“…you learned to make the other actor look good so you looked good…” – Bill Murray
I recently returned from ten days in Dallas shooting an episode of a FOX one hour episodic show. I want to stress the fact that I do the work that I preach. I hold myself accountable the same way I hold my students accountable. In fact, I’m probably much harder on myself, which I’m sure doesn’t come as a shock. Since I’ve returned I’ve worked with several people on auditions. Without exception, the actor shows up “prepared”. Unfortunately, this means memorized. Now, my students know I’m not a fan of starting with memorization. If real work hasn’t been done, then the memorization is a waste of time. In fact, it is usually a hindrance.
The last actor I worked with memorized words without truly knowing what he was saying. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any emotional connection to the words or the scene he was in. When we started working, he became even more frustrated because he kept saying the lines wrong. No matter how many times we ran a scene, he used the memorization process as an excuse to not really commit to the scene. Now, I was watching an actor totally removed from the scene and sabotaging himself with a bad process. We are not wired to effectively memorize a string of words. Actors must understand the ideas and have feelings about what each sentence is trying to convey to have the words stick to our brains. So, I say it now: DO NOT MEMORIZE WORDS.
This needs it’s own paragraph. So, one more time: DO NOT MEMORIZE WORDS.
Discover the emotional content of the words. In other words, know what you are saying and how you feel about it. This process is often more effective when you work with someone, but I rarely work with anyone on my own auditions. It is vital the person you are working with let you make those discoveries, so be choosy about who you work with.
For my audition I had to prepare three scenes including a nice size monologue. Now, I love monologues. Many actors fear and even dread them. I really can’t relate. For me the process is usually easy and enjoyable. I enjoy finding a way to connect all the ideas and emotions. This particular monologue I connected with very easily and in no time I was spot on… with my intentions… and my words.
When we were filming that scene, we had done at least a dozen takes for the master shot and the coverage of the other actors in the scene. Each take was fueled with the intentions that had become a part of me and I was spot on each time. However, when the camera was turned on me for my close up, the director decided that a totally different read on my monologue would better serve the scene. Without batting an eye, I nailed it on the first take. If you know what you are saying and take responsibility for each and every line, you can make adjustments with far more ease. I knew that I could trust the work I had done and it was a part of me. In other words, the original intentions I had found solidified the words into my memory. The words will always be there regardless of any change in intention. In fact, playing this way often brings out creative gold.
So, to summarize: Know the scene and know how you feel about it (now you are on your way to feeling how your character feels). Then, work line by line understanding and taking responsibility for each line. Work on committing to the feeling of each line and how the line before got you there. Pretty soon they all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.