Category Archives Actors

Tony Award Winner, Chris Bensinger, discusses Academy Award Nominations with Elizabeth Mestnik

With the Oscar nominations announced this past week, everyone (not just those of us in the business) takes a moment to reflect, analyze and appreciate the great films and performances that were released over the last year. In this spirit, we thought it would be interesting for Elizabeth and Chris Bensinger, EMAS’ newest faculty member and a distinguished theater producer, to sit down together discuss the work that they’ve admired in 2016.

 

EM:  Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your impressions of this year’s films.  As a 2 time Tony Award winner – It will be fun to hear what you have to say about another Award show.

CB:  Thanks – it’s been a good year for stories.

EM:  Absolutely – I love how many intimate tales, tales that are quite unique to each individual character are getting such universal recognition.  Stories that are a bit quieter and more soulful than we’ve seen in the past.  I am thinking specifically of Moonlight,Loving and my favorite of the year Captain Fantastic.  The characters in these films are what actors dream of.

CB:  I really felt that intimacy with Joel Edgerton’s performance in Loving and I’m disappointed he didn’t get nominated. He captured the quiet, unsophisticated, deeply expressed emotions of the time period and circumstance. His eyes led the way where his quiet subtle voice and cadence followed after. We see him thinking, processing, feeling through his eyes and not his words. Rich performance.  Viggo Mortenson- Captain Fantastic.  A mature, and again, patient and settled performance delivering a full commitment to this nuanced outsider in love with his children and in total fear and distain for our modern world.  His interaction with his children was so natural and mesmerizing. The kids were fantastic as well.

EM:  There is one scene in Captain Fantastic – where the camera settles on Viggo’s character Ben driving the bus – this is a non-speaking close up where he shows us every stage of grief. Again – it was all in the eyes- A stellar performance.  He’s a long shot – but I’d love to see this film get some more viewers and some recognition for it’s beautiful originality.

CB:  In a very different style of performance – I think Emma Stone has best Actress for La La Land… She swings from one side of the acting spectrum of human expression to the other with such compelling depth and ease. She astounds me. Here she manages to enter this world of fantasy with the absolute perfect blend of old Hollywood elegance to the “modern day woman”  filled with conflict and fast moving parts. Emma is exceedingly smart in her choices and her ability to convey that “it” quality where charisma meets craft, where outside beauty meets inside beauty.  I say this all the time to my students, keep forward, get it out, feel through your eyes.. “She had me at hello” and never lets go.

EM:  I wasn’t as big a fan of LaLa Land – I enjoyed it – but missed the dancing and singing that leaves me in awe (though I was quite moved by Emma’s song “Here’s to the Fools who Dream”).  Emma Stone is absolutely charismatic but when I think about what she had to portray verses what Natalie Portman, or Amy Adams or Taraji P. Henson (who should have been nominated!) did and it just didn’t have the same acting demands.  Though what struck me was the real diversity of film genres the actresses worked in, Romantic Musical, mystery (Elle), and 3 bio-pics with very different styles and povs.  Best Supporting Actress is also strong, but I think Viola Davis in Fences is the one to beat this year.  When you can identify the hurt, the rage and the love in one glance you are truly looking at a master of her craft.

CB:  Absolutely…but my favorite performance in this category was Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea.  She broke my heart in her quintessential poignant scene when the two meet up late in the film; she barely has enough breath to deliver her lines. Incredible. For that scene alone she should get awards.

EM:  Michelle chooses her parts so sincerely.  I have never seen her in a false moment.  Such a beautiful actress – vulnerable and strong.  Boy oh Boy…what about supporting actor – how do you compare Mahershala Ali in Moonlight to Michael Shannon inNocturnal Animals.  And Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors of all time (can we just talk about Crazy Heart?)

CB:  Jeff Bridges is one of the craftiest actors today. I put him up there in an elite category.  Just take a look at the moment his partner gets shot in his film Hell or High Water (which by the way was my second favorite movie of the year). Watch him shutter and absorb the trauma like he had been the one struck by the bullet while at the same time transferring his attention to the shooter.  Really good stuff there.  However, I would love to see it go to Lucas Hedges – he stole the show. I loved how he exuded such a protective coating to the immense childhood trauma. Here again, he allowed himself to sit in the moment allow us to catch up with his towering emotions delivered behind his veil of hormones and a drive to hold on to his community.  Loved his performance and very much look forward to his developing career.

EM:  So what do you think about best director and best film?

