Bring on the Emotion

This month I worked on the drama. In class, all of my scenes had hurt and sadness, and there were lots of them.

I got to be in class for the first two Mondays, and my scene was from This Is Us, a show I love to watch. My scene partner wasn’t there the first week, so I did a cold read with someone else. I loved the scene, but had to concentrate on not imitating Mandy Moore. We do share a first name, but we are not the same person.

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On Tuesdays, my scene is from a new show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, that I have never seen. This would mean I had no preconceived notions of how the scene should go. However, another pair had just done it in class on Monday, and they had seriously knocked it out of the park. Even without seeing the actual show, I had some huge shoes to fill and the pressure was on. Luckily, she had killed the comedy, while my version was less funny and more hurt? Either way, I knew I had to let go of trying to be like her, and just do it my own way.

The second week of classes, I got my real scene partner for the This Is Us scene, where I had to balance watching the Superbowl game, and paying attention to my husband, who was talking about something I really didn’t want to talk about. The first take I was a little too sweet and not defensive enough. We needed to have a bit more of a fight so the scene could have somewhere to go. Basically, we needed more stakes.

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I thought I would sit back and watch my Tuesday scene play out with other actors as a line refresher, but instead I got to play the scene with a new partner, since the woman doing it didn’t make it to class. After the first take, my notes were, once more, that I was too sweet and I needed to up the stakes. In the next one, he sort of yelled at me, I sort of yelled back, and we both got emotional. Suzanna said that although it’s a comedy and the audience might still laugh, there’s none of that from us after a certain line. Removing the idea that it had to be funny let me really go to the hurt, especially with what he was giving me, so I welled up. Lots. Not necessarily the crying, but I loved it!

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On Tuesday, one of the girls was on set, so I was given her scene from In Treatment. When I had watched it the week before, I had thought it was a great scene I would love to try some day. I had meant another month, on another day, but I wasn’t going to argue. Although I absolutely loved the first take when I watched it, my note was that I didn’t have enough stakes. Which is true, because although the relationship I am telling my shrink about was really clear for me, I hadn’t done the work for the cancer that I had. I was in denial, yes, but it would still be eating me up inside. A major note was to know what I was going to say in the line where he is supposed to cut me off. I was trying to just cut myself off, but it was coming off like I was waiting to be interrupted. The last take, I took a breath and tried to imagine if this was really me. I repeated “I don’t want to die” to myself before starting the scene, and I got the stakes. Or at least more than the other takes.

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Then we did Mrs. Maisel. My scene partners were completely different. One was faster and louder…angrier. The other was more quiet, more vulnerable. Still, both broke my heart. With my second partner, I got there faster and we were connected, probably because I already knew the scene and my business, I just had to play off him. There is this one line where my husband, who is leaving me, explains that he doesn’t want this life he has, and lists a bunch of reasons why. On Tuesday, every time he said “a wife, two kids” he paused before, letting each word sink in, and it really felt like a knife in my heart. The second take I felt like I was maybe pushing it a little, but all 3 takes had tears by the end.

One thing I noticed after these 4 classes is that I keep getting the same notes, especially about stakes, and I don’t want to. I want to work harder and put in more effort, not just on learning my lines, but to connect, on my motivation, on not saying ‘okay’ whenever I’m uncertain of my line or an emotion, to remember who the person is to me or why I want what I want. My goal from now on is to get new notes every time, so I can keep improving and not just keep working on the same things.

 

“I’m still fighting really hard to get any role I get. If it’s comedy, I go for the laughs. And if it’s drama, I try to tell the truth, and try to play the real stakes of whatever scenario the character’s in.”

-Chris Pratt

Acting and Reacting

Have I mentioned how much I love getting to go to class twice in the same week? Because I would go every single day if I could. In class, on set, being a reader…these are my happy places! Since my last post, we filmed our Bridget Jones’ Baby scene, where I stuck to my word and did it with a British accent. It was not at all the right region or social class for Bridget, but I didn’t want to copy Renee Zellweger’s specific way of speaking in the Bridget Jones movies, so I didn’t really hit the mark for the role, but I did have fun using an accent.

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The first take Suzanna found we were a little self-conscious in our movements, probably because we had to navigate around a table and have me pretend sit on a toilet to pee on a stick. We could have done that part off camera or something, but I think there is definitely something interesting to be seen in those moments when dealing with a potential unexpected pregnancy.

