THE GIFT IS THE LIFE
Sometimes I think I’m past judging people, period. Our behavior and actions are so complex based on whether or not we went through trauma, whether or not our trust was betrayed, whether or not we were supported early on, whether or not we’ve experienced unconditional love, whether or not we were abused or neglected, whether or we had enough money and food, whether or not we had opportunities, resources and education, whether or not we had positive role models, whether or not we born on the “right” side of the tracks with the “right” color of skin in the “right” country, whether or not we were religious or optimistic or felt safe …
There are so many factors that go into determining who a person becomes that it takes some arrogance to assume any judgments at all. Perhaps the most we can say is, “There but for the grace of God go I.” That grace is probably just as much luck as anything and, in a cosmic sense, we’ve probably all walked every path at some point.
So, if I’m not going to judge people or take them for granted in real life, why would I do it with the characters I play? I recently went through on an on-camera audition intensive and realized just how often I do this. And not only do I judge the characters but I judge the writing and often – if it’s a television script – I have an immediate reaction that says, “This is bad writing. This character is generic. I don’t want to work on this. I’m not right for it.” And on and on. I have a tendency to take writing at face value and to dismiss it very quickly if I don’t like it. That can put a huge road block in front of me when I’m prepping an audition or character. Also, at the end of the day, that kind of thinking is just resistance trying to keep me from my work.
Every teacher I’ve studied with has quoted Stella Adler: “It’s not the lines. It’s the life!” Logically, I understood that. It meant that what was happening inside, beneath the surface, was vastly more important than the text I was saying. Any actor can skate along the plot using the lines; in fact, some actors only do that. It’s what makes so many actors blend together in auditions. But for some reason it didn’t really sink in for me until my recent classes.
I had to work on a couple of characters that I didn’t feel right for. I didn’t care for the material and felt that I would never be cast in those roles. It was very hard for me to get excited about prepping and shooting those scenes. However, my teacher talked to us about how we should really be approaching our auditions. That we should say to ourselves, literally, “Oh, goody gumdrops, I get to be an assassin today. Oh, goody gumdrops, I get to flip out in the airport today. Oh, goody gumdrops, I get to interrogate a witness today.” In other words, each audition is a chance to PLAY.
When I started approaching each character that way, regardless of whether or not I liked this fictional person, regardless of whether or not I thought the writing was good, I was able to drop into imaginary worlds that were exciting, provocative, adventurous and fun. Worlds that I would never get to experience otherwise. After all, that’s one of the major reasons I’m an actor – so that I can live as many lives as possible. And when I do that – the life I create and live in front of the camera is so rich that the lines I say become just the icing on the cake. If they’re well-written lines, awesome, but even if they’re not – the life is so vibrant and informs the lines so completely that it actually doesn’t matter so much.
Now, after each audition, I will carry with me the memories and events I created in my imagination as if they actually happened. And this experience, my teacher says, is the real gift of the audition. The gift is the life.