CB:  La La Land!  Hey, I teach musical theater.  What do you expect? When Damian Chezelle can transport the audience with complete emersion and entertainment into your cinematic world you deserve high plaudits. Damian deserves the crown this year. His use of pace (yet controlled) and musical numbers to transition scenes yet simultaneously drive the plot forward is a joy.  This film with a twinkle in its eye, set in contemporary LA with a nod to the 1940’s is a folly romp that will have you “singing in the rain” in Sunny LA.

Even with my bias…, La La Land is still is the best film of the year regardless.   What terrific filmmaking. An homage to old Hollywood and movie musicals yet is utterly fresh in approach. I was hooked in from the long opening musical sequence on the highway which took a lot of creative  courage  to the brilliant “what if” montage at the end. I was so enamored by the charm and elegance of this film. The musical numbers bind the plot and moved the narrative forward, which is exactly how it should be done. Not to mention, the chemistry between Emma and Ryan worked. The tone never waivers; lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, acting all working perfectly together… a masterful and utterly entertaining film. But… like I said, I am biased.


Chris_Bensinger_croppedA Tony Award winning theater producer, Chris Bensinger joined the EMAS faculty to help actors hone the skills that allow them to shine in Hollywood’s growing number of Musical and “Musical TV” productions.

Elizabeth Mestnik, acting coach The founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik has deep roots in the Meisner technique and extensive experience both as a working actress/director and as a teacher with a love for the craft of acting

 

Have your own thoughts on what performances deserve recognition? Let us know!

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.

Actress Juliana Mendez on the Meisner Program

Guest Post by EMAS alumnus Juliana Mendez


Before the Meisner program, I felt like I was stuck in my head and wasn’t able to fully let go. I was intrigued by the Meisner technique’s emphasis on moment-to-moment work. I heard about the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio (EMAS) through a couple of friends and they both had great things to say about the studio and the Meisner program. My curiosity grew each time they talked about it and wondered what they meant when they said it was ‘hard’. Up to that point I had been lucky enough to have had excellent acting teachers who demanded a lot from their students, but I never considered acting ‘hard’. The more I heard about the program, the more I wanted to see what it was all about. I told myself that I would wait until I was done with school to continue my acting training. Then, I saw my friend in a short film and was blown away by how much her work had grown within just a few months of training at EMAS. I had to check this place out ASAP!

My plan was to do the Meisner summer intensive since I was off from school and then enroll in the 2-year program the following year once I graduated. Ha! Plans changed because I was completely hooked. I learned a lot about acting and life in just those five weeks and was dying to learn more. I finally understood what other students meant when they said it would be hard. This program requires discipline, determination, and the courage to let yourself be seen at your most raw and vulnerable moments. In my experience, the people that leave the program or have negative things to say about it are the ones least willing to be vulnerable and put in the work, which makes them feel attacked when asked to do so. There is no ‘hiding’ behind other characters since you’re basically taking in and experiencing everything as yourself under the imaginary circumstances crafted.

First year is brilliantly designed to help you learn about yourself and your unique point of view. Through the exercises, you develop the highly important skill of listening, the ability to behave truthfully and spontaneously, and the strength to both stand up for yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable. You become more emotionally available and more confident in your craft. What more could you ask for? If you put in the work, you’ll gain the necessary tools that’ll allow you to do consistently good work. I am now a few months away from completing second year which consists of character work where you learn to adopt different points of view and do impediment work. You get to let your imagination run wild and really have fun! The program also includes on-camera work, the business side of acting, and a showcase at the end to which industry people are invited. The Meisner program has been life-changing and it’s crazy to think that it’s almost over!

But I can’t wrap this all up without talking about the Fitzmaurice voice class which I just finished taking with the incredible Michael Yurchak who is certified in the technique and studied with Catherine Fitzmaurice herself. I am so glad that they added this 12 week course option to my Meisner training. I never really received notes about my voice per se, but I wanted to incorporate this class into my training in order to keep my instrument sharp and have a more conservatory style of training. After all, the Fitzmaurice technique is also taught at NYU, Julliard, and Yale so it clearly has it’s merits. I went into this class not expecting much since it was ‘just’ a voice class, but man, I was wrong! In class you are guided through the sequence, which is a series of positions that usually produce tremors. You ‘destructure’ and ‘restructure’, which allows you to access your full voice without excess effort and tension so that it is more expressive and resonant. The Fitzmaurice class feels like a yoga class except for the fact that everyone is making sound and some people end up having strong emotional reactions (crying, laughing, etc). The sequence helps shake up ‘emotional goo’, as Michael says and is highly effective. It works so quickly, that I always left class feeling grounded, extremely relaxed, and with a more resonant voice. There is a lot to be gained from this class both technically and personally, and it complements the Meisner program nicely.

