Monthly Archives January 2017

It’s not just about Acting.

Oliver

I want to share with you how important this work is that we do. As many of you know we had a very difficult day in our family yesterday. Our beloved dog, Oliver passed away. He was almost 15, and I had had him since he was three months old. My children have never known a world without him. We are all grieving, and it is hitting my daughter very hard. I am so grateful that I know how important it is to honor whatever feelings happen in times like this, to allow it, to accept it, to work with it, to work through it.

Many people try to avoid it, to repress it, and even though it meant that I sat in the bathroom of my sons school with him while he cried for 20 minutes …that was OK. I did not tell him to suck it up, or that it was OK, we just sat there on the tiny toilet and were sad and cried. He shared at the end of the day that he cried in class a couple times, and his classmates also cried about their own losses and he seems to be processing it really well. (thank God for Montessori school that is keyed into the emotional life of children as well as the academic)

My daughter, unfortunately, is in the throes of middle school. I think you all remember those years where you’re unbelievably self-conscious. She did not allow herself sadness at school. She just stuffed it down and stuffed it down all day until she got home at 6:30 last night and it all overwhelmed her and she’s not processing , she does not want these feelings. Before bed, it all came up again, and she balled for over an hour. It’s almost as though her inability to release emotions when it happened compounded them. But I just sat there with her and Hugged her and honored her feelings and cried with her too.

It’s not easy, to let these emotions roam free. But for my children’s sake, I am so glad that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m glad I could sit there and not try to fix it. Meisner training taught me that. Sometimes this training is for more than acting.

~ Elizabeth

My 2 cents to the Academy

Post By Elizabeth Mestnik

Photo by Prayitno
Photo by Prayitno

 
We are now in the middle of Awards season and it has me reflecting on my annual viewing of the Academy Awards broadcast. And I have one thing to say.
 
STOP MAKING IT A JOKE!
 
I mean that. Every year I watch, already inspired and awed by the creativity, imagination and craftsmanship involved in this year’s nominations. See, I am in the business, so I know just how much it takes to get a movie made, how many years of training…from the cinematographer to the actor in the smallest part, how many hours of toil at the computer by the writer and editors, how many hours of research and physical labor by the designers. I also know how, in many instances there are great financial risks for those who take a leap of faith to back a film that doesn’t scream “action packed block buster”. I know how artists live – scraping together a financial life to gift us with these incredible things called films. But we don’t hear about that.
 
We hear things like “Between all the nominees tonight you have made over 1400 films… and you’ve gone to a total of 6 years of college.” – Ellen Degeneres 2014. Because…well of course actors are uneducated idiots. Seth McFarlane had an entire song dedicated to actresses “boobs” in 2013, because well…that’s important. Jokes where actors are laughed at not with are the norm. And last year, as sympathetic as I am to the “Oscars so White” cause…Chris Rock spent a good portion of his opening monologue ridiculing Will Smith for boycotting the Award show, belittling Jada Pinkett Smith’s acting abilities and focusing on how much money Will Smith makes. Doing what everyone loves to do…reduce actors to a bunch of money hungry celebrity seekers. Maybe you could have really talked about why the racism within the industry is such an issue. Because what we do means something…filmmaking means something, about our culture and our society and when entire demographics are shut out of the story making – it is no longer our culture or our society being reflected. But you can’t have it both ways Chris and the Academy…it’s either a relevant problem – or it’s a joke. I just don’t believe it can be both. Hosts tend to always build up the meaning of the awards “Hollywood’s most prestigious honor” only to tear it down with the next joke. I LOVE Chris Rock – no one is smarter when it comes to placing issues of race in a humorous context…but you can’t just announce how racist Hollywood is and then minimize it by making it a joke in the next breath… It makes even the very real issue of diversity in film just another way to de-legitimize the entire system.
 
Almost every year I see the Oscars get detoured from honoring the artistry and craft to highlighting the worst issues about Hollywood, emphasizing every negative stereo type. We already have tabloids to do that for us day in and day out…lets have one night where this is seen as a noble endeavor, not just a bunch of dysfunctional narcissists throwing a party for themselves. How can you expect the audiences to respect us if we take a night meant for honoring our greatest and throw the focus onto all the hype we get fed daily.
 
There has been one exception I feel, and that was when Hugh Jackman hosted. He opened the awards show revealing to us how incredible and inspiring great performers can be, bringing other actors into the jokes, not making them the butt of them. I think that because he is such an artist and craftsman (a true triple threat)…his admiration for his fellow actors came through. Because he understands it from the inside out, his respect for filmmaking was most evident. He respects our business – and we did too.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

 
Unlike the Tony’s or the Grammy’s– where you see the performances live and can see the sweat and talent that goes into each show, the television audience needs to be shown and told how “the sausage is made” in film. I’d love for there to be more time investigating the training required for different categories. Show us a sample of Lupita Nyong’os training at Julliard. Interview filmmakers about the risks they had to take to start their careers. Show us the noble toil.
 
