Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, Shakespeare

The Insane Reality.

Image
They say the road to insanity is a lonely one, so why do I need so many people in my head?

Paranoid schizophrenia, the disease that my character in “Scream at the Devil” suffers, is a fascinating, and very frightening form of schizophrenia.

In my research of this disease, I realized very quickly that as laypeople, we often misuse and misunderstand mental illness definitions. A schizophrenic is one who suffers a long-term illness that causes them to loose touch with reality (a psychosis). A Paranoid schizophrenic loses touch with reality and has symptoms that are specific to paranoia.

For instance, two of the traits most often associated with paranoid schizophrenia are—1. hearing voices, and 2. delusions, almost always of a harmful nature.

Not surprising, in our very predominately Eurocentric Christian-American society, the number one voice heard by schizophrenics is Jesus Christ.

The number two is Satan.

So, beside the obvious questions that raises about the mental health of people who insist that they have an inside line to the Almighty, and know better than the rest of us what ‘God’ is thinking, it gives me a starting point.

The voices can be one, or they can be many, they can tell the person to do things that can be harmful to self or others, they are most often critical and make cruel comments about the person who ‘hears’ them. They can talk to the individual or about them. I’ll be inviting quite a few personalities into my head, distinct individuals that I am creating now.

The most common delusion is that the individual is being singled out for harm. The government is targeting them, or a co-worker or mate is poisoning their food.  These delusions can result in aggression or violence if the individual believes they must act in self-defense against the imagined harm. Some of my past drug addiction is working for me here. I would sometimes not sleep for days, and I actually thought that the police had tunnels around my house, and I would imagine people in shadows. I can sit still down, quiet my mind, and clearly recall those feelings, though they were more than 30 years ago.

So now I begin the work of building this character and her decent into this kind of horrifying madness. I cannot build this person the way I would usually create a character. No relative past history, experiences that create current emotional responses and behaviors will have any bearing, no logical reaction to reality can be prepared.

Which leaves me with two things: Sensory work, and Transference.

Sensory work, means that I need to create an intense fear (or other emotion) of something that isn’t there. Well, it isn’t there on set, but in my mind it is very real and very present. Fortunately, the screenwriter-director has done his homework and so mine is much easier. Something is moving under the carpet? In my mind, with a good bit of focus and preparation, I can make that a river of acid that will fry off my skin, or a huge snake that will wrap around me and squeeze until I choke. Sensory work.

Transference means I move a reaction I would have to one thing, onto another. In the script, my husband is trying to get me to take my medication, I put myself in the place of swallowing  a piece of glass that broke off a juice cup when I was six. Transference.

It’s remarkably similar to being a paranoid schizophrenic. They believe it, I have to believe it, even though it isn’t there.

They say that the only way to understand someone else’s journey is to walk a mile in their shoes. I’m about to cross a continent, and believe me, my compassion for the people suffering from this cruel disease is profound.

How do I respond to a voice no one else can hear?  The answer, of course, is that I have to mentally speak that voice, yet detach it from my own consciousness.

Deep, I have to go deep.

I’ve done ‘crazy’ before. I’ve played parts that are delusional, with visions of grandeur, and insanity caused by extreme guilt or obsession, but that’s different. This woman is in a constant hell, a long hallway with less and less windows, fewer and fewer glimpses of light or sanity, and no way out, or back.

Am I scared? Actually, I’m having a blast.

Roles like this don’t come around all that often, believe me, I’ve done a whole lot of acting work, and maybe two percent of it has been well written. Mostly stage, of course, where you have the option of choosing the best of the best.

But Lady Macbeth’s journey into insanity is quite different from Miriam Jones’. Lady M. is driven to suicide by horrible actions, and their consequences, that she herself put into motion around her, Miriam is dealing with actions put into motion by the machinations of her own brain.

Inside out. Outside in. For the first time, I’m starting a character at the end of her journey, and working backwards. I feel like I’m in a Pinter play, only far more twisted.

And here’s the thing. The real goal in acting is to do all the homework, be completely emotionally and mentally and physically ready, and then, forget everything and just react.