Overall, the classes offered at EMAS are phenomenal and all of the teachers are amazing. They truly care about their students and everyone is really supportive. You also get to meet a lot of other great people, especially at EMAS events, such as the monthly staged readings, which gives students and alumni a chance to act, direct, and get familiar with more plays. Taking classes here has been one of the greatest investments I have ever made for my career and has been worth every penny!


actress Juliana MendezAn alumnus of Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s Meisner program, Juliana Mendez is an LA based Actress currently making a name for herself in film and on stage.

What to do with a Spark? An Actor’s take on the Importance of Training

Post by Jordana Oberman


I’ve been teaching for about 15 years and I recently got into a conversation with someone who asked, “Why bother training? Isn’t that what instincts are for?”

To me that‘s like asking a spark why it needs kindling to create a fire. Training is your fuel as an actor. The genius of being an artist is that different fuels create very different fires – you the artist must know what the moment demands and then serve it.

The only way to know how different fuels affect you is to try them on for size. This is where I believe the foundation of acting technique is a must for any actor to explore. As new actors begin their journey into their craft how can they tell if they want to study Meisner, Stanislavsky, Stella Adler, Strasberg, etc? Well, they can read about each and every technique out there. Okay, but that’s book smarts. How will you know which affects your fire and sends you soaring? The only way is to try the techniques on for size.

This is why Elizabeth, Michael Yurchak and I created a curriculum developed for this exact exploration. We want to give students a chance to test drive different techniques to see how they work. In our Foundations classes we explore Strasberg, Stanislavsky, Improvisation, Fitzmaurice Voice Technique and Rasa Aesthetics – just to name a few. We ask students to try them on, work within them and then move onto the next. This is a class specifically about trial rather than mastery. We teach individual exercises created to employ aspects of each technique, which allows our actors to actively apply them to scene work. We wouldn’t ever expect a new painter to jump into the Sistine Chapel – but rather to explore their mediums: oils, watercolor, acrylic…are you into realism, pointillism, abstraction?

In this exploration we hope that every actor feels like this is a place where it is safe to fail and to fail brilliantly. They need that safety net where one misstep won’t lose them a job or affect the next moment in their career. They need a place to spread their wings and make mistakes. I truly believe that every mistake or failure is a beautiful opportunity for growth. Mistakes are our greatest teachers. We fix those mistakes through repeat practice. Most of the time when everything clicks into place for an actor and you ask them, “What happened?” Their response will undoubtedly be “I don’t know.” So we have to create a muscle memory in the studio of what works vs. what doesn’t. Our class is where student actors can rehearse techniques over and over again. That way when the lights are on and the camera is rolling our artist instincts can click in and we can surrender to the ride.

Once a student has experienced all the different exercises and techniques we teach, then they can decide if there is one they would like to explore in more depth. In the end all the techniques work on each actor differently. We are all artists with our own points of view and this uniqueness is what makes each of us extremely castable. We just need to develop our tool-box to call upon whatever the moment demands. And the only way to build those tools is to train. Training is the kindling that lights the flame.


jordana oberman acting instructorAn alumnus of EMAS LA, Jordana Oberman currently teaches the Meisner Technique at the studio. Jordana’s career as a working actor has taken her back and forth between New York and Los Angeles working in Theatre, Television, and Film. See her staff bio here, or see more on IMDB

EMAS Acting Teachers give their Oscar Picks

academy award candidates

The Oscars are almost here – a time of year when everyone looks back takes some time to contemplate on their favorite movies and performances of the past year. From academy members to cinephiles to casual moviegoers, everyone has their own opinion about which work merits recognition.

