Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In Memoriam: Arthur Storch

Arthur Storch was my acting teacher in the second year of my time at the New School for Drama.  He was one of the best I've had.  His approach was always practical, focusing on tangible things that would affect us or our partners in the scene.  I remember one "trick" he taught me, one that I will forever use when needed.

In the scene from Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind" with the two brothers, I was the more passive Frankie.  At one point in the scene my partner Florin had me up against the wall, threatening me.  Afterwards Arthur said I was missing the fear that he thought should be present there, and told me a story.  In a similar situation on stage, he was supposed to be terrified of his partner but he was having trouble making it real.  Arthur said he always had a fear of getting his nose broken, so when it was needed, he just imagined his scene partner punching him square on the nose.  He suggested I try finding something similar.  I have a thing about my teeth, so when we did the scene again and Florin started intimidating me I imagined him punching me in the mouth, splitting my lip and knocking out a tooth or two.  Arthur said that time, I was white as a sheet.  Immediate results from a simple thought; it was excellent advice.

Arthur loved imagination, the "as if" of acting.  He often said "When you're sitting at home in your chair, thinking about your scene..."  He also encouraged us to find inspiration from all corners, especially literature.  I loved this approach.  I've been a lifelong reader, and I don't exactly have a great deal of drama in my own past from which to draw inspiration, so it helps me to use the drama of others (real or imaginary).  I ended up re-reading Lord of the Rings after Arthur had given us this advice, and by the time I finished I found myself so identifying with Frodo's sense of discontent and not-belonging at the end of his journey in the Shire, even though that wasn't something I'd ever experienced myself, that I knew it was something I'd be able to utilize forever, when the need arose.

I've had a lot of great teachers, and the best of the best expanded their approach well beyond the subject we were ostensibly there to learn.  My Latin teacher in high school, Mrs. Warren, knew everything I could ever begin to ask about Latin.  But she also taught us how to learn, how each of our brains functioned and how best to work with that.  Rick Sordelet was just at the New School for six weeks to teach us stage combat, but he had us doing exercises to learn about ourselves as people & actors and how we could best fit into the industry, and how to work off of other people not just in a fight scene but a kitchen-sink drama, or even off-stage.  He helped us take ownership of our careers.  Arthur wanted us to be students of life.  He encouraged us to read anything and everything; literature, non-fiction, the news.  He took us on a field trip, my first visit to the Frick.  He wanted us to be inspired by the greatness that had come before us.  He was delighted to be there, and delighted to introduce us to the museum.

By the time I took his class, Arthur had been in the business for about 50 years.  Needless to say the man was full of stories.  He once rode to a session at the Actors Studio on the back of James Dean's motorcycle.  He had a terrible time on Broadway with Shelley Winters.  He reported to the set of The Exorcist for weeks before William Friedkin finally took a minute to talk to him about his now-famous scene as the psychiatrist.  He wasn't just namedropping though; his stories were always told as an example of some point he was trying to make.  Except perhaps the James Dean thing, but, come on.

He also told us smaller stories, the points of which often became catchphrases for our class.  In one play (I may be paraphrasing a bit here, as this was seven years ago), Arthur was supposed to rush onstage to deliver some news.  He knew his character had run from the bus station, so he spent his time before entering working himself up physically and running out of breath.  He realized the point of his news was being lost because of his physical state, because "it's not a scene about a guy who's out of breath."  He also used the example of whispering "shh, the baby's sleeping" on stage.  In life, of course, you'd say it as quietly as possible.  On stage you have to make sure the whole house can hear you, while also serving the reality of the play.  That was the crux of what I took from Arthur's class: be as real as possible while also serving the story and the audience.

The day after I got home for Christmas break that year, my father died suddenly of a heart attack.  Arthur had given us homework for the break, which involved acting in social situations without telling our friends we were acting to see how it affected us and how they reacted to us.  Great assignment, but I now felt inappropriate pretending to be drunk while carrying out mourning obligations.  I gave Arthur a call to let him know the situation, and why I felt I couldn't do the assignment.  He was wonderfully supportive.  We talked for a while, and he asked me about Dad and generally made me feel better about everything.  He excused me from the assignment.  When we came back to school, everyone took turns telling the class how their homework went over with their friends.  When it came to my turn, he asked if I'd like to talk to the class about what happened, so I briefly told them about Dad and why I couldn't do the assignment.  I believe I may have still connected some of what I had to do to the work.  It's hard to turn that off.  But not everyone in class knew about what happened, so it was a good way to get it all out there.  Arthur was incredibly supportive.  When you met him, you wanted him to be this old Brooklyn warhorse of an acting teacher, and while there were certain aspects of that he defied expectations.  He was incredibly sophisticated, and demanding, and encouraging, and frustrating, and kind, and everything you want your acting teacher to be.  We all worked hard to meet his expectations, not out of fear of being reamed out (though that was a possibility if you really shirked your duties), but because we were excited about meeting the potential he saw for us.