And then there’s that element that the director has so beautifully interwoven into the story.

Maybe she’s not crazy.

I like to apologize in advance to the entire cast and crew of “Scream at the Devil.” Putting myself in that place won’t always be easy, and even though, at my very deepest, most distraught insanity, some level of me will be going, “Whoo, this is fun!” I know that the crazy will leak somewhat. It always does. And I’ll be extremely vulnerable on set. That’s why the director’s first job, on every set, is the protection and well-being of everyone there. Stress out and start blaming or bitching, and I’ll withdraw. Tell me your issue calmly, and I will work with you.

I promise.

If you need me, I’ll be in my padded cell.

Shari, January 16. 2013.

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, parenting

A New Window of Opportunity.

Image

Good morning and Happy New Year! The champagne bottle is in the recycling, the caviar has been consumed, the candles extinguished, and, I admit it, I didn’t even make it to midnight. And now I’m up, before eight, my brain churning with all the things I want and need to do.

But it’s not like the panic of past years. I know now, at 52, that even the annoying stuff will get done, no matter how much I put it off and sweat over it, so I might as well just get to it. The difficult things will be endured, passed through, and learned from, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

I’ll have books being re-released, new ones coming out, ideas still unformed to spur me on to new, unimagined novels.

I have daughters to care for, laugh with, hold when they cry, encourage, remind to be ladylike, kind, brave and fair, tutoring to arrange, school functions to chair, and so much to learn about parenting. It’s an ongoing process.

And I have a movie to produce and act in. I’ve done so much theatre in the last few years, but I’ve taken a break from film and TV to raise my daughters. Now, with one in college and one going into high school, I can finally spend part of my time back on a set.

I’ve already started working on the character and emotional life of Miriam Jones for “Scream at the Devil.” I’ve been immersed in research about schizophrenics, mental hallucination disorders, and the effects of the medications used to treat them. The physiology of these things are fascinating and the torture these people endure is both heartbreaking and profound. Equally fascinating are the dynamics of their relationships with the people who love them. All of these will be explored in the film, with a sinister twist—What if she’s not crazy?

What I’ve discovered is this; whether or not the fear and depression are real or not, the emotions that accompany them definitely are.

Which takes me to my next step. How does fear affect me? I notice a tingling on the back of my hands when someone cuts in on me on the freeway, a tightness in my neck that won’t go away when I do sensory work on seeing things moving under the rug, things that want to hurt me. My whole body senses the exhaustion from the constant voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that someone, or something, wants me dead.

It’s one thing to watch and observe, it’s quite another to take on the emotion and the weight of mental illness. As actors and writers, we do these things, we have to. If we don’t feel them in our very cells, then they won’t be true.

And then, by the grace of all that is creative, we can put them away and go back to our ‘normal’ lives. Take a bath, shake off the evil, find something to laugh at until our strength is restored.

My New Year’s wish is this ultimate release for those who are suffering from depression and paranoia. I can imagine what it might be like, because I have to, but I can also put it aside. They cannot. Science is making big strides in helping these people, and that gives me hope. It also makes me wish I had gone into medicine so that I could contribute. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to school. That’s what a New Year is for, possibilities.

Me in college. Ha! Wouldn’t my daughter just love having a new dorm mate. “Hey Roomie!”

The thought makes me laugh, but she might not be so amused. She loves me dearly, but I don’t think she wants to share a bunk bed with Mama.

So raise your glass of orange juice, and say a January first morning toast to 2013. It will be filled with joys, sorrows, fears, excitement and the great unknown.

Bring it.

Shari, January 1st, 2013

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General

That Part’s Got My Name On It!

Image

This is me skating in an episode of “Freddy’s Nightmares” the only time I got to use my skating on film, stick with me, it relates.

There’s a story, I don’t know if it’s true, that Jack Nicholson was the worst auditioner of any actor alive, except for Dustin Hoffman. He would screw up one audition after the other, and tell his agent, “Don’t worry, we’ll get the next one.” He finally started making sixties drug movies with his pal Peter Fonda and the rest is history.