Getting in the spirit of things, we asked our staff of acting instructors to share their thoughts on which films and actors impressed them the most in 2015. Below are their votes for the 87th  Academy Awards:

Jordana Oberman, Technique instructor

Best Leading Actor: Eddie Redmayne
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
Best Supporting Actress: Kate winslet
Best FilmSpotlight
Best Direction: The Revenant Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Sandy Egan, Meisner Instructor

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio – just for shooting conditions alone (I also really liked Matt Damon)
Best Leading Actress: Saoirse Ronan – a beautiful heartfelt performance
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo – I like him in everything
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara is the very soul Carol
Best Film: Spotlight – it worked on every level
Best Direction: George Miller – a great achievement so late in a long career [Mad Max: Fury Road]

Thom Rivera, On-camera Instructor

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio or Michael Fassbender
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vykander  or Kate Winslet
Best FilmThe Revenant
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu

Ken Weiler, Meisner Instructor

Best Leading Actress: I’m going with Brie Larson. She won the Golden Globe for Room. Her performance was raw, and powerful. She’s new, even though she’s been working for over 20 years. Ha! Room is just the sort of movie the Academy gives Oscars to.
Best Leading Actor: I’m going with Leonardo Di Caprio. He’s overdue. His body of work is remarkable and he hasn’t won an Oscar yet. And he was incredibly good in The Revenant.
Best Film: The Revenant, Alejandro Iñárritu won last year for Birman and, as crazy as it sounds, I think he could win again.
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant is just so cinematically magnificent and, like Birdman,left me asking “How did he do that?”

Elizabeth Mestnik, Founder & Director of EMAS

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander
Best Film: Spotlight
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu

 

Have your own thoughts on who did the best movie work of 2015? Let us know what you think!

Should Working Actors Continue Their Training??

Guest Post by Matthew Jaeger

Matthew Jaeger HeadshotMatt Jaeger is a 2014 graduate of The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s Professional Meisner Training Program. He is currently starring in Chinglish by David Henry Hwang at East West Players. Other credits include Recurring and Guest Star appearances on Criminal Minds, Switched at Birth, CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. See Matthew Jaeger on IMDB.


When I came to Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, I’d already been a working actor for four years. I worked primarily in commercials and television, doing the occasional film and the even more occasional theatre project. I came to EMAS because of one these more occasional theatre projects, a play called Short Eyes, where I played the title role. It was an incredibly demanding role, and I found I hit a wall when trying to access certain emotional parts of myself. I would get to a point and then just… nothing. It was scary and incredibly frustrating. So I faked it when I needed to, and got through the run. But afterwards I was left with the feeling that I should have gone farther, made the role not only deeper but given it more levels and color. My girlfriend (now wife) suggested I look at Elizabeth Mestnik’s Meisner Summer Intensive when it came around that summer. So I did.

To make long story slightly less long, in that short intensive, I dug deeper than I ever had before. I liked what I found, and what it did to me as an actor. So I joined the full Professional Program. What followed were nine months of some of the hardest work I’ve ever done as an actor. Remember, I make my money acting, so I was very nervous to mess with my process or give anyone else input as to how I approached my craft. But the more I relaxed and opened up, the better things got. It was SO much work, but every minute was worth it. I continued on into the 2nd year’s advanced work and my confidence grew as I solidified what I learned and absorbed it into my daily work.

In going through the 2 Year Meisner Program, I not only grew as an actor, but as a person. I made lasting friendships and came to know myself in ways I never thought I would. It was great. But if you’re like me, you want to know, bottom line, “Did the acting get better?” Aka “Did you start booking more?” Well, I’m about as anal retentive as they come and I actually track my booking percentages, so I can answer that question.

Yes.

I started class in 2012. My stats for that year were:
Callback: 20.7%, Booking: 8.8%
(I told you I was anal retentive)

During 2013 I was changing my process and rebuilding my craft, and the numbers dropped.
Callback: 10.4%, Booking 5.2%
Needless to say, it took some real trust to keep with it when my stats dropped by half. But I believed in Elizabeth, Jordana, and Ken. And like I said, I could see my growth as an artist. And most importantly, I was ENJOYING acting more.

By the time I graduated, in June 2014, everything was back to normal. My stats for 2014 were almost identical to 2012:
Callback: 20%, Booking 8.6%

Today I’ve had a year to settle into my new process and really put what I learned to work. It’s the first complete year of acting work I’ve had since graduating, and my stats have definitely improved As of November, my 2015 stats are:
Callback 25.4%, Booking 19%

That’s right, my booking ratio more than DOUBLED in my first full year after graduating from the EMAS 2 Year Meisner Program. And my callbacks have increased as well.

Also, before and during the class (2012-2014) I averaged working 18 days a year. For 2015, I’m on track to work 91 days. True, this probably would have been a good year anyway, part of the ebb and flow of any career. But it could never have gotten this good without EMAS studios. My training there has upped my game to a new level.

So, to sum it all up, only someone as anal retentive as me can tell you, with objective proof, the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio works.