This is an award show that supposedly honors excellence in the cinematic arts…but it has become an award show that jokes at the artist’s expense. It reinforces negative stereotypes, undercuts the power of the medium and needs to change direction to stay relevant.
 
I work with aspiring actors and directors every day – and I remind them every day of the importance of our artistry – to hold a mirror up to the world, to inspire and tell the hard truths. The best of them work tirelessly for years, not for celebrity or big paychecks but to have a voice in this world. It pains me that what is considered the highest honor that can be achieved in acting spends most of it’s broadcast time belittling what they aspire to. Because what the best in this industry does is not easy…it is not superficial and it is not a joke.

 


Elizabeth MestnikThe founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik is an acclaimed actress, director, and acting coach . Having spent her formative years in New York City studying under William Esper, her commitment is to bringing the best of the Meisner technique and New York Acting to hollywood and the craft of acting more generally.

5 Great Contemporary Character Actors

A character actor is a versatile, flexible artist who provides support to the story and star of a film. These actors must have the ability to play any role, from villain to hero to passer-by. Some, like Gary Oldman or the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, are stars in their own right. Others are not as well known by name, but are industry favorites.

The following actors are some of the best, most gifted actors in Hollywood. Movie-goers are virtually guaranteed a standout performance by each one of these outstanding supporting actors.

William Macy

1. William H. Macy

Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award nominated William H. Macy does not have a face that is easily forgotten. Now the star of the Showtime series Shameless, the bulk of Macy’s work has come in the form of character actor in some of Hollywood’s most successful and critically acclaimed films.

Macy began working in the industry in the 1970s when he founded the St. Nicholas Theater Company along with his friend, the playwright David Mamet. Thanks to his versatility, Macy was able to succeed both on stage and in film. His credits include such notable films as Radio Days, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Air Force One, Boogie Nights and Room. He is arguable most known for his role as Jerry Lundegard in Fargo.

Macy earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.

Anthony Mackie

2. Anthony Mackie

Like many character actors, Anthony Mackie started his career on the stage. A graduate from the prestigious Juilliard school, Mackie earned an OBIE in 2002. The following year he began his film career and has been steadily working since then. Though Mackie has had a number of starring roles, his ability to transform himself into any part that comes his way has made him an invaluable character actor.

Mackie’s film credits include 8 Mile, which was his first feature film. He also appeared in Million Dollar Baby, She Hate Me, The Fifth Estate and The Hurt Locker, a role for which he was widely praised by audiences and critics alike. Actor found mainstream success when he joined the Avengers franchise as Falcon.

Paul Giamatti

3. Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti’s long career as a character actor began in the late 1980’s when he performed on stage while completing a Master of Fine Arts at Yale. His first film roles were with some of the most high-profile directors in the business, including Cameron Crowe’s Singles, Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite and Sydney Pollack’s remake of the classic Billy Wilder film Sabrina.

Giamatti has gone on to have one of the most prolific careers of character actors in the history of Hollywood cinema. He has shown himself able to portray comedic characters, like those in Big Momma’s House and The Hangover Part II. He is also powerful in dramatic roles, such as was evidenced by his SAG nominated Straight Outta Compton performance. Giamatti truly shines when he straddles the line between both, giving depth to each role he takes on.

Giamatti has also been a successful leading actor. His role as John Adams in the HBO miniseries of the same name earned him an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award.

Michael Peña

4. Michael Peña

Michael Peña has one of the most versatile careers of any character actor working in the business. Peña moved audiences to tears in his role as real-life hero Will Jimeno, a firefighter buried under rubble for 13 hours in World Trade Center. He also made movie-goers giggle every time he appeared onscreen as bumbling, yet lovable criminal Luis in Ant-Man.

An expert in onscreen elasticity, Peña arguably displayed his acting chops best in the underrated television series Gracepoint. In this role, Peña played Mark Solano, a father whose son was recently found murdered. At times audiences wept for the man’s loss, but also wondered if he was the real killer.

Peña’s skillful acting has led to nominations for an Independent Spirit Award, an Imagen Award, an MTV movie award and three ALMA Awards.

Don Cheadle

5. Don Cheadle

Movie-goers have long been delighted, intrigued and engrossed by Don Cheadle’s performances. Cheadle’s ability to play any role he reads puts him in a class with the best character actors of all time. This career began in the mid-1980s with small roles on film and television. Within a decade, he had proven his acting flexibility. With roles in Boogie Nights, Devil in a Blue Dress, Rosewood and The Rat Pack, he showed that he could play dramatic, neo-noir, historical fiction and biographies with ease.

Other outstanding films include Traffic, Hotel Rwanda and Crash. Cheadle has also taken on television where he played the starring role in Showtime’s House of Lies. He saw massive box office success by taking over the role of “War Machine” in Iron Man 2, a role that he has repeatedly reprised.