This makes sense to me. Auditioning is a different art than acting. The best actors love to rehearse, delve in, research, build characters. That’s not what you do for an audition, you just don’t have time. Most auditions happen within a day and are a five minute shot with the casting director. Of course, you have to be able to act enough to perform the scene required of you, but the circumstances and skills required to get the job, versus do the job, vary by leaps and bounds.

When I was younger, I was a competitive ice skater. I trained in many places, but I spent a year in Lake Placid, NY, my high school sophomore year. Now, at that time, Dorothy Hamill was the  US champion. Her coach, Gus Lussi, never put on skates. But he was the highest paid, most sought after coach in skating.

The mens champion, Gordy McKellen, had just retired from competition and was also coaching in Lake Placid. I still remember Gordy yelling at some poor, untalented student of his, “Step, step, jump, land!! It’s so easy.” Well sure, for him. He had remarkable ability and a natural talent for the athletics of skating, but knowing how to teach it, is a different thing altogether. Champions do not make the best teachers, and by the same logic, the best actors do not necessarily give the best cold readings.

Here’s how an audition goes, for film or tv, anyway. Your agent calls, gives you the time, place and the material, usually the next day. Sometimes you can get the whole script, but often it’s just a scene, and a brief character description. You work up the part, make some blind choices about how to play the scene, go in, wait, walk into the office, say hello, read the scene across from the casting assistant. Hear, “Very nice, thank you.” And you leave.

Very seldom does anyone ask you to repeat the scene, make a change, or even check to see if you are capable of making the adjustment. So what is their decision to take you to the producers based on? Your random choices. All you can do is hope they liked the way you fumbled through it that first time. And of course, that they thought you ‘looked’ the part.

I have never been on a movie or film set that did only one take with no rehearsals or direction. Yet, that is generally how the actors are cast. Any decent director would never take the first cold read, run-through as the final, on-film  product. That would be crazy.

There are several aspects to securing the role that are unrelated to working on a set.

One. You have to keep your nerve. This is crazy important. Especially as the ‘narrowing down’ of actors for the parts go on.  You may return to audition for a part, several times for an increasing number of producers, directors, studio executives, ect. Then there can be a screen test, network approval, etc. I’ve been through a casting for the remake of “Charlie’s Angles” that went on for three months culminating in a full day of 25 amazing actresses for four parts waiting all day in a theatre room to be called in, in different combinations, to read for over 200 people. Nerve wracking. The pressure builds with each step closer you get. “Maybe today will change my life, and then again, maybe it won’t.” Ironically, this series was never made, though the casting process did make Tea Leoni a star.

Two. Standing out in the crowd. This casting director will see fifty women today for a sexy executive. Every one of them comes in in a slick black suit with a short skirt. Not me baby, I would come wearing jeans and cowboy boots, with a jacket, a suggestion of business on top. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’ve been told by more than one casting director that they remembered me for it!

Three.  Be amusing and fun to work with. Okay, who do you want to spend three months in Italy with, the difficult actress who refused to sit down when you invited her to do so, or the one who sat, made a joke about the energy-sucking chair and then got on with it? I’ve actually been told I got the job because I came in and took care of the director, made sure everyone was comfortable and happy. Sure, they liked my look and my performance, but I have no doubt that ten other women, at least, could have done an equally good job on that part. Different, but good. I once went in for a role with the name of “Sherry.” When I was done reading, I held up the script and said, “This part’s got my name on it.” The producers all laughed, and I was booked to do the scenes with Rob Lowe.

It comes to this, once you hit a certain level where producers and casting directors trust your work, casting and success in acting, is brutally random. I know people who are brilliant actors, but who will never make a living at it because they don’t even have a good agent and can’t get the audition! I know certain actors who are brilliant at auditioning, but who will never perform that scene one iota better than the way they did it on the audition, but until people catch on…they get the parts!

But not Jack and Dustin! Cold reading? Not their forte. But give them a couple of weeks and a rehearsal or ten, and watch them soar!! The saving grace for them, of course, is that they don’t have to audition any more. That’s good news for us, we get to see more of them.

