Your toughest VO assigment

Toughest Assignment?
Be Yourself

        The toughest assignment for an actor is to remain natural. As a young director, I was warned by my mentors to try to stay away from asking an actor 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 also told that many actors think they know but are under a misguided conception of what their truth really is.
        If you don’t want to discover and practice your own individual truth, your chances of becoming a successful and 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. Point of fact: Almost all the great actors I’ve met in my travels fall into the category of being human—beings, that is. Imagine that.

        In my travels, it always managed to blow me away when I’ve encountered an actor in an everyday situation. A chance meeting at some sort of function or whatever and I come away from the encounter with the feeling this talent came across as being on the shallow side. Some didn’t have the ability to share their true feelings with me.

        When meeting that same person, in an actor/director environment, I’m oftentimes elated as well as surprised by their total ability, to tell the truth through the eyes of another. That other person that I refer to is the character they happen to be portraying. What they don’t want to give into 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 during an interview what his acting method was:

“…Look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth.”
James Cagney

        The truth was always evident in any role portrayed by that actor.

        Many actors who had the opportunity to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock usually were in for a big surprise when they discovered how little direction he offered in the way of acting. 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, he was telling Cary Grant to be himself. That was the end of the acting direction. Hitchcock sought the truth and that’s what his actors gave him. During another incident involving Mr. Hitchcock, a visitor to the set had the guts or the stupidity to endanger their life when without warning he asked Hitchcock to explain why he wasn’t looking at his actors during a rehearsal of a scene. Mr. Hitchcock’s reply, “I can hear what they look like.”
        That response has become a major part of my professional career. For many years, I have earned my living while listening to actors. Being your audience, and trying to hear the truth with my ears. If you tell me the truth, I will buy from you and allow you to influence my life. Just as a reminder, the Kalmenson Method was derived by means of a close study of the most successful actors in our industry during the course of more years than I desire to call attention to.

        Many of the attributes that the foremost talent has in common became apparent to me. By and large, these weren’t the actors that the general public described or held in esteem as celebrities. These were and are the 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 every day, to be an observer with your eyes and 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 every day 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 caressing those piano keys. Truth brings an allowance for your forthright entrance to the present, allowing you to become creatively responsive and receptive to the needs of the person (or persons) you’re attempting to influence; and again, it’s all based on the truth.

Harvey Kalmenson

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