Category Archives Hollywood

Best Movie Performances of 2017 (According to Me)

Guest Post by EMAS Community Member, Joanna Enright

2017 is coming to a rousing conclusion as far as great film performances go. The year got off to a slow start, but it is building up great momentum as the big films of the year come through in time for the end of the year holiday season. This year, the competition for awards will be fierce, especially in the Best Actor category, as we’re seeing some major (and new) stars taking on highly challenging roles and bringing them in with everything they’ve got.

I’ve singled out a few of my favorite performances from 2017 (so far) to highlight here. The actors in these roles are all, in varied ways, with different approaches and styles, working at the top of their game, with passion for what they do and calling on their highest intelligence and craftsmanship. All of this is why each of these actors can offer a lot to those who love and are inspired by the art of acting.

 

Dustin Hoffman, The Meyerowitz Stories

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Academy Award-winner Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy) is back in top form in Noah Baumbach’s ensemble comedy about a family that comes back together after years of dysfunction to celebrate their artist father’s career retrospective. Working with a script (by Baumbach) that is both hilarious, trenchant and at times painfully heartbreaking, Hoffman offers a singular character performance as the ego-driven yet utterly emotionally unaware patriarch of the Meyerowtiz clan. The tiny details in Hoffman’s performance, as he glides through fractured interchanges with his sons, wives, and (secretly envied) artist friends are hilarious. Hoffman wonderfully captures the quiet egomania of a New York artist who keeps propping himself up in the face of his failure as an artist and a father, and yet keeps on going. This highly watchable film also features uniformly great performances by the ensemble cast, including Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler as Hoffman’s estranged sons, who are unable to stop competing for their dad’s attention, even in middle-age.

 

Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

Gary Oldman (Sid and Nancy, Immortal Beloved, The Dark Knight) delivers a towering performance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright’s The Darkest Hour. The film is the riveting story of Churchill’s leadership in the stark early years of the Second World War, as France was being overtaken by German forces and England was beginning to realize the enormity of the threat they were facing. Oldman’s character work in this film is indelible, as he captures Churchill’s persona as a brilliant yet eccentric leader who was tasked with leading the English public (and parliament) towards support for entering into war with Germany.

Oldman, wearing heavy prosthetic makeup and extra weight, comes through with incredible emotional force as Churchill, from the high moments of his great speeches to the English people, and also in the small moments when he faces his fears over England’s possible fate. This stirring performance by one of the best actors of our time is a must-see for any actor working today.

 

Mark Rylance, Dunkirk

mark Rylance in DunkirkMark Rylance is one of the most arresting and skilled actors working today, and this Academy Award Winner (Best Supporting Actor-Bridge of Spies) brings an emotional center to the searing story of Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s rendition of this key battle during the early days of World War II (in events also covered in “The Darkest Hour”) is a fast-paced epic that offers few breaks from the unrelenting tension of the story. As the film cuts between scenes of the war’s horrors on land, sea, and in the air, Rylance brings a feeling of emotional stability to the story. As an Englishman who sails a small yacht to the village of Dunkirk to help with the rescue of British troops, Rylance, with minimal dialogue, offers an emotional gravity and sensitivity in his scenes that is brilliant and heartbreaking. This is another must-see performance in a year of great ones.


Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Call Me by My Name Chalamet

Timothee Chalamet delivers a breakout performance in the sensitive and ultimately heartbreaking love story, Call Me By Your Name. As the teenage Eliot, a student and musician in 1981 Italy, Chalamet captures the painful longing of first love, as he and the graduate student living with his family (Armie Hammer) fall into a forbidden love affair they know must ultimately come to an end. Hammer and Chalet are gorgeous together, and their tasteful love scenes together are beautifully rendered.

There’s no doubt this year will be remembered for a host of great films marked by amazing writing and cinematography, but more than anything, it’s the performances by some of the best actors working today in these films that will leave a lasting impression on me.

– Joanna Enright

 

6 Netflix Shows An Aspiring Actor Should Study

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Most people don’t think of “Netflix and chill” as a way to do their homework. However, most people aren’t actors who are devoted to their craft. You can binge-watch hundreds of series on Netflix. Some of the highlights are the original Netflix series, many of which feature actors showing off their chops in a unique way. Here’s what (and who) to watch if you’re an aspiring actor.
 

