The mystic of Hollywood brings thousands of would-be actors out to Los Angeles every year. They feel they’ve “got the goods” to make it as a star, so they arm themselves with a reproduced digital photo taken by their best friend and a few community theater gigs under their belt to book a series regular part on CSI: Miami. After a few months, their money runs dry and the only auditions they’ve had are for one student film and a soft-porn flick. No bookings, no series regular to hoot about, and no call back from the resume mass mailing to agents.
Some of these actors stay longer, but most eventually go home… by the thousands. This is the myth of Hollywood, that everyone wins the lottery if you just move in.
Wayne C. Dvorak is a successful acting coach in Los Angeles area who knows what it takes to really make it as an actor and have a long-lasting and satisfying acting career. Here are his answers on how to overcome the myth of Hollywood in order to create an acting career that is successful and award worthy.
QUESTION: What do you say about the myth that you don’t need training to be a successful actor?
There are several kinds of careers in Hollywood. One successful kind is to become a personality actor. These actors are basically playing themselves – such as a stand-up comedian like Ray Romano or a beautiful woman like Pamela Anderson; those people’s careers are built around their personality. It’s a type of career, it’s part of show business, and their audience has a difficult time accepting them as anything else. Personality actors aren’t really focused on in-depth acting. Of course, there are exceptions, like Rosie O’Donnell. But, if you really want to be an actor that is known for your acting (not just your personality), then you have to be willing to do the work it takes to actually become one. And that takes dedication. It takes dedication to learning a craft. And I think that with most people they just don’t take the time. Actors need to really work. They need to sit down and do something serious.
QUESTION: So you don’t need talent?
Learning how to act most certainly does not give you the talent. The talent is already there. But, actor training shows you how to use your talent and develop it, which is the key. You have to do the training in order to be considered for complex character parts. And, actors who have a real craft stand a chance to have a long-lasting character. They have an actor range. They are not just a one-trick pony.
QUESTION: But if I’ve been in community theatre, isn’t that a good place to learn how to be an actor?
Our U.S. community theatre is often just bad. So even though you can be totally sincere, you may still be learning the wrong technique and creating bad acting habits for yourself that will have to be overcome if you eventually want to become a television and film actor. For the most part, community theatre productions are not cast well, and young actors play roles which they could never play professionally so they learn tricks to get the show up. When the emphasis is on getting the show open but not really learning how to best use yourself as an actor, then that is how you develop those bad acting habits.
Many people who come to Hollywood have bought the ‘dream factory’ thing. And then, it takes them a while — if they do come to the realization — that they have to work on their acting. And I’m not saying it has to be done in a class, but it should be some place where you’re getting guidance from a knowledgeable professional who really knows what he or she is doing. Because a bunch of people getting together, throwing something together like a community play, is not necessarily going to help you to learn.
QUESTION: What about the myth that there’s no such thing as technique or a method to acting – it’s all in how you say the words and in your look?
I disagree. Although it’s true that a lot of acting techniques will teach you flashy things or tricks, an effective technique or method to acting will provide you with the tools and approach necessary to be believable and consistent – creating a real acting career.
For example, a lot of people will teach you how to read from scripts and say “this line would be a lot more effective if you said it this way,” but it may not be the emotional truth of what the scene is. So finding a way to say a line is not necessarily doing the job, unless you are doing television comedy or sitcom work; but even in this media, the actors must be truthful in order to deliver a believable character. This is true also in drama and film comedy when you want to not only be able to say funny things but also find the core of the character – who the character really is. And that’s what an in-depth acting technique will teach you how to do.
QUESTION: There are so many people giving workshops and classes in Los Angeles. Many of them say, for example, that it only takes six weeks to get ready for pilot season. Why would I want to spend more time than that to be a working actor?
One of the problems that I think exists in Los Angeles is that a lot of the current coaches haven’t gone through any of the acting process themselves (from training to booking and performing). This may lead them to give bad advice that doesn’t work outside of class, or their approach might be intellectual but it may not have a lot of practical application. For example, I once worked on a film where a fellow actor missed lines in the script while filming, and afterward the director wanted to know why she missed the lines. She said it was because she didn’t feel she was “in the moment,” so she didn’t say the lines – it was what her coach taught her. This infuriated the director. So, coaches have to know not only how to teach technique but also give real-world advice.
Also, a lot of the training that is going on in Los Angeles is not taken in steps – A, B, C. Instead, workshops and six-week programs jump all over the place with technique, character work, and scene study. And the result is that people often miss points of development and have serious gaps in their acting understanding.
What actors need to understand is that acting gets into the expression of deep feeling through character. So while a writer gives you the narrative of the story, you have to go to the depth of the feeling. That’s what actors are adding to a story – the actor supplies the inner life and the subtext and depth of the real person. Therefore, the bottom line is that if you are a serious actor, six weeks of training cannot give you the emotional depth and technique needed for lead and supporting roles, series regulars, recurring characters, and guest stars – and even a majority of co-star roles.
QUESTION: I’ve been told that all I need to do is get into a class with one of the “guru coaches” in town so that I can put that coach’s name on my resume. Then that will get me in the door to book acting jobs. Isn’t that all I need?
No. First and foremost, booking acting jobs takes talent and technique, not a certain coach’s name on your resume. And, the reason you work with a coach is to improve your skill. Also, many of these coaches have over 30 people in a room. How could each student possibly be given the opportunity to work and explore a technique with anything other than superficial feedback under those circumstances? The actors should get up in each and every class and be expected to bring in something that has been given serious work and attention — not once every 4-5 weeks.
In my case, I limit the number of students I have in my classes to no more than 12 students in each class because I like to spend quality time with my students. Because of the manageable class size, I can remember exercises from months ago for each student and know what is the next step that needs to take place. This is the kind of relationship you want from a coach, so that you can ultimately book acting jobs.
QUESTION: From the 2007 Academy Award best actor/actress winners, what do you feel they brought to their performances that brought them such success?
I thought both Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Forest Whittaker (The Last King of Scotland) were really amazing. They both captured real souls of non-fictional characters. This is sometimes the most difficult character work to do because we do know who these two characters are in real life, and the actors somehow managed to get that. And these actors’ personal personalities are not like their characters at all.
Mirren and Whittaker have paid their dues. They’ve gone from late teens into their twenties and thirties. And in the case of Mirren, into her sixties — reinventing and growing and evolving as a human being. A lot of times I think people stop evolving, and I think that’s a mistake.