More on Types, and Exercises Dealing with Type

27 04 2015

I do an exercise with my film students, usually on the very first day of class, where I immediately put them on camera and just ask them questions. I am letting the cat out of the bag now, but I love this exercise and the timing of it. Because most students, especially in the collegiate environment I teach in, come to class with no make-up on, simply dressed, not too much adornment. This is good. They kind of “come as they are”. Whereas, if I were to let them know about the exercise, there is a very strong possibility that everyone would show up READY TO ACT, dolled up, looking like they think they “should” look.

So, I get everyone on camera, and just ask them questions. They are “getting to know you” questions. Nothing too personal. Though sometimes I toss something personal in there just for the heck of it. After I get everyone on tape, we watch the interviews as a class. I ask the class to pretend they don’t know the interviewee. I ask the interviewee to passively observe themselves, as if looking at the interview of someone they don’t know.

As they watch the interview, I ask everyone to write down their first impressions of this person and WHO THEY ARE in a very stereotypical way. I tell them NOT to CENSOR themselves. If someone comes across as “a total bitch” – write it down. If someone comes across as “mousy next door gossipy man” – write it down. I also ask them to write down any very specific habitual gestures they notice, like “frowns every time a question is asked” or, “tugs at ear when thinking.” Although this exercise seems very simple at the outset, it yields an incredible amount of information.

TYPES exist for a reason. We all judge a person on face value when we first meet them. This same thing happens when we first meet a character in a film. Writers are usually very clear even to the point of stereotypical sometimes when a character is first introduced. Because film generally goes by faster than a book, we need to be able to IDENTIFY the players in the film quickly so we can understand the story. When you walk into an audition room, or when a casting director views your audition tape – particularly your VERY FIRST audition for a new casting director, or director, or producer, they are making the same evaluations as we do in this exercise. So, it is GOOD information to have. Particularly if you want to go against your projected “type.”

Of course no one is as simple as their TYPE. Particularly a trained actor! I can tell you, the TYPE I typically project is trustworthy, albeit quirky Mom or Best Friend. Someone you feel like you might already know. Someone who you would share your deepest secrets with, and who might make you wet your pants laughing. Interestingly enough, this is very close to who I really am. BUT, I can also play a cold-hearted killer, a complete ditz, a coy lover… but that is not what I PROJECT. At least not at THIS time in my life. 🙂

You can find this information out about yourself in a variety of ways: doing the interview exercise I talked about, though the surprise is somewhat ruined for you and may not be helpful. You can also ask friends what they first thought of you when they met you, as long as you can be prepared to receive their answers graciously. OR, you can simply spend time getting to know yourself, and not trying to ACT. Just being. Where do you live? Who are you, what do you believe? If you have a close relationship with a casting director, or your agent, you can also ask them this question. An outside perspective is always helpful.

So, that takes care of the TYPE knowledge. What about the knowledge about your habitual behaviors or gestures?

More later…


On “Types”

20 04 2015

When I was in undergraduate school, the prevailing sentiment was that you were either a skinny actress, or a fat actress. For men, there was, and seems to still be, a variety of sizes you can be. You can be short and muscular, short and fat, short and skinny, tall and skinny, medium and fat, tall and pudgy – but for women… not so much. You are either a waif, or very overweight, and everyone in between just is…… uncastable. Oh, and whether you are a waif or overweight – you must be an extreme in looks as well: waify or hefty bombshell, or waify or hefty ugly. But nothing in between, God forbid the in between!

Fortunately, that perspective seems to be changing, and we see a much wider variety of women on television. The tough part is, we still see mostly only the same TYPE of woman in the roles of the love interest or the DESIRABLE woman. She is usually very tiny in every way: short, very thin, and very typically beautiful. It is as if Hollywood cannot imagine any man would want to fall in love with a woman over 5’2” and 90 lbs. Let me be clear, I am not ranting against those tiny goddesses that populate our movies and tv shows – I think they are beautiful and amazing! I just think it skews out perspective when they are the only women seen as “desirable” in film.

