The toughest assignment for an actor is to remain natural. As a young director, I was warned by mentors to try to avoid asking actors to be themselves. I was told that many actors haven’t a clue as to who or what they really are. In fact, I was told that many actors think they know who they are but are under a misguided conception of what their truth really is.
If you don’t want to discover and practice your individual truth, the chance of your becoming a professional actor will never come to pass. As an aside, while it may not make you happy to discover your truth as a human being, it will definitely give you a tremendous leg up as an actor.
In my travels, I have always been blown away when I’ve encountered an actor in an everyday situation. You know, I mean a chance meeting at some sort of function or whatever after which I come away with the feeling that this guy or gal came across as being on the shallow side. Some didn’t even have the ability to share their true feelings with me. When meeting that same person in an actor/director environment, I’m often times elated, as well as surprised, at their totally ability to tell the truth through the eyes of another. That “other person” I refer to is the character they happen to be portraying. What these actors don’t want to give in to is the fact that whatever they may think of as playacting is still a way of telling the truth.
Perhaps one of the greatest actors of all time said it as succinctly as any actor I’ve ever heard when he responded to the interview question: “What is your acting method?”
“Well, I just look the other actor right in the eye and tell them the truth. The truth was always evident in any role portrayed by that actor.” – James Cagney
Many actors who had the opportunity of being directed by Alfred Hitchcock were usually in for a big surprise when they discovered how little he offered in active direction. One day, when Cary Grant asked Hitchcock for some advice on how to interpret the meaning of a particular scene, Hitchcock responded with:
“You’re here because you’re right for it.”
In his own way, Hitchcock was telling Cary Grant to be himself. And, that was the end of the acting direction. Hitchcock sought the truth and that’s what his actors gave him. During another Hitchcockian incident, a set visitor had the guts – or the stupidity – to endanger their life when he asked Hitchcock – without warning – to explain why he did not look at his actors during rehearsals of a scene. Mr. Hitchcock’s reply?
“I can hear what they look like.”
His response that day has become a major part of my professional career. For many years, I have earned my living listening to actors – being your audience and trying to hear the truth with my ears. If you tell me the truth, I will buy it from you and I will allow you to influence my life.
Just as a reminder, the Kalmenson Method was derived by means of a close study of one of the most successful actors who stayed the course in our industry for more years than I desire to call attention to.
Many of the attributes that the foremost talents have in common have become apparent to me. By and large, these actors weren’t what the general public liked to describe or hold in esteem as celebrities. These actors were – and still are – Journeyman Actors.
John Houseman expounded on his credo for success. He advised us to be journeyman actors, to practice and study our craft, to search for a way to grow everyday, to be an observer with your eyes and with your ears, and to find a way to tell someone – anyone – a story that they might believe.
Nothing we do is in the category of “winging it.” There is a prescribed method. We practice our scales everyday just the same way we’re asking you to practice your scales. Get the basics down. Get ‘em down so cold that ya don’t have to worry about where your fingers are going on the piano keys. Once you’ve achieved that, you will find that you will become very creative again which is, of course, all based on the truth.