One last story: Spring Break of that year I drove with my then-girlfriend now-wife from Texas to Tennessee and back (or vice versa; again, seven years), a 15-hour drive.  Arthur asked us all what we were planning, and when he found out I was doing that he basically told me our relationship wouldn't survive being stuck in a car together for 30 hours.  He said it in that great Arthur way, though, that said more about him than me.  The man's eye could twinkle brighter than Santa Claus.  Amy and I still joke about that comment.  And we're still surviving the trip, Arthur.

I'm not a believer in the afterlife, but if I were, I'd imagine Arthur in his chair somewhere, script in his lap, imagining the life of his character to the fullest, and avoiding Shelley Winters at all costs.  Rest in peace Arthur.  We miss you and we thank you.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My SAG Awards Ballot

Thursday evening, I submitted my first SAG Awards ballot.  Exciting times!  Here are my votes and thought processes.  I should disclose that ultimately I find it absurd to turn acting into a competition and in most cases I don't care who wins.  There are some spoilers below but if you're reading this and you haven't seen the movies, shame on you.


Best Actor in a Leading Role

Daniel Day-Lewis.  I vacillated for a moment between him and John Hawkes, who was excellent and unrecognizable in The Sessions.  The thing that pushed me in Day-Lewis' direction was the language he commanded in Lincoln, so in a way this is also a vote for Kushner's script.  If Joaquin Phoenix had been nominated for his work in The Master (boggled that he wasn't), I'm not sure who I would have voted for.  He drew from some weird, deep well of primal substance for that film.  I probably still would have voted for Day-Lewis thanks to the script, again.  Day-Lewis will surely take this home.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain.  I guess the other leader here is Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook.  It's a shame the Golden Globes separate by drama and comedy/musical, because a)Silver Linings Playbook is not a comedy, b)if there's ever a true musical nominee they win it.  Jessica Chastain has quickly become one of my favorite actresses.  Her range and characterization in The Help blew me away, and her journey and personalization in Zero Dark Thirty deserves all the attention it can get.  She's a badass.  I loved how she handled the restaurant bombing scene and the scene where she laid some smack down on Kyle Chandler.  Most films would handle this story in a stereotypical manner, probably; a lot of "can this woman in a man's world hack it" cliches and bullshit.  Leave it to Chastain and Bigelow to avoid cliches.  I imagine Chastain will win, but I wouldn't be too surprised if Lawrence did.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert De Niro.  I didn't see Skyfall, though I'm looking forward to it.  I mainly considered De Niro, Hoffman, and Jones for this one.  It was a tough call, but it was just such a relief to see De Niro in a role that actually seemed to matter to him again.  I love his last speech to Bradley Cooper about seizing opportunities.  He finally had some urgency again.  I'm not sure who'll take this one.  The anomaly of Django getting completely ignored means we can't use the Golden Globes as a predictor; I'd say probably either Tommy Lee Jones or Philip Seymour Hoffman.  So, between those two, probably Tommy Lee Jones.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Anne Hathaway.  I have a theory that "I Dreamed a Dream" has the same power as "I am Telling You," in that whoever performs it in a public venue will win whatever awards are related to that venue.  I've mainly formed this theory based on the fact that Jennifer Hudson has proven she is a terrible actress, but managed to win everything that year.  Anne Hathaway is a lock.  I can't fault anyone who would vote for Sally Field though.

Best Stunt Ensemble

The Dark Knight Rises.  Because c'mon.

Best Cast

Lincoln.  I was very close to voting for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, actually.  I don't view this award as "best film," but really in terms of the best group of actors who worked together, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel had the most ensemble feel of the nominated casts.  There are a lot of talented people in that film.  But the amount of fantastic actors doing some of the best work of their careers in Lincoln won out.  This will win.


Best Actor, Drama

Bryan Cranston.  My other choice was Jon Hamm, but Walter White's journey this past season trumps what Don Draper is going through and of course Cranston delivers in spades.  I wouldn't be surprised if Damien Lewis won.  Unfortunately we don't have Showtime, so we haven't jumped on the Homeland boat.  We will once it's all on DVD.  I'm guessing Cranston will actually win.

Best Actress, Drama

Julianna Margulies.  Fun fact: I have not seen any of these shows, but instead of abstaining I voted for the show that I make money from.  I've done a lot of background work on Good Wife.  I plan on watching all of these shows at some point, except maybe for American Horror Story.  Claire Danes will get this one.

