Be Accountable.

Image‘The F Word’: Shailene Woodley for Flaunt Magazine (Sept 2013)

I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was go on the internet on my phone, of course. So I did my usual rounds…Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google’d random stuff because of the stuff I’d read on the aforementioned social media forums. And some how from said random chain of events, I ended up reading Shailene Woodley’s interview with Interview Magazine. She was interviewed by Emma Stone, no less! Faaaaaaaan girl moment. Anyway…

She said something in her interview that stood out to me and inspired this post.

“…when people recognize you for your work, it feels very awkward and intimidating. I remember after The Descendants, I won an Independent Spirit Award—which was amazing. But then it also led me to this moment of feeling a pressure that I’d never felt before. All of a sudden, people were saying, “I can’t wait to see what you do next!” and “You’re nominated for a Golden Globe!” I was like, “Shit, now I’ve got to be good because you’re going to be watching me?””

I’ve had the luxury of being able to practice my craft in a number of student films. Now, I’m not in any way knocking all of those projects. Some of them were actually very well made all around! The ones I’m referring to are the not-so-well made..the ones that were almost (undeniably) painful to watch.

Were they works of art? Not in the slightest.

Were they cliche? Terribly.

Were they my best work? HELL no.

Were they well made, well put together, well edited? No, no, and no.

Was the writing sometimes a lot of the time shit? Unfortunately, yes.

But I don’t regret it. Not one bit. I learned a lot from those sets and got to do a tremendous amount of networking (hey, don’t forget Woody Allen was once a film student too!)…also, I live comfortably knowing and hoping that these films will never see the light of day. However looking back now, I find that that is and was a very dangerous line for me to tread.

You see, I got used to telling myself these projects were just ‘for practice’ and that nobody would ever see them anyway. If I felt like I did poorly, I would blame the script, the director, the lighting, the other actor..and I’m sure that on some level all those things did play a part but let’s be honest, it was all just a big massive excuse for my lack of commitment and connectivity to the character. I was operating on such a shallow plane, even in my own life. Not that I was a shallow person, but my entire being was floating up in La-La Land. I wasn’t grounded in my own body, my own being. I wasn’t digging down deep into my roots. I was lacking a solid base from which well-rounded characters are born.

Even now that I’m aware of this, I still find moments where I forget and slip back into just reciting lines rather than living them. I was saying the right words with the right inflections, they sounded right but felt empty. It’s the difference between the feeling you get when you watch an actor cry because he or she is truly living and embodying their character’s grief versus the actor who is crying because they’ve perfected the art of crying on cue. There’s a difference! (I’m not crazy, right?) And the root of this emptiness came down to two reasons for me: Laziness and Distraction.

Laziness. Because it’s a lot easier NOT to connect with the other actor. To not spend time feeling and investing in the emotions because guess what? As every actor should know, it’s exhausting. It takes a lot out of you to truly feel, emote and be in the moment take after take after take. It’s so easy for your mind to just take to the back burner after a while.

I already have enough crap going on in my own life, now I have to take on someone else’s feelings too!? (Uh, yeah…that’s kind of what you signed up to do when you decided you wanted to be an actor. Duh..)

It makes you feel like shit. It makes me feel angry and frustrated knowing that there’s so much more that I can give. We can all sense when we’ve reached our full potential or not, or if we’ve even begun to tap into it. And when this happens, you absolutely have to find ways to bring yourself out of that lazy haze. When I find myself pulling back mentally and emotionally, I remind myself why I wanted to do this in the first place. I tell myself that I’m not giving the character and story (which is why I started acting in the first place) the justice they deserve. And honestly, I was doing myself a disservice as the CEO of the business of my being an actor and I was doing a disservice to everyone else involved by wasting their time. What helps is remembering the films, the people and listening to the music (even if it’s just in my head) that inspire me. And if I have the time, actually watching those movies and TV shows and interviews of the people who inspire me and listening to the music that makes me feel and feel alive the day/night before a shoot, audition, or acting class.

And presto. Just like that. The magic is back.

Image

Distractions. Anyone who has ever worked on a set where the people you’re working with are presumably pleasant might understand this as well. I get distracted! I get distracted by the other actor, the make up artist, the director, the sound person etc etc. It’s perfectly natural to want to banter and chat and get to know each other and joke between takes. Sometimes even the boredom of the lull between takes is equally as distracting when you’re just sitting by yourself, running through lines or texting on your phone. It kind of makes you lose a lot of your momentum and steam. But that’s all well and fine!…as long as you’re aware of it and have the ability to quickly bring yourself back to centre, back to where the magic lives. But for someone like me, who at the time had NO idea how to do this, I just got…well, distracted.

It’s hard to go from laughing and being completely YOU, consumed by ego and all the fluff that comes with being human to dropping all of that and becoming a different person/character/being, or going from being bored out of your mind to suddenly having to put on an inspired, sparkly, lively performance. The good news is, it’s not impossible and gets SO MUCH easier with a little conscious effort.

Ever since I found the acting coach I’m with now, I’ve grown leaps and bounds as an artist. I’ve learned how to ground myself when the time calls for it, and to sense when I’m all “up in the air” and not doing my best work. The difference is staggering. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you’re wholly in your body, when your head is clear of all extraneous thoughts, when your channels are open to all kinds of emotion and you can simply just be. A big part of that was also learning to forgive myself. To not be so hard on myself if I messed up. It took some of the pressure off, and from there it opened up the channels that allowed me to really play. To have fun, to be honest and in the moment like we were as kids, back when there was no bullshit, no ego and insecurity to get in the way.

Okay. Now, what was the point of this whole post and HOW does it tie back to Shailene’s interview, you say???

Yes, well what I wanted to get at is I didn’t really start making a consistent effort at being at the top of my game ALWAYS until I started getting involved with projects that would actually be SEEN by people. That’s kind of when it really hit me and made me feel like Oh, shit. This could very well be out there forever to be viewed by the public. Is that really the work I want to represent myself?? As you all know, first impressions are (almost) everything. So it really resonated with me when I read this particular quote:

“Shit, now I’ve got to be good because you’re going to be watching me?”

The answer is yes. The answer is yes even when there aren’t people watching.

No more slacking off, or copping out of an emotional scene because “nobody’s watching” and ESPECIALLY not when people will be! Even if nobody IS watching, it’s not an excuse.

Have pride in your work no matter what you do. Whether you are even an actor or not, this applies to many careers.

Have pride in your work even when the writing is shitty and the other actor sucks or is a jerk and the director doesn’t know what the eff he’s doing. Don’t bring yourself down to their level, instead try to bring them up to yours…you know when you work with a really talented person, and suddenly you’re doing better and more inspired work? BE THAT PERSON FOR OTHER PEOPLE.

Have pride in your work even if you might not be getting paid for it or are getting hardly getting anything worthwhile.

Have pride in everything you do so that you do it WELL and don’t end up depressed, stuck in bed wallowing for a week because you saw yourself do some shitty work and now you’re contemplating whether you’re even a halfway decent actor or if you should just close up shop and go become an accountant or whatever it is that tickles your “stable-job fancy”.

Have pride in your work so you can be confident in what you do. At least if the project tanks, you know that you put forth your best work and it tanked for reasons outside of your bearings.

TRUST ME when I say that this saves a lot of grief, regret, time wasted and actor-prone self pitying.

Have pride in your work. Never accept anything less than the best from yourself. Be accountable. Because when it comes to your craft and future, you’re the only one who will be.

And if you’re one of those self-sabotaging actors, well then I will hold you accountable. So there.

Love & Light,

The Aspiring Actress.

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