I know I haven’t given any real advice about this process, just a dose of reality. So I’ll end with this story.

I was in acting class with Luke Perry when he was auditioning for “Beverly Hills 90210.” We were supposed to be working on a scene together that week for class. But he was also doing what’s called, “final network approval’ for the show. That means they are down to the wire, in this case, Luke and only one other actor were left. I called him to set up a rehearsal and Luke said, “I have this audition for Spelling tomorrow, and I’m so nervous about it that I don’t think I can do anything else, I can barely breathe.” Boy, I could relate.

So I said to him, “Listen, you can’t control wether you will get the part, or if they’ll like your choices, but you have the chance to do what you love, to go in and act, then you have to walk away.”

There was a short silence, and then Luke said, “I think you might have just saved my life.”

Luke got the part, became a huge heartthrob, tv star, did the cover of Vanity Fair, etc. But what most people don’t know, is how he got it.

He and the other actor, both went in and read, and they were asked to wait while the producers discussed their fates. After a grueling 20 minutes, the casting director came out of the office and addressed the other actor, who’s name, appropriately for this story, I cannot remember, let’s call him Bob.

“Bob,” the casting director said, “You gave by far the best reading.”

Luke’s heart sank, but he steadied himself to congratulate Bob. But before he could, the casting director turned to him and said, “Luke, you got the part.”

Aaron Spelling just liked his look better. They could both act.

Wow. Don’t you  just know that’s a story Bob’s been telling for the rest of his career.

So, get in there, make strong choices, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t psychic enough to guess what they wanted, just be yourself, act, enjoy, and go have coffee with friends before acting class.

Success is random, enjoy the journey.

Shari. November 4th, 2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, writing

What has it got in its pockets?

Image

Here’s a picture of me thinking of a secret, it was done by my good friend and extraordinary photographer, Robert Ferrone. A photo shoot, as I said in my last blog is very much of a group effort. This shot, for example, involved a stylist for clothing, a make up artist, a hair dresser, a photographer and an assistant. Well, and me, but I’m almost secondary.

But as writers and actors we have to work on what goes on inside. And that’s where the secret knowledge comes in. One of the first really good producers I worked with, Lou Shaw, at Universal Studios on a show called, “Half Nelson” with Joe Peschi, once told me that the two most valuable things an actor could have were—drum roll please, for a man: Danger, for a woman: Mystery.

Both of those things are internal. So I want to talk about getting there. Wether you are creating traits for a character you are playing or writing, it’s what’s behind that secret smile makes all the difference.

Let me give you an example. I was working with one of the best film directors I ever knew, David Beard, (Scorchers)  during rehearsals he gave us the assignment to physicalize the characters we were playing with something that only we would know about. The lead guy, a sweet, handsome young thing, came back the next day and proudly showed what he had put in his wallet, which would stay in his pocket and therefore, never be seen on film. David said, “Okay, what is it?” Young and handsome produced the wallet which contained a love letter and a picture of his grandmother. “Fine, nice,” said the director, “and how does that affect your character in this film?” The actor fumbled through an explanation about the guy being a family man, loving his girlfriend, etc. “Great,” said David, “fine.”

Then he turned to a brilliant character actor who was playing a used car salesman. I won’t tell you who because I don’t have his permission, but suffice to say you have seen his work in a thousand things, though you probably don’t always know it’s him because he has such remarkable range and he becomes the characters. David asked him what decisions he had made.

He said. “My shoes don’t fit.”

David smiled in anticipation and asked, “Why?”

“Cause I stole ’em.”

“And how does that affect your character?”

“It makes me walk funny, ’cause my feet hurt.”

And it did, it changed his whole body language, and stealing the shoes was something so true to the character he was playing that it all fit together and actually effected the film, though it’s something the audience would never know.

God I loved that.

This works on so many levels. The most important aspect of this is that the decisions you make should actually mean something. As a writer, this is a wonderful exercise to flesh out your character, or, we have the option to actually include some of this in the prose, to let our audience in on those conscious or subconscious decisions that make our characters so individual and unique. As an actor, the depth you can add to a part, and make your job easier, are plain to see.

