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    Straight from the Acting Coach to Stars Mouth

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    Straight from the Acting Coach to Stars Mouth

    Post  Admin on Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:23 pm

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/2009/07/interview-dw-brown-acting-coac.html

    Interview: D.W. Brown, Acting Coach to Stars and Future Stars

    D.W. Brown has trained, directed, and coached hundreds of actors and is co-artistic head of the distinguished and successful Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio. His new book, You Can Act!: A Complete Guide for Actors is both practical and inspiring with tips, diagnostics, and reference material that guides newcomers and professional actors to everything from the classics to a shoot-'em up. He took the time to answer my questions about the book and his work.


    On "Inside the Actor's Studio," I heard Alec Baldwin talk about the difference between an actor and a movie star. What do you think the difference is? Can you be both?

    You certainly can be both because the ability to act is actually one of the traits that results in success for an actor. Imagine that. But there truly are other factors involved in being a star. Those would include the type you are, your basic physical attributes and your essential nature and how this present society responds to that type. There have always been femme fatale types like Angelina Jolie (Lauren Bacall), and the decent man like Tom Hanks (Henry Fonda); but we don't seem to have much use for John Wayne types right now. There's also the buzz factor. The industry feels a trend for certain people and their fame, a fame not necessarily related to their acting, and then it builds on itself.

    I was surprised to see you say that "as long as you're committing to the truth of your Action, you can pretty much be oblivious to whatever you're saying and it will come off just fine." How do you suggest an actor treat the words in the script?

    Yes, I know it is heretical in some quarters to discount the text, but I'm only saying that an actor should do their job, trusting the writer has done theirs. It's Shakespeare's advice to actors when he said (through Hamlet's mouth): "Suit the action to the word and the word to the action." You use the words only as a blueprint to determine what you should be doing and, once that's decided, you make the words total slaves to the thrust of your Action. Our society makes such a big deal out of the use of language and how you present yourself intelligently, an obligation to the words and their ideas is a curse. All these reasonable minds talking to reasonable minds. An actor needs to aim for gut.

    Many actors are fine when they are speaking but get lost when another character is speaking. How do you teach them to maintain concentration?

    We train the concentration of an actor so that they put their attention on what's really going on, not just the words and how they themselves are coming across. The Meisner technique we teach at our school (The Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio) is a brilliant method for getting an actor to habituate playing moments and working off their environment, mainly the subtextual interaction with other human beings.

    What is the best way to prepare for a role set in another era?

    Whatever the environment your character inhabits you have to examined the culture and its values, and then bring that to your performance; it may be by relating to events through the use of particularizations, which is saying to yourself: "This thing is to this character as blank would be if it happened to me." By this I mean, if your character is discovered to be pregnant out of wedlock in the 60s, it might be for you as if you'd been discovered prostituting yourself. To play something set in a different era you might also have to alter how you carry yourself physically.

    What is the best way to think about a character's past? About the character's goals?

    The past may be hugely influential or barely at all. Although it's often an interesting plot point, I think well-meaning actors tend to get too hung up on back story, whereas your character might simply have been born a shark or a saint. I do think connecting to a past can be very powerful if you think of the character as motivated for a larger purpose because of it. This might be the case with someone who, because of the sacrifices made by others to get them through college, strives passionately to succeed so as to honor them, or a person having been bullied taking revenge for all who have been bullied. I think a great way to think of a character's goals is to imagine how it is that they want to be praised. Everyone wants to be praised. If not by the entire population, at least by that certain like-minded soul. Even a self-hater loves themselves as a self-hater.


    What is different in preparing for a comedy versus a drama?

    There should actually be very little difference in terms of one's commitment and your effort to make it personal, but, truthfully, when doing comedy there may be extra priorities because of you're responsibility for getting people to laugh. You may have to do extreme adjustments in comedy because they often take place in worlds that are not naturalistic in style. The way you respond to, lets say, someone's infidelity may be more the way you would in life act if they ruined your credit. You paint with real colors, you just don't dip into the darker colors. Then there's all kinds of tips for playing comedy that I put in my book that have to do with rhythm and making sure every word is heard and finessing jokes.

    What is the best way to work with a director? Do directors have different styles of working with actors?

    The best way to work with a director is to be completely open to their input and their interpretation and, yet, not expect to talk to them at all. You want to be totally self-sufficient, but still respect that, because they have a perspective over the entire piece that you may not have, you may need to adjust your performance at a moments notice. Directors have radically different styles, some wanting as little conversation with the actors as possible, perhaps for fear that the only result of such an exchange would be to reveal how ignorant they are about the process, to "actor's directors" who very much want to get in there and mix it up with you and are willing to hold your hand the whole time.

    Why does an established actor go back for more lessons or coaching?

    An established actor will continue to take lessons and receive coaching for the same reason Michael Jordan was listening to Phil Jackson at the height of his career. Greatness is not threatened by the idea that there is always more to learn and will happily take advantage of a different perspective.

    Which of the stars you have worked with got the most from the training?

    It's hard to say who got the most out of the training. I've seen the training create so many transformations that are miraculous. It's true there are some, like Robin Wright-Penn, who I could recognize as a major force right away, but in the majority of cases you really don't know how someone will blossom until they've had a chance to cultivate their talents.

    What is the deal with all the superstition of the Scottish play? Are there other actor superstitions?

    I'm sure Shakespeare's Macbeth came to be associated with bad luck because it has an atmosphere of dread and those spooky witches that kick it off; then it probably fed on it's mystique, the way even cops and emergency room nurses will swear a full moon generates trouble when there's no statistical basis for this at all. There are a ton of actor superstitions that have accumulated over the centuries; some totally fanciful, some more a matter of courtesy and good taste, like not whistling backstage, which is just plain annoying. One that especially endures is that theaters will keep a light burning on the stage at night so that the theater isn't haunted by the ghosts of the actors who have acted there.

    What do you mean by embracing failure and failing to succeed?

    Someone who never fails, who never takes any chances or risks embarrassment, that person can't be great. A person fails forward to success, learning all the way, so the only real failure you can have is not learning from your experiences, whatever they might be. That and laying blame. Thomas Edison in his search for the filament for the light bulb said: "I have not failed 10,000 times. I've found 10,000 things that will not work."

    Anyone you feel was robbed of an Oscar?

    Oh, the Oscars can't really be taken very seriously. There's so much politicking going on that has nothing to do with acting; and, even if everyone did the same role, which is the only way you could ever approximate a competition for actors, it would still be a matter of subjective taste. I will say, under any possibly criteria for what acting that you could possibly have, it was absurd that Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't nominated for "Revolutionary Road" and Brad Pitt was for "The Curious Case Of Benjamen Button."

    If people want to study acting, where should they start?

    They should start with our Meisner Technique program in Santa Monica, or with William Esper in New York. We're the only ones I know of who do it with teachers who have been trained to teach, hard core and old school.

    What have you learned from your students?

    I've learned to stay open and young, and that the path of passion and humor is the best path. They've taught me about character. Their own. I've seen my student persevere through incredible hardships, really heartbreaking ordeals, holding onto the work and the camaraderie of their fellow artists. I love actors.

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