 

Have a different opinion? Let us know below.

APPROACHING THE CHARACTER – AN ACTORS PERSPECTIVE

Post by Michael Yurchak

Developing characters is a much-debated topic and something that comes up again and again with students, coaches, professionals and newbies. My own approach is one I have found useful, and I am happy to share with you all here! To be sure, there are many ways to skin a cat (sorry cat), so if there are any comments or suggestions, I am more than happy to hear them! For now, though, here’s the way I see it:
 

1. POV

Assuming you have already handled script analysis and know what kind of project you’re reading for, one of the first things I like to consider when working on a project (either for a gig or an audition) is the character’s point of view (POV). A character’s POV is the way they see the world they live in. It involves status, and shapes the way the character will interact with the other people he or she comes into contact with. It also forms an opinion about the way the character sees things (“Life’s a bowl of cherries!” or “Everything is so unfair!” etc.). This part matters a lot because it will affect the disposition (or mood) of the character. Moods can change, of course, but if the character is a known sour-puss, that may show through even when they’re happy (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).
 

2. Size and Shape of Character

With POV and status in mind, I start to consider the size and shape of the character. There are different vocal placements one might choose for large characters with high status and a sunny disposition, for example, than one might for a small, high-status character with a chip on his shoulder. A great example of this is the difference between Sully and Randal in the Pixar classic “Monsters Inc.” Both characters are arguably high-status, but their POVs are so vastly different, that even without the superlative vocal stylings of John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, we would hear a clear vocal difference in our heads before giving it a shot ourselves.

Deciding where the voice comes from inside our own bodies and the placement of the voice inside the mouth to derive dialect and tone is sometimes known as “vocal posture” (this is an idea coined by Dudley Knight and Phil Thompson). Kermit the Frog has a guttural placement with a mid- to high-range pitch, for example.
 

3. Cadence or Rhythm of Speech

This is another important thing to consider. Just as the walk of a physical character will affect the way they are seen by the world, the cadence of a character voice makes a huge difference in how the world takes in the information shared by that character (see Christopher Walken as an example here).
 

4. Physicality

All of the above will have an impact on how the character moves through space. He or she will have developed a way of moving that works for them (just as we all have). The posture, gate, fluidity, speed, and purpose of motion will be affected by their status and POV. They may also bring a specific animal to mind (remember Jordana’s Rasa workshop?). Getting up and moving with the script, feeling the words come out and how they change with a new posture and movement pattern is an important part of finding the character and adds the last piece of bringing that character to life.
 

So, now we’re really starting to build something. We’ve considered the character’s POV (including status and disposition). We’ve taken size and shape into consideration, which will affect sound. We’ve played with vocal posture and cadence. Finally, we’ve explored physicality to really put the finishing touches on this guy! During all this pre-work, I always make adjustments to be sure the voice feels comfortable coming out and the body moves as I need it to. I need to be able to breathe, and I have to be able to enunciate clearly (even if the character has a speech impediment, the audience needs to understand the words, unless you are specifically told otherwise). Likewise, I need to be able to move and repeat the movement without causing stress or strain when the gig is finished—no good to twist your body up in a knot if you can’t untie it after the show! In other words, it doesn’t do me any good to create a voice I can only use for a sentence or two or a physical structure that is unsustainable. If I can’t recreate those elements, no matter how cool they look or sound for short bursts, they’re no good to me in the long run (or the folks that want to pay me)!
 

The Three Cs

The last piece of quality control I always run for myself in terms of delivery is what I call the three Cs: Clarity, Commitment, and Consistency.

Have I made CLEAR choices that are coming from an informed place as far as the character and script are concerned (the “givens” that are learned by reading the script or audition sides carefully)? Am I jumping in with both feet and really COMMITTING to those choices (a sheepish read is not gonna get the job–even if you’re reading for a sheep!)? And, is the character CONSISTENT from beginning to end of the piece, and can I maintain that consistency for the duration of the gig when I get it?

If I can honestly answer yes to these questions, and I like what I hear and see… I go for it and hope for the best, letting it all go as I do and trusting that the work I did in the rehearsal room will be enough to allow me to be present on the actual day without having to effort my vocal and physical moves. Do your best, be proud of the work you create–care about it. If you like what you’re doing, keep working at it. This is an art form. There is no mathematical equation or specific blueprint to solve the question of what a character sounds and looks like. In the end, tell the truth and lead with your heart. Who could ask for anything more?
 

Thoughts? Comments? Let me hear ’em!


Michael Yurchak: Press Photo Michael Yurchak is an award winning actor, voice over artist and educator. In addition to his work with EMAS, Michael works as a Lead Teaching Artist in many theaters throughout the country. Teaching students–of any level–is his genuine passion. To read more about Michael click here, or check out his IMDB page.