. I was watching how these experienced actors ‘be on set’ and they differed hugely. Some people needed to keep to themselves in their trailer, rehearsing and getting in the right head space and then on set would need quiet time and a closed set for blocking and would need to disengage in the moments before action. Others would have the crew and cast crying with laughter moments before action was called and you were doing a serious scene. I felt really new and lacked confidence so I would just take the lead of whoever was around me, if they were silent and introspective I would be too, but if they were jokey and chatty I would join in. It was great to be able to see all of these ‘methods’ and personalities at work but what I couldn’t see at the time was that I was also being quite passive and undermining myself.
One day I was giving this ‘I’m just being a sponge because I have no experience’ spiel to Matt Le Nevez (Offspring, Brock) and he stopped me and said “Really? No experience. Nothing at all?” It was a really important moment for me because he essentially pulled me up on my bullshit and made me accountable to myself. It’s something that I’ve had to work really hard on since – backing myself. I do have experience, and I do have a lot to offer and it was time that I stopped emulating how other people worked and started figuring out what works best for me and how I want to ‘be on set’.
That’s such a great realization, one that I think we can all learn from. Then came the comedy Rosehaven! How was the audition process different from the last one?
Ha! It really couldn’t have been more different. That ‘feeling of knowing’ was not present this time around. I had heard about this project a long time before it started casting and I had heard that there was possibly a role in it that I could maybe suit. So from the get go, I had had months of building it up in my head so the stakes were at an all-time high and I was overly invested even before I had an audition. Which was a dangerous place to be in and I knew it.
I sent off a self-tape first, then flew down for a call back. By the time I got into the call-back I would liken myself to a bottle of fizzy drink that had been shaken up and as I walked into the room the lid came off and the crazed, nervous energy was bursting out of me. I can’t really remember much about that call back, other than giggling, over shaking people’s hands and basically just being an all-round nervous ball of mess. Afterwards I went and sat in my car and felt overwhelmed with the crushing disappointment that I had blown it.
Thank you Katie Robertson! Thank you for being so delightfully you and just telling it how it is! I bet every professional Actor out there has gone through exactly what you have just described and yet we rarely hear about it!
I think it is important to note though that you can’t ever really be sure how you went in an audition and that you’re not always the best gauge of your performance.
Another thing I’d like to say about both of my auditions for Kettering and Rosehaven is that I am NOT AT ALL how these characters were described or indeed envisioned in the scripts. I think for Grace the big print said that she was a “thirty something, sporty looking woman” and stereotypically if you look at me, ‘sporty’ is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind. It was a similar thing for Sandra. They had a really different idea of who she was before I came in and showed them something different. It’s of credit to the directors and producers for having an open enough mind to even entertain me as a possibility, but it’s also a good thing to see happen, that when you know a character and you back yourself, other people can and will recognize that in you too.
Was it any different playing a lead than being a support?
Good question. I actually think the difference lies more in Rosehaven being my second gig and I was able to apply a lot of what I learnt on Kettering in this job. I felt more confident going in and I also knew a lot more of what to expect about the way that things work (ON SET)
(Also)You can develop more of a rapport with the crew and cast because you spend more time on set, instead of flitting in and out once a week or so.
What is something you learnt about working professionally that you hadn’t anticipated?
Something that comes as a surprise particularly when you’ve been taking classes or doing theatre for a while is how quickly everything happens (In Television). The first few days on set I was really taken aback by it. They’ve called ‘cut’ and ‘moving on’ before I feel like I’ve even warmed up! You don’t have the luxury of being able to take the time to play and rework over and over so all of that has to come in your preparation. Which again, comes down to making the most of your time in classes and keeping on flexing that muscle because it’s that stuff that you fill your toolkit with in class that means you can walk onto a set with the confidence to do your job in the small space of time that you’re given.
When you’re employed full time (not having to make money any other way but Acting) you get the most wonderful gift of being able to focus absolutely everything you have into the role. You can immerse yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much fulfillment and joy than I did during those two months I was filming Rosehaven; I barely socialized, I just worked. And if I wasn’t working I was reading, or researching, or rehearsing, or surrounding myself with inspiration for the character. It was the most liberating feeling and I was blissfully happy because I was working, doing what I love.