It’s a simple thing, really, just a little exercise, but try it. And like a good editor, it will help you see the difference between the choices that are effective, and the ones that are busy white noise.

It works in life too. What choices have we made that affect our behavior? Is our arm slightly sore because we gave blood this morning? Did we sleep well last light because we made the choice to laugh with our family instead of staring at Facebook? Does anything hanging in your closet really make a difference to who you are? No, but maybe downsizing that closet and giving away a few things to someone else who truly needs them will add a warm, heartfelt smile to your face and a spring in your step.

Have fun creating, share your secret smile and make good choices.

Shari. November 1, 2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, makeup

Creating the Mood.

Image

That’s me and makeup artist extraordinaire, Patti Denney, who is making me look beat all to hell. And I love her for it! She’s so good that the bruises actually hurt when I look at them. Patti did my makeup for 3 years on Y&R and she’s still there, head of the makeup and hair department, so I was fortunate to lure her away for this shoot. I was also glad to reconnect with such a loving and wonderful woman.

The end result will be the poster-‘one sheet’ for the movie “Scream at the Devil,” shooting in February-March. The poster will be me, disheveled and evil, with an image of the Devil over my shoulder with his giant arms wrapped around me.

But to get there, I’m standing naked in a small studio in Burbank, trying to remember how to hold my own body so that the CGI artist can place the scaly limbs strategically around me. It’s awkward, and I’m so grateful that the only people there are Patti, my husband, and the photographer, John Dlugolecki, who is a long time friend. These basic shots are never to be seen on their own, only as finished composites, so trust is a big issue here.

There are several factors that are important in creating this kind of image. First, we must remember that any shoot, movie, photo session, etc, is the product of many people sharing and expressing their mutual talent. In this case, my husband, who is the brain trust behind the film and the image, the photographer, who must light in such a way that the photo can be easily worked with as well as capture just the right image with maximum impact, the makeup artist, without whom, we would all be far less, uh, watchable, the CGI artist, John Eddings who will create and insert the Devil himself, and finally, me, who must emote the correct feeling and make the image play.

It’s a group effort, as you can see. And it’s fun to be a part of it.

Of course, that still leaves me naked on a white backdrop. Trust is a huge issue. These images will never be seen individually, only as a part of a composite artwork. Still…I’m a mom! So I’m really grateful to be working with these special, talented people who understand and respect the process.

Choosing how a movie character will be brought to life is always a group decision. First, the writer creates the character, then the director and casting director choose a person to play that part. Next the hair and makeup and wardrobe and art department all step in for input. The art director will select and create an overall look for the film, colors, motif, setting, etc. The Gaffer will set the mood with lighting and depth, the Director of Photography will decide on angles and how best to portray the story,( I equate this job to a theatre director creating stage picture, both inform the audience what to look at, focus on). Next, makeup and hair do everything from making us more beautiful to horribly ghastly. A good makeup artist helps with everything from red-rimmed eyes from weeping to aging bruises; red at first, turning purple on day two, to yellowed and green in subsequent days. Amazing really. And then there’s the post production team, that can do anything from making me cry blood to walls breathing. I can’t even tell you how important editing, sound design and music are, but I’ll try, a bit later.

I’ve always been in awe of the conglomerate of talent on any film, theatre or television production. What has alway angered and frustrated me is when actors or sometimes directors seem to have the attitude that their job is not only the most important one, but the only one that matters.

I’m calling BS. Sorry guys. Try making a film by yourself and see how that works out for you. No camera? No script? No lighting? No sound? Ooh, you’re not so good looking and talented now are you? Hard to impress others when you don’t have a project to be in, I would think.

And moving on to the good-looking aspect. One of the best things I ever did for myself as an actor was learn to look ugly. I mean this in two ways, physically, and emotionally. Being raised in the south by very cultured parents, ‘ugly’ was a term for ‘behaving badly’ and was decidedly unattractive and discouraged. Fast forward to a scene where I have to be a total bitch, yikes, hard to access, my upbringing is telling me ‘don’t go there! Be nice!’ Conversely, after modeling for years, being physically attractive was how I earned a living, so being ugly was scary, scary. Especially in a society that so highly values youth and beauty, mistakenly, I believe.