After we fixed the blocking, we went again, then another time where Suzanna encouraged us to ad lib a bit for the peeing on a stick part, as well as when I realize the condoms I used were expired. She thought it should be less contained and more freaking out and going crazy, which was obviously a lot more fun to play.

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For our final take, we did a bit of improv first, which gets our minds off the lines and lets us embrace who we are and what’s going on instead. On set it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but since we were in class, we both sort of decided to ad-lib through the text. We still said all of our lines as written, but we added some stuff to make it flow better and seem more natural with the way we were playing it. I always love the improv part of class, because I really get to be free in the life of the person I am playing, but I was really nervous about doing it with an accent, since there are some words that come out and I know I said them terribly wrong, but I can’t go back and fix them like when I am working on my lines before class. Still, I don’t think I did too bad, and it was a lot of fun, with a great partner and a funny scenes where I got to try all kinds of new things.

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Other than class, I also got to be a reader again. One thing I do that I like to think is nice when being a reader is that I listen and engage. I don’t look down to find my line when you’re talking, I listen to what you’re saying and react to it, like we’re scene partners rather than me just giving you your cue. This last time though, one of the characters gives a sort of sermon thing to a congregation of people, and I reacted like a faithful audience member. Since I am alone in this congregation, it was either really helpful for these actors to have someone to feed off of who was really into what they were saying, or they all left thinking I was absolutely crazy. Both are about equally possible, but I know I had a lot more fun than if I had just sat back and watched them do their monologue on the screen.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

-Neil Gaiman

Last Class of 2016

This past week has been a pretty good balance of family, work and play. On Saturday, I had a lovely brunch with Carolyne and Lorraine, followed by the setting up of our Christmas Tree. Then on Sunday, I filmed a quick scene for the Cohort, before diving into the role of a belligerent drunk for a simulation. Not very me, but interesting to try out 😉

On Tuesday, we had our last class of the year, which usually includes food, wine and some interesting conversations. I went there right after visiting my nieces, so my arms were dead in the best possible way 🙂

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My scene was from Monster-in-Law, near the end, where we have a heart to heart and figure it all out. I was a little too earnest from the get get-go the first time, so we redid it with me not revealing my intentions until later on, which gave me a lot more layers and emotions to work with.

As for the commercial, I was paired up to do one from Activia, where I talk about the bloating and gas that I suffered from. We did it once on our own, then had to be less down for the second one, even if the subject matter was depressing, before finally doing it where we are happy and playing off of each other. It felt absolutely ridiculous, but watching it…it somehow works. My favorite part is probably how as soon as we ended it, we both burst out laughing.

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Class usually ends at 8:30, but we stayed until about 9:30, just talking, before we all put our boots and coats on, completely ready to leave. I am not exactly sure how the conversation started, but Suzanna, a new friend and I stayed until almost midnight talking about acting, Los Angeles, acting classes, set experiences and a million other things. I had no idea that much time had passed, but even if I had, I definitely wouldn’t have wanted it to stop.

The rest of my week has been spent working at McGill and watching movies. Edge of 17 was a lot better than I had expected, although I didn’t really appreciate the crying that I did at the end. A Monster Calls was a movie I hadn’t even heard of before, but Lewis MacDougall’s acting blew me and my friend away. I also spent about the last half hour of that movie crying, but I would still recommend watching both of them. Finally, last night I went to see Rogue One with my brother. Again, I hadn’t really heard much about it, so wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it, but it was really good, and funny, and different from most of these kind of movies. In a good way. It was also really exciting to see Riz Ahmed up there after hearing him talk at LAMDA last spring. Not that I wasn’t valuing his words of wisdom already, because it was some really good advice, but I will definitely be referring back to my notes for a little refresher 😉

 

“Get out of your own way. It’s not about you, it’s about the scene, so stop trying to be good or prove yourself. It’s about the people that will watch it… It opens you when it’s not about you.”

-Riz Ahmed

 
 
 
 

Work on what you're not good at

I am spending two days as background this week, watching guys take their clothes off at a strip club, so I had to move my Tuesday class with Suzanna to Monday. I always love class jumping, because I get to meet new people, and reconnect with some old friends as well.

