Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Confuse Celebrity with Craft.

As an acting coach, I work with quite a few young, aspiring actors, a couple older character actors and even a friend or two who, over the years, I have convinced I am a genius and they cannot do without my mystical words of wisdom every week. They are friends, so they know I'm full of shit half the time, but they still like coming in to the studio to workout and listen to me correct their diction or help with a line reading.

What I find with about 50% of my young students is a serious confusion about what it means to be "an actor." Actually, confusion isn't the right word. Ignorance, is the right word.

I posted the title of this blog "Don't Confuse Celebrity with Craft" on my FaceBook account several weeks ago. I've been stewing over it ever since. Actually, the whole post read,

Note to young, aspiring actors: "Being in a movie" is different than "being an actor." Kinda like pouring Drano down your sink doesn't make you a plumber. Don't confuse celebrity for craft.

 A very talented writer friend who happens to be a very capable actor wrote the best comment. Jed said, "...a great majority of people, particularly in that bastion of modesty known as Los Angeles, say that they want to be actors, they mean film... and what they really mean to say is, 'I want to be famous.' So, I'd have to say that MANY people who want to be film actors want to be famous, whereas most who want to be theatre actors want to work on the craft."

That is true. Too true. Probably always has been in Hollywood.

What set me off in this direction, today of all days, was my morning ritual of catching up on the news and sports and gossip and politics first thing in the morning. Do it every day. computer humming, coffee stemming, fingers dancing across the keyboard as I surf over to my Google Reader and start filling my head with...well, crap mostly -- but at least I feel like I'm staying on top of things. Today was typical. Healthcare, polls, Tiger Woods (ooo, that's good for a rant!) Sarah Palin insanity (don't get me started), local crime, check the weather, what does Tom Friedman have to say, how's the weekend box office look...and, oh, look, FHM has their new list of the 100 Sexiest Women for 2009! Sweet!

As I glance over the bios of some of these lovelies I start to notice that many of them are "reality show stars," swimsuit models, or just famous. Famous for being famous and nothing more. Some have even been in movies. One was called a "Bond Girl" because she was in Casino Royale as "Tennis Girl #1." That did it for me. Totally set me off. You are NOT a Bond Girl simply because you are in a James Bond movie. You have to at least have some lines and a really cool, sexy name given to you by the writer. You know, Pussy Galore or Holly Goodhead or Plenty O'Toole. Tennis Girl #1 is definitely not a Bond Girl name.

I was off. And I was thinking about all the young actors I have known who didn't really want to put in the work to be an actor. They wanted to be famous. Didn't care how. "How do I get on a reality show?" "How do I get an agent?" "How do I get on a soap opera?" They come to guys like me to get the secret to being famous. Yeah, like I know, right? Like anyone knows. Like I wouldn't have used it myself somewhere along the way. (You've probably noticed that Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson don't teach "Cold Reading Workshops" or "How to Make it in Hollywood.")

The business of acting is big. I'm not just talking about movies and television and theatre. I'm talking about books on acting, newspapers on acting, classes on acting, websites on acting. Acting coaches, cold reading workshops, camera technique, How to Audition, How to Get an Agent, How to Make It, How to Make It While You're Trying to Make It. Big business.

Now before you jump my ass, I know, I am as much a part of the problem as I am the solution. I'm one of those people who profess to be able to help you become a better actor. The difference between people like me (and there are quite a few, even in LA) and those out to just siphon money off of naive young people who happen to dream of being Paris Hilton's BFF is sizable.

I'm one of those assholes who wants you to leave your ego at the door and work hard, try new things, read, vote, become involved and live a passionate engaged life. I'm the deviant that will explain the difference between your job and your career, your career and your life. I also will charge you a fair price for my knowledge and if you reach a point where I think I can no longer help you, I'll tell you so and stop cashing your checks.

What we must never do as actors or as teachers of actors is to believe the hype of popular culture. We must understand the difference between Kim Kardashian and Meryl Streep. Don't get me wrong, I love Kim. She's hot! But I do not want my students to aspire to be her. What I WOULD like to see? I would LOVE to see Kim and Paris and all the other pop divas study acting as a craft. Or not

We have to turn off TMZ or, at the very least, realize it's bullshit meant to feed a hunger and not the real world of an actor. Celebrity is not acting. Acting can sometimes (rarely, I might add) lead to celebrity. Stay true, learn your craft, expect to have many jobs that aren't acting. Continue to dream? Most definitely. Continue to study your craft? But, of course. Just know that Paris Hilton will probably never play Ophelia in summer stock and Ryan Seacrest would make a terrible Sergius Saranoff.