So what did I do? I went to a scene study class and worked and worked on playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame until I was slack jawed, drooling and dragging a half-paralyzed body across the stage.

The result? My fellow students just plain liked me more. Weird right? But it makes sense. They respected my choice, and saw me as more than the ‘blonde’ chic in the class and I was accepted as someone who truly wanted to act, not just be famous or glamorous. To me, that’s the point.

Rejoice! Worth from the inside, instead of out. I fell in love with it.

As a writer, I think that process helped me flesh out my characters more. I can easily resist the inclination to make a ‘good’ character sappy or one-note. Everyone has good and bad in them, and finding and isolating those traits is like a treasure hunt for me. I can let even my heroine behave ‘ugly’ because she gets in bad moods too, or resents being pre-judged by others, or is just plain pissed off. And as for the bad characters, well, I can go so much deeper if I’m not afraid of the dark.

This initial photo shoot is just a beginning. But it’s exciting to get started, and it will be fun to share the process as well as the finished result.  But bear with me, making a film or writing a book are not quick fixes. They are long, arduous processes, filled with cold days on sets, hair pulling during plotting and edits, and frustrating hours on the phone with distributors and agents or lawyers. It can be hard and lonely, so I welcome you on this journey. It’s like having a travel buddy. Thanks!

I hope your days are filled with creative endeavors that fulfill you. It might be a long project like a screenplay or a painting, or it might be baking a birthday cake for a friend or painting a wall in your house a color that speaks to you and your guests. It might even be placing a single flower in a windowsill so that the sunlight hits it just right. Creativity brings the soul joy, and it can be a very simple act, or a lifelong pursuit.

Whatever it is, may it fill you will wonder.

Shari, October 31, 2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels

I’m Feeling a New Look.

Image

But not for me, of course. I’m too addicted to my torn jeans and flannel shirts, it’s like wearing my bedclothes for work. I need a new look for my first book which will be re-released in, hopefully, three or four weeks. So, here’s the deal. If anyone wants to take a shot at designing a cover that I can actually use, I will give a prize of $200 to the one I choose!! For all you fabulous, budding designers out there, your next four tanks of gas could be on me! More if you’re smart enough to own a hybrid.

First, read the opening chapter of “Loaded” on my website. I will make sure it’s up and posted on my website by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest. Second, take a look at the original cover above. Third, bear in mind that this will be primarily for an ebook, so it has to be readable in a thumbnail. Fourth, make a latte and be creative!! Fifth, send a mock up to me in a email through my website, sharishattuck.com. Anyone who sends an entry will receive all three Callaway Wilde ebooks as soon as I get them up and figure out how to do that!

Most of you authors will know that the publisher gets total say-so on your covers, you have very little to do with it. Oh sure, they ask your opinion, and then completely disregard it. This is a first for me, picking the design I would like. My first two books’ covers were so-so. I loved my third cover for, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and then both of the Greer Sands series designs I thought were much more striking. “Eye of the Beholder” and “Speak of the Devil.”

 

This is the movie poster, box cover for a film I did.

Image

It’s funny, after years of modeling and then acting, seeing my image in magazines, on billboards, and movie posters, seems somehow less personal than my book cover. I suppose that’s because beneath that cover is my vision, my work. An add for lipstick or a magazine cover, is the photographer-designers-art director’s vision. I was just a prop. And of course, for movies and TV, it’s another character I’m selling. For example, this week we are shooting the new poster art for “Scream at the Devil” the film my husband and I are producing next year. It won’t be a beauty shot, and that’s cool. I will be portraying a very disturbed, possibly possessed, woman and that’s what we want to show. It’s the character that must come through. Fun, but not really ‘me’ if you know what I mean.

The book is different. I want the sense of the writing, the pace, and the danger to come through.