Best Actor, Comedy

Alec Baldwin.  I considered Louis CK, because I love his show, but I feel like Alec Baldwin is acting more than CK and I also very much love 30 Rock.  I regret not having the chance to be on it.  Hopefully Fey and Carlock's new show they're developing will be picked up, and they'll shoot in NYC.  We'll see.  Alec Baldwin will win this for the 7th time.

Best Actress, Comedy

Tina Fey.  Toughest call of all my votes, because Amy Poehler is so fantastic in Parks and Recreation and that show does not get enough recognition, but I just have a soft spot for 30 Rock and this is probably the last time they'll be up for awards.  I'm not sure who will actually win.  I could see it going to anyone except Betty White, basically.

Best Actor, TV Movie or Miniseries

Woody Harrelson.  I've only seen Game Change in this category.  By all accounts Harrelson is a fantastic human being and he's playing someone way, way on the other side of the political spectrum from him (who, not surprisingly, still has misgivings about his candidate).  This will probably go to Kevin Costner.

Best Actress, TV Movie or Miniseries

Julianne Moore.  Again, only saw Game Change.  As my friend Paul wisely put it, Julianne Moore pretty much bought 20 awards when she got cast in this.  I imagine she'll win?

Best Stunt Ensemble

The Walking Dead.  Zombies getting killed left and right, in a variety of ways.  No idea who will actually win.

Best Ensemble, Drama

Breaking Bad.  They raise their own bar every season, and everyone fits together like a jigsaw.  They play together wonderfully.  I wouldn't be surprised if Homeland took this one.  Or hell, even Downton Abbey.

Best Ensemble, Comedy

30 Rock.  It is criminal that Parks and Recreation wasn't nominated, but The Office was.  Talk about an ensemble; Parks and Rec is one of the tightest most talented teams on TV.  I would have voted for them in a heartbeat, but I don't feel bad having to choose 30 Rock either.  A few years ago I resented whenever someone said The Office should have been cancelled after whatever major event the person chose, but I have to add my voice to that chorus now.  It's limping to the finish line.  I still watch it, and I still enjoy it, but it's woefully below the standard it set a few years ago.  They're the only show that would surprise me with a win.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing, mailing, but no acting

Would that I could say my two auditions in the first week of 2013 panned out, but of course it's all quiet on the callback front.  And the new audition front.  And the agent front.  All fronts are generally mute, really.

I'm going to do a commercial mailing, I think.  I know it's not the best time to reach out to legit agents, due to pilot season, but I figure it never hurts to work the commercial angle.  Though I'm not sure exactly how busy the agents I'd be targeting for film and TV in NYC actually are right now, since pilot season tends to involve more established actors and I don't even know how much of an impact it makes in NYC, vs. LA.

Anyway, the mailing: I'm getting so close to Morgan Freeman's last parole speech in Shawshank with stuff like this.  It rarely gets me much traction, and I'm pretty sure they're not even looking at my cover letters, so I'm having a harder and harder time bullshitting through that part of it.  But it is the bare minimum one can do for oneself.  I'm pretty sure, and I'm not kidding about this, that I'm just going to do a quick "Hi, let's talk about commercial representation" intro and then give them these bullet points:
  • I'm relatively decent-looking
  • I'm fairly forgettable
  • I am hilarious
I honestly don't know what other traits people want in their commercial actors.  I mean yeah, I can improv and I have an approachable look and good voice and yada yada whatever.  But in my cover letters in previous mailings I've laid all that out, and where I've booked and where I've been called back and it's gotten me nothing, so I'm trying not to care in a fun, anything-goes way this time around.  We'll see if that energy shift makes a difference.

Actors and athletes are highly superstitious groups because despite all our preparation and talent we have almost no control over the outcome of our efforts.

I've written the first two episodes of the new season of The Agoraphobes, and I have solid ideas for at least two more.  It's going to be good.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Performance of the Week: Leslie Mann

This week the performance that has been sticking with me is Leslie Mann in This is 40.  We finally caught it last weekend.  I really enjoyed the movie, and I think Apatow did a great job of blending personal stories with the sort of comedy you expect from his stuff.  He made a great showcase for his wife.  This is Mann's movie (though of course Paul Rudd is as excellent as ever).

I can't imagine too many actresses who'd be able to balance the sort of character comedy Apatow is known for with the familial turmoil and drama present in this script.  Obviously she's playing with a stacked deck, since she's performing her husband's script under her husband's direction alongside their own children.  But talent is talent, no matter who you're working with.  That connection could be a hindrance for some as well.  It can be easier to go to personal places in front of strangers, rather than those who have a good idea of what exactly you're working with.