What made you start your theatre company?
I was sitting with a couple of close friends, also actors who had both trained interstate, lived away from Tasmania but found themselves drawn back home too and we decided we wanted to put on our own show. We wanted to perform David Ives’ ‘Venus In Fur’ and before we knew it we had almost by accident created a theatre company and from there it really just snowballed. What we realised was that collectively we had a lot of experience between us that we had gathered from our times away, and that now was the time to feed that back into the place where we first started.
We were sick of waiting for roles to come up in productions that we could audition for, and that feeling of realising that we had the knowledge and capabilities to create and control that for ourselves was a really big turning point for me. When I look back on this moment in my life I remember the feeling of being really invigorated, like that fire in my belly was raging because I was feeding it so much good stuff and after all this time in Sydney I finally felt like I was in control of my career. In Feb last year our company (Loud Mouth Theatre Company) launched a 2016 season and that was a real moment of pride for me.
Congratulations!! That’s Huge!! What is next for you?
I’ve been doing a lot of screen in the past year, so I had a real hankering to get back on stage and doing The Bull,the Moon and the Coronet of Stars at the end of 2016 with my Theatre Company was so much fun and a dream come true. Right now though I’m back out there auditioning and collaborating with friends and just sort of re-fuelling my tank in preparation for whatever is going to crop up next!
What would you say to anyone out there wondering if they’re break is actually going to come their way.
I would tell them that it will come, but to let go of thinking or trying to plan how or when it’s going to come. I think it will happen at the absolute best time for it to happen for you, and it will happen in a way that you don’t expect it to. So I would say try to avoid the feeling like you’re just killing time before it happens, or turn away opportunities because you can’t see a clear path from it to your goal.
And also work really hard. And enjoy whatever it is that you are doing. I think I spent a lot of time looking forward to what my future could be instead of just relishing the present.
How do you stay inspired? Who or what inspires you?
It varies. I find inspiration in so many things and in so many people. Books, movies, plays, TV shows, music, podcasts.
A few years ago I was asked to take on a lead role in a Shakespeare, the catch was I had to learn the role in one week as I was replacing someone. The task seemed enormous but how could I turn down such a tempting challenge? So I immediately rang my friend and asked her in a moment of sheer panic “how am I going to do this?” and she said to me “not alone”.
It’s so obvious but it is also really important I think to remember that we can’t actually do this on our own. I have a really strong support network and cheer squad and I rely on them heavily and I know wouldn’t still be acting if it wasn’t for them. I have surrounded myself with an incredible group of people and I draw on them for inspiration as well as advice, motivation and consolation. Ultimately I think a lot of it comes down to gratitude. When you really sit and take stock of your life, and the things you have and the people you share it with you can’t help but be filled with inspiration.
We’ve all heard the quotes “live life to the fullest”, “be daring, take risks”, “no guts no glory”. These are all quotes that at different times resonate and make us step outside our comfort zone in life but it’s rare that we think to apply those sentiments to acting! Or maybe we do (in theory) but more often than not when faced with the opportunity to really “take the bull by the horns” “throw our hat in the ring” and really go there in a scene, we somehow find ourselves sitting safe and sound on the more cushy less daring side of the fence! Anyone?
Becoming a character takes a lot of skill, great training and work; And it stands to reason that if you just applied those three things it should be enough. However to create a memorable character there is something that EVERY Actor will have to overcome. Surprisingly it isn’t spoken about enough in many acting courses or schools. What is it?… The fear of being judged.
I have lost count of the number of times I have thought to myself “casting hate me, they think I am shit, I think I just embarrassed myself big time! I’ll never work”. I was doing a wonderful play in a small theatre (so I could see the audience) and all of a sudden I saw Hugo Weaving sitting in the audience. Suddenly I crashed out of character and thought, “holy shit. That’s Hugo Weaving! Hugo Matrix, Pricilla Queen of the Desert (I could go on) Weaving! I hope he doesn’t think I’m bad in this performance. He’s so good. I must do a better performance to impress him”. This was not good. My performance became about my insecurity of what people (Hugo) thought of me instead of my characters journey. I quickly had to recheck myself, get back in my body and focus on the scene at hand. It took a minute but thankfully I was able to.