So get ready, get set, go for it!! I hope a few of you will take me up on this, I love to share the love and offer opportunities when I can. Writing might be a solitary endeavor, but I’m learning that promoting and designing can be a fun chance for collaboration.

So think, wealth, power, mystery, passion, and yes, guns maybe. This book is ‘Loaded,’ in several ways. Loaded gun, loaded with money, loaded with sexual tension and danger.

So good luck, happy designing, and I’m excited to see your art wrapped around mine!!

Shari, 10-22-2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More

It’s the Feeling that Counts.

The the Feeling that Counts.

Does this photo make you feel something? That’s me on a hike in Sequoia, and I remember the feeling of standing there, above the clouds, with the cold wind on my face and all the world stretched before me. It gives me a thrill of joy and hugeness to see this, to remember that moment.

There is a style of acting known as Grotowski. Now, it’s a whole complex system of digging and following your natural feelings and I’m not going to go into all of it, but I will share with you budding actors and writers out there what I took from my study of it. What worked, and still works, for me, on the stage, and on the page.

Here’s how I first discovered it. I was working with an actor who was playing a Mob boss. The director wasn’t happy with the way he was entering the room for the scene. He told him, “More arrogant!”

Now, that’s all very good and well as a direction, but it isn’t the kind of thing you can emotionally play. Yet, the actor thought for a moment, left the stage and entered again. This time, his entire body language was transformed, his head was higher, a secret smile played on his lips and he stood with utter confidence.

I was stunned at how fast he’d made the change. The director said, “Wow, okay, what did you just do?”

“Oh,” the actor replied, “I just imagined a warm tropical breeze blowing on my face.”

Wow is right. Think about it. Take a moment to imagine the sensation of a balmy breeze lifting the hair around your face and caressing your body, relaxing your muscles with it’s perfect temperature and see how it changes your body language and stance. That’s the day I started using exterior sensations to create attitudes and emotions.

Cut to a moment in a film when I’m doing my sixteenth take and I’m waiting just inside a door knowing that any second, someone will come through it and kill me. Mind you, no one will in this take, they’ll shoot that later, so I have to create the moment. As the camera rolls, I imagine a large hairy spider at the base of my spine. I can feel all eight of its tiny claws clasping my skin. As the director calls ‘action,’ I imagine it beginning to move, crawling, slowly at first, up my spine. Then as the moment comes when I ‘react’ to the door flying open, a moment that will be shot later, I imagine the spider scuttles up to the base of my neck and sinks in its fangs. I shudder, scream, and pretty much lose it.

Pretty good substitute right? I mean, if you give it a moment, you will physically feel something that you are imagining fully. For actors, we keep the interior dialogue silent, and show the emotion.

For writers, it’s the opposite. We show the emotion by writing the interior dialogue. “She sat, petrified, as though at the base of her spine, a black widow was testing it’s fangs over her tender skin.”
Or some such. See? works both ways.

The best acting, of course, is a combination of so many things. I have a friend who was one of only two in his entire class graduating with a masters in acting. During the final exam/performance for the professors, the other actor broke down and started to sob. “I can’t do this.”

The professors invited him to sit down and asked what was going on. He said, “I can’t do it. I’m supposed to be connected with my eyes, ears and body, I’m supposed to be ‘in my spine.’ I’m trying to remember my history, my choices, my sensory work, and the character’s intentions. Not to mention the vocal placement, dialect, etc. I just can’t do it all at the same time.”

Out of the dark theatre came a voice. “You’re not supposed to do all of that at once. No one could. The point is to have done the work, have those techniques available, and then let go and let it all come through.”

The actor raised his tear stained face to the silhouettes in the dark and said, “Oh.”

Fortunately for my friend, the other guy had gone first. So he was spared making the same mistake.

We try all of these methods, some things work for us, some things don’t. We all ‘connect’ differently. Some in our eyes, some in our ears, some in our bodies. I’m more physical. It suits me. Think of an aggressive person who gets in your face. You might cross your arms or take a step backwards, that’s being connected in your body, almost anyone would tense up. An actor who thinks it’s tough to not react at all, is not connected physically. We’ll do more on this next time.