It was an incredibly small class, me and 3 other people, so we all got to work on our things until we were happy with them, which didn’t really take anyone that long. I was the reader for a scene from Parenthood, watched a heartbreaking one from 50/50, then it was my turn.

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My scene was from Steve Jobs, between Steve and Joanna. I haven’t seen it yet, so I had nothing to compare myself to, but I did know what was going on. Like always, we did it a first time, without going over anything, which went okay, but there is a whole lot of overlapping and cutting each other off that didn’t happen since the reader was reading it for the first time. I was also much too polite, letting him speak and not cutting him off, even if I knew that I probably should.

I was really happy that I had worked not only on learning my lines, but on doing my process, which I keep amending to include all the new things I am learning. After the first take, Suzanna asked me what my goal is, and why I venture off into what appears to be a tangent. If I just did like I used to and learnt my lines, sometimes not even knowing my scene partner’s, I would have no idea. Instead, I put in the time and knew exactly why I brought up sales projections. It was one of my tactics that I was using to achieve my goal. He was preoccupied with a problem, so I was letting him know the problem was solved so that he could focus on my issue. Suzanna agreed, so we went again.

The second take was a lot better, and we were really good at cutting each other off, but I felt I wasn’t getting upset enough at the end. So, we did it a third time, just to clean it up. Watching it, I was perhaps a little bit too soft, but I absolutely love the fast paced world of Aaron Sorkin. It was exhilarating to have an argument with my reader where we cut each other off and talk over each other, neither of us giving in. At the end, I was really happy with what we did, and think Sorkin might have made his way to my list of people I want to work with, at long last, after continuously loving the scenes I get to do that he wrote.

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After a lovely scene from I Love You Man, we moved on to the commercial/actor role auditions, which were all really well done by everyone. As for me, I really like to pride myself on the fact that I can learn my lines rather quickly. Even listening to a scene a few times can be enough for me to be able to answer when someone calls line. So you can imagine my surprise when Suzanna gave me a commercial where I only have a single line. “Sure”.

I know you shouldn’t become a class rat, and you shouldn’t stay with the same teacher for too long, because you’ll stop growing. But I often find Suzanna knows exactly what to give you to work on what you need to work on. I actually think that getting to this point where I am so comfortable with Suzanna and her classes has enabled me to try new things and not be afraid to fail. I think not knowing my lines and not putting any work into a scene would be the only thing that I would regret doing with her at this point.

In this case, it wasn’t as intimidating as trying a new accent, but I am not so great with the physicalities in this scene. After my one line, I had to look into an imaginary mirror and check myself out, with confidence, which is not something I do. If anything, looking at mirrors might bring a kind of bite-my-bottom-lip-and-decide-I-kind-of-look-good. Then, I have to shift to an imaginary car, where I realize I had the wrong idea entirely, but still have to be excited about this new development.

The first time, I sped through it like it was an obstacle course, rather than separate moments. Once I got the slower down, I had issues with my perma-smile, which definitely looked awkward on camera. The take I felt most confident with, I had to do again because I kind of strained to look at something. Suzanna liked the last take, where I take the guy in more, but I’m not sure about it. I think what I find hardest about the commercials, this one in particular, isn’t necessarily the physicality, but that I am doing them as me. I am not really playing a character, I am selling a product. Perhaps I can create more fleshed out versions of me for future commercials? Or I can just continue working on what I need to work on.

It’s advice I heard a long time ago, from lots of different people, so I made lists of what I needed to work on and started crossing them off. I got a few, but then I got comfortable with where I was and didn’t push myself so much anymore, at least not intentionally working on the things from my list. So, as terrifying as it is, I have to get back to that list, to work on the things that I am not good at, not just when they come along, but to actually seek them out. Vulnerability (crying) and confidence (flirting) are probably my biggest issues at the moment, so looks like I will have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with those…

 

“It’s always helpful to learn from your mistakes because then your mistakes seem worthwhile.”