Imagine you’re at a club or party and all of a sudden your favourite song comes on and you think “I love this song! Let’s dance”. You rush to the dance floor and begin dancing, enjoying the song and expressing yourself but suddenly you feel that the whole club is looking at you…you have two options, either shrivel up and walk away or step up and perform for them. The problem is you didn’t get up on that floor to do either, to walk away or be the centre of attention, you got up there to express yourself and not be judged. I was in Mexico and my friend and I were at a new years party on the beach in Tulum. No one was on the dance floor and my friend just began riling up all the people, “lets dance”. She had no idea if anyone could dance but soon the idea of everyone getting up and dancing, without any fear of judgment just having fun, expressing themselves turned the party from drab to one of the most awesome New years parties I have ever been to. Everyone, whether they could dance or not was on the dance floor, loving it and no one was judging. Imagine as actors if we could have that sort of freedom every time we stepped up to perform! I would imagine there would be some bold performances!
Acting is about expression. If we are afraid to express ourselves then ultimately we are committing actor suicide. I know that it is super hard to put away our desire to be seen as good, talented, organic etc but it only gets in the way. So how do we deal with the fear? Good question; As many ways as there are to do a scene, the same goes for dealing with fear. Everyone’s process is different but here are some insights that have either worked for me personally or some of my students. A scene can be played many ways, but for it to work must have full commitment. Sometimes we will make safe choices to avoid any embarrassment and failure but the scene will suffer. If we can make bold, daring, risky choices then yes we could fall flat on our face but the scene will not be mediocre. It will be memorable. Secondly if we make a bold decision and it doesn’t work then we can learn from it and become better actors in the process. Instead of retreating to “well I’m never going to make that risky choice again” we can turn that into “why didn’t that work? And how can I learn from that so my next risky choices can be better informed”.
Making risky choices doesn’t mean doing “way out” things. Getting naked, doing your scene with a limp, using props, being overtly physical or funny voice/accent…these are all decorations on the cake but they are NOT the cake itself. A daring bold choice is akin to making a great cake without any consideration of the decoration. Bold choices come by understanding the character, committing to truth, venturing into unchartered territory to help the character achieve, being organic, listening and so on. Good technique aids in bold choices but there is one ingredient that is beyond technique, one that every good “cake maker” has. That is the ability to have fun.
I remember my first TV show and I was super fresh on set. I was acting with one of Australia’s greatest actors (in my humble opinion) Justine Clarke. I walked up to her and started chatting to her about the scene, working it out, discussing moments. She looked at me and asked if I could break dance. I was like “hey?” “Can you do the wave?” she asked me. “Yes I can…but what do you think this means in the scene…?” “Can you show me the wave?”. I looked at her, lost. This is not acting I was thinking t o myself, breakdancing? I think Justine could see the confusion in my eyes and with a confident smile she said “Chum, why don’t we play and see what happens”. And then we began break dancing! This was one of the best pieces of advice I have received. The freedom to play gave me freedom to honor my character and own their choices. I could make bold daring choices (without the fear of being judged) which ultimately made me a better actor. Fundamentally if we are having fun then we are inadvertently trusting our instincts which is fertile ground for bold choices.
Daring is NOT not being afraid, but not being afraid of being afraid (you might need to read that sentence a few times).
True greatness doesn’t lie in mediocrity. It lies in practitioners daring to step outside their comfort zone. Daring to push themselves. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid, but they are on the precipice and WILL jump into their art, their profession whole heartedly, boldly. They trust their ability and training. It’s what the best in the world have to do and us actors are no different. I don’t know about you but when I have found a place that I stepped out of my comfort zone, took a bold daring risk, committed to my character’s journey, felt confident in my craft and wasn’t afraid of falling on my face I end up having the best time of my life, or to put in more technically…had an actorgasm!