The point is, learn it, try it, use what works. Don’t be afraid to go there, and don’t be afraid to throw it out. Writers, did you already make that point? Do you really need to do it with four more metaphors? Cut it!!

That’s what my first editor, a fabulous woman named Amy Peirpont would have called, “Too purple.” I learned a lot from her.

So keep all the feeling, make big choices, and don’t be too purple, maybe a shade of soft lavender would be best for this book-character-role.

But no matter what, feel the wind on your face, and smile.

Shari 10-16-2012

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General

Venice, the Return.

Image

I’ve had several people ask me recently what I’m doing with acting. So here’s my update and a little insight into preparing for a role.
I’ve taken almost a decade off of film and television acting so that I could spend time raising my girls. You have to understand that you’re either in it, or you’re not. Agents, casting directors, etc, just won’t deal with part time. There are too many other people available. I’ve done plenty of theatre and writing in those years, in fact, I’ve worked harder than when I was ‘acting’ for a living. But now that Calee is older and Creason is off to college, I’m set to do a project that won’t take me away from my younger daughter, rather, I’ll take her with me!
Last year, my husband made and sold a film titled, “Redemption.” If you’re interested, you can check it out at redemption-movie.com It is a post civil war drama about a wealthy southern family that lost everything and comes to California to rebuild their lives. It’s beautiful, moving, and won many awards. It’s also been a lovely calling card toward doing our next project.

So now, for something completely different. We will start shooting, “Scream at the Devil” in February in Venice, Italy. We will take Calee with us, get her a tutor and she will assist in the filming. Then it’s back to L.A. where we will complete the shooting.

The story is of a woman, (little ol’ me) who has dealt with serious psychological problems. She and her husband go to Venice for a second honeymoon, and while they are visiting a very ancient cathedral she picks up something that is older and darker than anything in their known world. Or did she?

The movie continues as a slow decent into hysterical insanity, or is she really sane and the presence she feels is truly malevolent?

Preparing for this kind of role, requires accessing levels of emotion freely that one would normally shut down. I realize I’ve already been noting moments of fear in my life and checking in on how they register in my body, my voice, and my feelings. It’s almost like subconscious homework. Being able to reach down and yank out the insanity that lurks there in all of us, is something I’ve done before, for films and theatre. Think, “Lady Macbeth.” That took some digging. But here’s what happens. At first, it’s frightening, you don’t want to go to that dark and scary place, then you access it a little and learn to build on it, react from that place, it informs you, and at some point, while you are simultaneously wailing and laughing and seeing snakes under wallpaper, some small voice in you says, “This is fun!!” And then you can walk away from it when you’re done. Let it slide off.

Now this film is going to be a full month of ‘going there’ And I’m looking forward to it this time. The more gritty and dramatic the script reads, as Joseph rewrites, the more excited I get. Give me something I can really sink my teeth into!!

The other aspect of playing crazy is how you display it. Good acting is a combination of real sensory work, (feeling it) and technical finesse., (if you can’t see the camera, the camera can’t see you. Where’s my light source? How much of me is in the shot? Did I match the arm movements in the close up to the master shot of the room?) You can do all the ‘feeling’ you want to, but if you’ve covered your face with your hands and crawled into a closet, it won’t be on the film. Unless, of course, there’s a camera in the closet, then… go for it!!

One of the most difficult things about preparing for a role is knowing where the character starts. I’m a fairly resilient creature, people think of me as strong and reliable. This woman, is not. She is coming from a weaker, more abused place. So I have to create a history for her up until the exact moment that first scene starts. I’ll write more about this later, because it’s a whole process that really works for me. I write pages and pages about the childhood, teens, etc, specific events, so that I create a character who would behave and react like the woman I am portraying.

Fun stuff!! And best of all, I’ll be spending time in my favorite city in the world, Calee will eat pasta and proscutto until she pops, and we will learn history and architecture, and art and culture.

Now, I might be crazy, but I think it’s a win-win.

Even if I do have to loose my mind to get there.

Salute e felicita a tutti, Shari. 10-8-2012