-Garry Marshall

 

Workshops, Classes and Nursing

I was going to start this post by saying I have been busy this week, but I realized that is also how I started my last post. Obviously, I need to be more creative with my opening lines, but at the same time, I am absolutely loving this state of being busy and doing things that make me feel like I have somewhat of a hold on this unpredictable career I have chosen.
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On Tuesday, I went to a workshop with L.A. Casting Director Paul Weber. There were a couple of people in the group who were in the French union and taking the workshop to transition to the English side, but most of the others were just starting out and hadn’t been acting for more than a year. I had heard mixed reviews about the workshop, but I personally enjoyed it. The first half was spent talking about the industry and learning about the business, which was a lot of things I had heard before, because of all the reading and previous workshops I have taken, but it is all still worth knowing. I also like getting certain info from each different casting director, because there are always differing opinions on props and unsollicited submissions and such.  We were a small group, so he also took the time to ask each of us about our backgrounds, and give advice that was more tailored to our particular situations.
I finished the first half of the workshop with a renewed confidence in my training and abilities. He frequently used me as an example for what actors should be doing, and only had good things to say about my CV.
The second half was more hands on work. We were given sides and told to work on them on our own, with a list of things we should be thinking about, before running it a few times and presenting to the class. I was with someone who had never done a cold read in his life, so a lot of our feedback was on him, and what a great job he did for his first time. My comment was something along the lines of I have experience doing this, then he gave me an adjustment. At the time, this made me feel like I hadn’t done well, but on the other hand, I wasn’t looking for praise, and the fact that he didn’t comment on my technique, but just made a comment about the emotional life of the character is probably a good thing.
We had gone first, so we watched everyone else, then we each went up and mock auditioned for a part with just a few simple lines. Half of us read for the staffer, then the next half went for the doctor. As soon as I read the scene, I could see that the Staffer was either snobby and annoyed with the clueless country club member, or helpful and understanding. I wanted to ask which one it was, but figured I should just make a choice for myself. This would have been excellent advice, but I kind of did a cross between the two, which was not a strong choice. I was absolutely crushed when no one chose to cast me, after I had done it without needing the sides and was word perfect. But then I remembered how great the others were, even without knowing the lines. This very much reinforces my finally understanding that being off book means nothing for auditions if you don’t have all the other stuff to go with it. It also taught me a valuable lesson about making choices and having faith in them. I am constantly being told that it doesn’t matter if your choice is wrong, what matters is that you make a choice and commit to it. Instead of dwelling on not being picked in this workshop, I will work on committing 100% to my choices next time, so the casting director will pick me when it really counts 😉
After the workshop, I rushed to acting class, where I was late, but still got to watch two other scenes before my scene partner and I did one from Man Seeking Woman. It is definitely strange, with me setting my brother up with a troll and acting like this and the troll’s behavior is completely normal, but it is really fun to play.
On Wednesday, I had to miss Suzanna’s class, because I was doing background, first as a nurse, and then as a restaurant patron. I have gotten pretty good at pretending to talk, but this time I also had to pretend to eat. I don’t think anyone watching the movie will notice or care how long I had been playing with my food without eating it, but I did, so I would purposely spend a lot of time cutting the food, then get into such an interesting fake conversation that I never got to actually eating it. In the morning, I got to meet actual medical staff as well as a lot of french actors, then was reunited with some of the Monday crowd after supper.

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”

-Mario Andretti

New class, Zombies, Subway

Some exciting things have been going on lately, with more to come in the next few days. For starters, I am back in class with Suzanna. I went last Wednesday, and was surprised to find myself with an entirely new group of people. I had never met a single one of the ladies there, which might have made me slightly nervous, but I just enjoyed the chance to get to meet a lovely bunch of women. My scene partner and I did a scene from New Girl, where I got to play Jess, who is quirky yet adorable, and pretty good casting for me. It was also soo much fun to do a comedy with words I could memorize after a couple of run throughs, rather than after all the time and dedication required to learn Shakespeare. I am still looking to learn a new Shakespeare monologue, but for now, I am enjoying the modern vocabulary.


Last night I also went to the avant-premiere of Un Jour En Société with my parents. This is the zombie movie that is unlike any other zombie movie I have heard of. I play the daughter who is fighting for the rights of the undead (you see?). I reunited with a lot of the cast and crew and got to see my first meaty role in French. They still need to work on the sound, but other than that, I am pretty proud of the work we did 🙂
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Finally, this morning, I was followed around by 3 guys with cameras. I have a friend who has been taking awesome pictures of all of the other people we work with, and I have kind of been a little jealous, so this morning was my turn 🙂 I often go to shoots where the photographer is a stranger, except once before, so it was a lot of fun to not have to spend an hour getting to know each other so I can be comfortable. He had me laughing from the minute he showed up, and I loved pretty much every second of it. He is already posting some of the pics, which is really exciting. Almost as exciting as the prospect of shooting with him again 🙂

“You get what you settle for.”