Survey Results: Favorite Actors of 2014

2014 favorite actors survey, Bradley Cooper, Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lawrence

So the verdict is in and, overall, it’s not very decisive:

After conducting a poll of internet users asking them to answer the question, “Of all the actors who appeared in a feature film in 2014, who do you most respect or admire?” the most voted for actor was Bradley Cooper with 6.8%. Although not released in 2014, this is probably due in large part to his recent portrayal of Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

With a few exceptions, such as Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and perhaps Matthew McConaughey, it seems that most people’s opinions of their favorite actors are not decided by one year’s work. Outside of these two, the other actors making up the top eight were Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Although these actors did feature in 2014 films, one could argue that their prior work had a greater influence on opinions than their performances over the last year.

When comparing male and female responses, the top two actors remain the same. However, across age groups, one begins to see a difference in the people’s preferences.

The clearest trend here is Bradley Cooper getting the most votes among the three age groups between 25 and 64. People clearly feel strongly about American Sniper’s political implications which likely influenced peoples votes (not to discount Cooper’s performance). The preference for Chris Pratt among 25 to 34 year-olds illustrates that he has an ability to strike a chord with this generation’s sense of humor. George Clooney among 65 and up?  He’s an excellent actor, but as to why this age group? … your guess is as good as ours.

The nod to Robin Williams, ranked 12th overall, is worth noting. Despite not having any leading roles in blockbuster films in 2014, one can see his prominence in the survey as a well deserved tribute to an actor that managed to work his way into many hearts, both through his endearing comedic roles as well as his moving dramatic performances. (See our Improv Actors blog post.)

Lastly, a special thanks for the response “I don’t go to the movies.” … duly noted.

Improv In Action

Improv Actors

IMPROV IN ACTION: THREE GREAT ACTORS WITH STRONG IMPROV ROOTS

Improvisation is all about spontaneity, and existing within the moment. You have to work from the impulse rather than planning what will happen.  Put simply, improv is about listening, acceptance, and authenticity. In improv comedy, it’s easy to find great examples these days of master improvisers. Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, Sascha Baron Cohen, Amy Poehler, and Jim Carrey have each made their careers as comedic improvisers. Entire TV series have begun from improvised scripts like “The Office” , “Workaholics” , and “Parks and Recreation.” But improv isn’t just for comedy. Some the best improv masters are highly respected for their dramatic roles, including some of the greats: Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and Robert De Niro.

Robin Williams, who attended Juilliard for acting, was performing comedy in nightclubs when he was discovered and asked to audition for what would become his breakout role as the alien called Mork, from “Mork and Mindy.” Williams is said to have improvised almost entirely on the dialogue for this character from the very beginning, leading writers to stop writing dialogue for him entirely. Williams also improvised most of his dialogue as the genie in “Aladdin” as well as an entire scene in his Academy Award winning performance in “Good Will Hunting.”

Bill Murray actually began his career in improv as a young man in Chicago’s Second City improv comedy troupe. Later on he took his comedic talents to the National Lampoon Radio in New York City, which led him to be discovered and brought on to Saturday Night Live. Most famously, he created almost all of his own dialogue in the cult classic, “Caddyshack,” including the “Cinderella Story” bit in the film. He also improvised his entire Peter Venkman character for “Ghostbusters” and an entire scene of dialogue for the movie “Tootsie.” Now Murray has been acclaimed for his dramatic work as well, showing that the honesty he found in improv has given him great range.

Robert De Niro was only 17 when he dropped out of high school and auditioned for Stella Adler’s Academy in New York. Most well known for his dramatic roles, De Niro is a fantastic example of incredible improv coupled with Meisner-style acting. The Meisner Technique is an improvisationaly based training which demands that the actor respond from their instincts rather than their intellect.  He is most well known for his entirely improvised scene talking to himself in front of a mirror during “Taxi Driver.” He is also said to have improvised most of the script and dialogue ideas for “Goodfellas” with his fellow actors in rehearsal.

Improvisational skills can improve any actor as it requires the actor to respond spontaneously in character. This spontaneity is a fundamental philosophy in acting- to be so deeply in character that your thoughts and actions are fluid and authentic. Even when adhering to a script, the best actors will use the impulses they have developed in improv to keep the scene spontaneous. While improv lends itself well to comedy, a true master can utilize improvisation in all types of roles and genres.

At Elizabeth Mestnik’s Acting Studio, we strive to foster this spontaneity and engagement in  our students.