I have found, with the exception of this tiny goddess type, that you CAN transcend TYPE, and that TYPE is a myth. It really is. Are there roles you might be more IMEMDIATELY adept AT? Certainly. But TYPE is just another lie we tell ourselves to avoid the fact that the REASON we were NOT CAST. Assuming you did all your prep work and were prepared, that REASON is that it WAS NOT YOUR ROLE. That’s it.

HOWEVER, it is important to understand your TYPE, or how you come across even when doing nothing. Just as a baseline. Just as an exercise to know yourself, and to know how to be more still or less still or more simple in your delivery when you are doing film work.

More later…


Silencing the Critic Continued

13 04 2015

Squashing that inner critic, particularly if you have an old, ingrained pattern of thinking, has to be daily battle – one that you revisit when your circumstances change. In my case, an old thinking groove established by my childhood ballet teachers is a wicked little song that goes something like this: “I am not good enough, and even if I have the talent it doesn’t matter, my size determines my worth, everything you worked for can amount to nothing”. It is an insidious little melody, a deep groove in my thinking, that is very easy to slip into whenever I am in a new situation, or when I allow my mind to jump on that crazy train. Retooling my thinking is a choice, one that I have to consciously make – for now.

So, your sense of self needs to be healthy. I am not saying you have to be completely sane, and “ready” before you start. I think this is, like many things, a work in progress. A continuing education, if you will. A moment-by-moment acceptance of yourself. At times, it is more labor intensive than others. But I believe if you work at thinking of yourself as precious, remembering that the hairs on your head are numbered, then there are times when loving yourself is effortless.

Chapter Three


A word about talent… Think of all the successful actors you know. The really successful ones. Now think of which ones you think are talented, and which ones you think cannot act their way out of a paper bag.


I am not trying to be cryptic. It’s not that “talent” does not exist – it certainly does. But not as a universally accepted, unchangeable, inflexible thing. Think back to those actors you think are very talented. Now think about the work they have done. Did you ever see them in a role where they seemed as if they could not act their way out of a paper bag?


Here is what I believe in: instincts, training, preparation, perseverance, and a willingness to look like a complete asshole (angry asshole, silly asshole, ugly asshole, etc) to tell a story that needs to be told.

Talent? That is a flexible thing.

More later…


Strong Sense of Self

6 04 2015

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 6-7)

As I have worked more professionally and gotten older, one thing that has been made clear to me, is that being an actor requires a strong sense of self. Knowing yourself inside and out, and being honest in your evaluation of yourself, and being at peace with whatever you are at any given point. I can only speak personally of the challenge this is for women, though I suspect the challenge for men who choose this profession is also difficult. Not being at peace with yourself and who you are makes being in this profession that much more difficult. That insecurity can manifest itself in many ways, including eating disorders, plastic surgery addictions, and on the most basic level: an inability to deliver the work you are intended to do.

I went through many variations on eating disorders after my tough experiences in the ballet world, and I am here to tell you that you do not have to be hospitalized in order to have had an eating disorder. YOUR eating disorder could be just finding different ways every day to not eat, to eat less, or to delay eating. My garden-variety eating disorders never landed me in the hospital, but the worry about my size and therefore WORTH, occupied so much of my mind and life. It was, and sometimes still is, as if I was in a constant battle with my body for thinness.

The danger with these addictions, is that you begin to somehow BELIEVE that you will only begin to book work WHEN YOU BECOME whatever your mind says you PHYSICALLY NEED TO BE. This is simply not true. There ARE exceptions to this, but in general – the roles you are going to book are YOURS, and there is nothing you can DO or NOT DO to lose them. The roles that are NOT YOURS are NOT YOURS and there is noting you can DO or NOT DO to gain them. Your internal war over what you look like does not help the cause, and in fact, may hurt it very badly. By believing that you must “become” something different then you are to work as an actor, you are subject to manifestation of that belief.

For me, this battle against the negativity that was implanted in my brain at a very early age, is something I am actively working on with a therapist. I realized that my mental health, my sense of self, is directly tied to my ability to book work. I have done, and continue to do the training. I do all the prep work. I put in the work. But I can systematically undo all my prep work if I allow my INNER CRITIC to do all the thinking. I work on squashing that motherfucker daily. My therapist has been an amazing guide in this journey.  

More later…