I have been doing this for a long time now. When I began this journey Mork and Mindy, Taxi, Barney Miller were the top shows on TV. The Shining, Raging Bull, Caddyshack, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were in the movie theatres. There was no World Wide Web, the iPod was 20 years away, the iPhone 26 years away and Mark Zuckerberg won't be born for 4 more years. The letters BIPOC and LBGTQ were something like what your tile holder looked like when you removed the scrabble tiles from the bag.
I have worked with my share of name actors, and hundreds of working actors quietly who continue to successfully ply their trade. These are the things they all did and continue to have in common. I have distilled these things down to these 12 key elements.
A question parents have often asked me over the years was “did you know they were talented when you met them?”. The answer since 1981 has been “no, but I did see a fire burning bright in their eyes.”
Over the next few weeks, I will examine these 12 things (one or two at a time) that you must do to become a better actor. I believe over these almost 50 years I have enough of a sample to make a few educated guesses. None of them have anything to do with acting technique specifically. However, I believe all of them will lead to becoming a better actor. Please note that I very deliberately did not say a more successful actor.
A DISCLAIMER: If you accept my premise as true, then what follows will be true. If you don’t accept this premise, then my carefully built house of cards will collapse.
Here are the 7-points that make up the body of my premise. Following this outline, I’ll enumerate the 12 things YOU can do to become a better actor. You’ll find that list below.
THE LB PREMISE:
- I believe that standing, sitting or walking “onto the mark” (be it for an in-studio audition, a self-tape or a virtual audition) is no different than being anywhere else. You are always “here” and it is always “now”. You are always some aspect of “yourself,” just under different and various conditions. Or, put simply - acting at the highest level is just dreaming while awake.
- We have been telling each other stories since humanoids began walking planet Earth. We first spoke (or sung) them around a fire with tales of the hunt. Later we learned how to write them down on cave walls, papyrus, and later invented the printing press. Today we tell them utilizing digital fires, fibre optics and streaming services.
- Telling our stories is as important to our lives as eating, sleeping and breathing. We have been telling the same stories since the beginning of recorded time, regardless of race, culture or time in history. These stories are in our DNA. They are our birthright.
- For every technological advance (or regression) we find different ways to tell the same stories using different metaphors and models to express them.
- All memory is associative.
- Life is about adaptation not accumulation.
- Everything is true for as long as you think it, and then it isn’t.
THE 12 THINGS YOU MUST DO TO BECOME A BETTER ACTOR
1/ Practice empathy.
2/ Be more curious.
3/ Remember to breathe.
4/ Have the courage and desire to know yourself better.
5/ Develop discipline and a capacity for hard work. Continue to train regardless of success.
6/ Stop complaining! Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring! Create your own work. Embrace the joy of creation.
7/ Spend time cultivating and being grateful for the people who appreciate and believe in you.
8/ It’s about getting better, not booking. Don’t measure your success by comparing yourself to others.
9/ Watch an array of movies and TV shows with others, discuss and work a scene every day with them. Form tribes.
10/ It’s the tools not the rules. People don’t fail. It’s what you’re doing that isn’t working.
11/ Pay close attention to your thoughts and how they trigger emotion.
12/ Don’t panic. Be patient. Panic makes you stupid. Remember that you do this because you love it.