There were a lot of laughing-through-tears moments in the film, where Mann had the task of juggling the timing and tone of comedy with the emotional content of the dramatic element.  It's not like they're completely alien to one another; both are rooted in honesty and commitment.  But she pulls it off extremely well every time (see also: the great doorman scene with Craig Robinson in Knocked Up).  Mann also physically bares herself in this movie, which always impresses me from both women and men.  Though, thanks to double-standards I think it's usually a lot more loaded for women.  Anyway, she gets a mammogram on camera and I have to assume that would be pretty hard to go through with.  And good lord does it look painful.  I also caught a great real-mom moment: Mann, Rudd, and the youngest daughter are in the kitchen watching the older daughter have a total meltdown.  At one point the younger daughter is fiddling with her plate, and Mann put her hand on her daughter's shoulder in a total "stop doing that and pay attention to your sister in this scene" gesture.  I'm really glad that got caught on camera.

There's something else I'd like to briefly touch on: why can't awards shows get comedy right?  This is a huge topic, but it feels funny to write about something like Leslie Mann in This is 40 during awards season, of which she has no part of course.  Why is comedy so much more subjective than drama?  Why do dramatic actors look at comedy as some sort of advanced, strange math intelligible only to those born with a rubber chicken in their hand and a fake arrow through their head?  There's an apocryphal quote, attributed to whichever dead dramatic actor the storyteller chooses: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."  I first heard that in grad school, where my teachers (mostly Actors Studio members, and experts at the craft) couldn't begin to address how to perform a comedy.

Why are the Academy, the HFPA, and critics afraid to honor actual funny people doing actual funny things?  As it stands, the comedy categories generally include the funniest dramas or dramtic performances.  We just saw Silver Linings Playbook last night, and while it certainly has humor I'd hardly call it a comedy, or Cooper & Lawrence comedians, or their performances funny.  Yet there they are dominating nominations for comedy in film.  This seems particularly strained in a year when Apatow made his most personal comedy in which Leslie Mann gave one of the most dramatic funny performances I've seen.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he's an actor and writer.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review of 2012

Remember when this was a thing I did?  It is once again.  I'd quit posting to my own site since I was ostensibly a blogger for Backstage's "Unscripted" column, but first my acting career more or less fell by the wayside, then the column did as well after Backstage's redesign.  So here we are.

Every article I've read lately is a reflection on 2012, so here's my two cents.  I thought it might be interesting to look at my acting year through some cold, hard numbers:

24 auditions
2 callbacks (within five days of each other, in October)
0 Bookings
9 were for paying gigs
14 pre-merger

And for what it's worth, I had 35 auditions in 2011 with three callbacks and one booking.  The last time I auditioned for something and got cast was 10/18/11 (the webseries Shadow Free).

The merger only affected me in that I no longer audition for commercials, since the commercial agent with whom I freelanced for several years only does non-union gigs.  I'm not sure why that would be the case.  To my knowledge an agency being SAG-franchised means little to nothing, so if it's not that, why wouldn't you want your actors to pursue union work?  The money is much higher, especially in commercials.  Anyway, the film and TV agent with whom I freelance (read: hear from every six months) has always only sent me out for union gigs, so the merger didn't affect that.  I feel I should note that I was and am very pro-merger; I knew it would mean a decrease in opportunities.  It's worth the benefits.

Those numbers don't reflect all my activity last year.  I did some things.  I co-directed & had a small role in a short film for the AV Club's Parameters film contest.  I participated in National Sketch Writing Month for the second time, this time managing to write all 30 sketches.  The sketch I submitted to the showcase was selected, and I performed in it with Joel Repman.  That was probably the highlight of the year.  I was also in a reading of my old classmate Jennie Berman Eng's ten minute play for a series based on the election, and it was a great script.  I've always enjoyed working on her stuff.  Then based on that reading, I did another one for a New School playwright, Aurin Squire.  Pretty much everything in this paragraph happened in the last three months.  Needless to say it was a looong year from that perspective.  This is of course not to say that good things didn't happen in 2012, but this is about acting.

Now, for 2013!  My amazing wife got me a great camera for Christmas so I'm looking forward to shooting more of my own work.  I have some ideas for a second season of Agoraphobes, and I'm starting to get excited about that.  Now I just need about $350 of audio equipment and a computer that can process and edit full HD video :)  And I'll be writing more.  I'm already here doing this, and I have an idea for a new comedy blog that I'm finally committing to.  I had two auditions this week, so at least I'm starting from somewhere.  Here's to making it an interesting year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New entries at Backstage's Unscripted blog

I've just started writing at Backstage's Unscripted blog, where actors in various stages of the career talk about their experiences. As such, my posts here will probably come to a stop, unless there's something really juicy that isn't appropriate for my blog over there. That probably won't happen though.

But thank you for reading these, and by all means come over to my new site and start reading those!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why I Love Acting #371

At a film audition today, the director had me read a second scene. He handed me the side and said “you’re floating in space and a big happy moon appears and starts talking to you.” Like you do.