-Thelma and Louise

Patience and Patients

Things have been going pretty good for me lately 🙂 I am not overly busy, but I pretty consistently have something to do, which is nice. Don’t get me wrong, I love staying at home in my pj’s, watching tv and writing all day, but I can’t help but feel guilty for all the things I’m not doing, and it won’t make my dreams come true if that’s what I am doing every day.

Last Saturday, I woke up 4 hours before my call time so I could drive the 2 and a half hours to Ottawa without having to worry about being late. It was a long drive by myself, early in the morning, followed by a lot of sitting around once I got on set. Luckily, I was smart and brought some books, which I proceeded to finish before actually being in any scenes. I was playing a student, so I had thought to use them as props, but instead I got to read 2 plays and get some questions answered about Casting Directors 🙂

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Once I finally made it to set, I mostly just walked inside at a specific moment, but between takes, I got to wait outside with two of the actors from the scene, who were super nice. They introduced themselves to me, and pretty much joked and told stories the whole time, which really makes me want to just hang out on set for the rest of my life. In the next scene we were in, I got to hang out with the other extras, since you can’t quite see me from all the different angles they were getting the shot from. I always find it interesting to learn that some people come and spend their days being an extra just for fun, without any urge to become an actor, just as something to do between workweeks at their real jobs. It is also with other actors that I feel the most ridiculous saying that I am an actress when they ask what I do. It isn’t exactly because I am acting so much, but because I don’t have another job. I am giving myself to the acting world, so though I may not be in any unions or get paid or anything yet, I am still an actress because it is what I am working towards and “I’m training to become an actor” doesn’t explain my situation as well as someone wanting to be a doctor who says “I’m in med school”. But anyhow, I had a great time, and don’t even resent the nearly 6 hours I spent driving there and back 🙂

Over the weekend, I also had to change a few classes around, because Suzanna texted to ask me to be in her Tuesday class. I know that her Tuesday class is now listed as mixed level, and it was to fill a spot that was left vacant, but I still like to think that she saw such an improvement in me that she felt I deserved to be in the Tuesday class 😉 I don’t think I made the best first impression, as I kind of fumbled over my words and didn’t show enough passion, but that is why you go to class, so you can constantly improve and work harder and get better without it costing you a job. And even with the line flubbing, I had such a fun time up there, and with everyone in the class, who was so nice and were joking around and making each other laugh between takes. I am definitely looking forward to next Tuesday, when I get to do another scene from Erin Brokovitch 🙂

Having Suzanna’s class on Tuesday meant that I had to switch into the Friday stunt stage class. I kind of feel like I keep putting it off because I am afraid of breaking something or not being able to keep up (2 very realistic fears), but I actually had a legitimate reason and will be there with full force tomorrow, after spending the day playing a patient.

I got to act as a fake patient for the first time before class on Tuesday. When I got the ultrasounds, I was there as me, helping them practice, but the other day I was there with an alias, with a fake history and symptoms and…it was really cool. It’s not exactly like movie acting, because you only have your character and the story, you don’t have lines, but it is amazing practice. It is like Drinking Buddies or This is 40, the movies where you had a character and you know where the story is going, but the lines aren’t set in stone, you improvise and make it your own, changing it with the director’s input or what the other actors give you. I had the same information each time, but different people came in and asked me different questions in different ways, or found different things interesting. It was a whole lot of fun, and I am looking forward to my even more elaborate background story on Friday.

As far as my list for September is concerned, I only have 2 more plays to go, which I have been saving for my two upcoming days on set as an extra, I have written a couple more pages in the book, and plan on doing a lot of the others things this afternoon. As for the audition, I haven’t had one yet, but I have a self-tape request, and am waiting upon a reply with my audition time for another project. I often get this fear like I am missing out on all these amazing shows or movies that are being filmed now, but we couldn’t have predicted them 10 years ago, just like I have no idea what incredible projects await me in my future. You just have to work hard and concentrate on giving your all to what you are working on right now, and the rest should fall into place 🙂

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”

-Bill Cosby