Thursday, June 26, 2008

Best Acting Advice Evar!

Okay, here it is.

Blog number two in the third age of Mike-Blog-Utopia and I'm gonna give away the biggest, best tip on acting ever. After this, I can just close up shop and build a strip mall here. It's that awesome, that important.

And it's not even mine. I heard it when I was an undergraduate taking a special acting class to prepare us for the 'real world'. It was taught buy an alumnus named Dennis Cockrum, an actor who's big claim to fame was a role in the movie "Uncle Buck", followed by a lead in the TV series of the same name. Big stuff to a 20 year-old who was screwing around in Ypsilanti, Michigan in a lackluster acting program in the middle of the Midwest. Dennis was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a movie star. His words were gold.

And yet, when he told me the greatest tip to new actors ever uttered, I hated him. What he said was stupid...beyond stupid, irresponsible. I wondered if he could be kicked out right then and there. He was corrupting the youth of America with this nonsense and some one had to stop the message.

The message that went like this:

"If there is anything in this world that you like to do more than acting, if there is anything you're even remotely better at doing than it."

WTF? FTW? (Author's note: those initialization were not in public usage at the time. Colloquial expressions utilized to appear 'hip')

And like I said, it pissed me off. How dare this old guy (who I am now of that 'old' age) walk into MY school - not his - and tell me to quit acting. Who the Hell is he anyway?

Then it hit me: he wasn't trying to discourage us, he was trying to warn us.

I looked at his face and saw the years of rejection. Each wrinkle was graph of a failure, each crevice was a hole where hope once was. The Business beat the crap outta this guy...this guy who was successful, and yet he still looked like he lost every battle.

I looked around at the 9 or 10 of us in the class and instantly started to see what he meant. These were the best and brightest of my acting program. At least for this year. And yet, suddenly I could see the tough lives ahead of each of them, the loss the sorrow, the pain if they kept up the dream of being an actor. We were 'good', but many other would be 'great'. Before we graduated, before we left that room...before we even considered being an actor, the odds were stacked against us.

And you know what, years later, his words still proved true. Out of those 9 or 10, I think I'm the only one out in Hollywood pursuing the dream. My friend Tony is an Artistic Director in Michigan (and a damn good one) and the rest...well, they sooner or later followed Dennis's advice. Even I sit here typing away, focused on my next audition and wondering if there's still time to go into teaching. Acting is that hard.

Of course, the greatest irony about this advice is that about zero percent of the people told this will follow it immediately. Everyone envisions themselves as special, different, talented. They launch themselves at Hollywood, New York, Chicago or some lesser city with the grandest of schemes. They struggle against the truth that sits them down for coffee after each failed audition, each painful rejection and tells them that maybe another career is warranted. They clog the system, creating white noise that those who may honestly have a chance, must work twice as hard to break though. It's not their fault of course; like Bruce Willis in 'The Sixth Sense', they're already dead, they just don't know it yet (And no, it's not a spoiler anymore. I give movies 18 months before I start spilling secrets. BTW, rosebud = sled).

And so I take the torch from Dennis and bestow this nugget of wisdom to you. Be a doctor, lawyer or rocket scientist if you think you might like it a bit more than acting. Hell, even if you don't like those occupations, keep them on deck just in case. If money and stability makes you happy, don't be an actor.

As for Dennis, well he's still acting. He's done a lot of roles. Not great ones, but ones that keep the dream alive, ones that prove that he's still made the right choice. I saw him about 3 years ago while one of us was driving and the other was in a grocery store parking lot (I forget which). I called him out and we chatted the length of the guy in the car behind the one of us in the car's patience. He got married, I had a kid...good bye. I didn't have time to tell him thanks for the advice, but I guess I didn't need to. I was still here and so was he. We loved acting more than anything else, and that what it's all about.


Anonymous said...

Heh. I remember hearing the exact same advice about screenwriting some years ago. It's necessary advice, I think.

Erin C. said...

Wait, Rosebud was a sled?????