GLOW

As Ruth Wilder, Alison Brie goes beyond her usual girl-next-door role in this campy comedy-drama. Although she does play a naïve, doe-eyed actress, she delivers moments of darkness, loneliness and desperation. Brie really shines during a fantasy scene in which she is all-out fighting with her arch-nemesis Debbie, who is played by Betty Gilpin. The tiny actress becomes larger-than life in the wrestling ring.

In GLOW, Brie also shatters the image of the polished, uptight women that she typically portrays. In GLOW, Brie allows her rough edges to seep through her perfect smile. Her performance is so authentic that you can glimpse her inner fearlessness.
 

Gypsy

In this psychosexual drama, Naomi Watts plays Jean Holloway, a therapist who develops her own fascinations with the objects of her patients’ obsessions. A Meisner-trained actress, Watts authentically draws viewers into every moment on screen.

The camera often focuses on close-ups of Watts’ face, which reveals the expressions of a suburban housewife as easily as those of a fanatical lover and skillful liar. She seamlessly contrasts the brightest and darkest sides of her character in much the same way as she did in her breakout film, Mulholland Drive.
 

Orange Is The New Black

We couldn’t write an article about Netflix shows to study without mentioning OITNB. Like GLOW, the show’s characters are well-defined and rife with unexpected as well as predictable qualities. Playing these types of characters requires an ability to tap into a well of emotions.

The character who is confident on the outside often reveals her most vulnerable insecurities at the most inopportune moments. The strangest characters have the most relatable backstories. The most conventional characters have surprisingly eccentric qualities.

It takes skilled actors to effectively portray these personas. Their motivations must come off as realistic for the audience to bond with them. No matter how outlandish the storylines are, they resonate with the viewers because the actors access genuine emotions to express them.
 

The Office

Although Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, is an extraordinary lead for this mockumentary-style comedy, the other actors support the comedy in genius fashion. Watch this series for a look into how to create a solid character.

This television show is about more than great writing. Each actor has developed specific mannerisms and quirks that represent his or her identity. While some of these traits are over the top, others are starkly subdued. Observe the way each actor develops his or her character alone, in contrast to and in conjunction with the other characters.
 

Stranger Things

If you want to be amazed by the proficiency of an ensemble of child actors, watch Stranger Things. Although the Netflix-original series deals with the more bizarre side of the supernatural, the superb acting makes the oddities seem relevant.

Even if Winona Ryder has irritated you in the past with her exaggerated portrayal of drama and despair, you’ll buy her interpretation of a worried mother agonizing over the disappearance of her son. Her agitation contrasts well with the more even-keeled nature of the children.

It’s interesting to watch these young actors portray children who are passionate about finding their friend but don’t let the mystery derail their motivations. Their performances are entrancing.
 

Bloodline

Is good acting enough to keep a show going? That’s the question posed by many Bloodline reviewers. The Netflix-original series features an ensemble of actors who brought depth to roles that might otherwise have been shallow.

Kyle Chandler is perhaps most well-known for playing the role of Coach in Friday Night Lights. He had to work hard to disassociate himself with that character to play the role of the “good” brother with a villainous undertone in Bloodline. He performs his role fluidly, as do his costars.

Sam Shepard plays the patriarch of the family. Shepard studied under Wynn Handman, a protégé of Sanford Meisner. Ben Mendelsohn’s performance also stands out. He has been nominated for several awards for his portrayal of Danny, and in 2016 he won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Sometimes, an actor’s performance can go above and beyond the writing, storyline or plot of a television show. These series, which are available to stream on Netflix, are ideal examples of this. When you watch them, you’ll get pulled into the emotion, drama, comedy and action because of the actors’ brilliant execution of the script.

Guest Post: What I have learned from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Guest Post by Laura Blackburn

 

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People sometimes laugh at me when I tell them that I have learned more about acting from a cult television show than an Academy Award winning motion picture. However, I have found that studying the techniques of actors who must convey a sense of realism in spite of fantastic subject matter has made me a better actor in every sense. This is why I use the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as my inspiration when taking on a new role.

Anyone who has watched or even heard of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” knows that the meat of the series is the writing and directing from Joss Whedon and his team. Likewise, any screenwriter knows that excellent acting is required from all involved to make a script come alive. A good actor can make a superbly written script enjoyable. A great actor can create a series that continues to awe and inspire decades after its inception.
 

Supporting Actors

Supporting characters are often mean to give the lead a sense of purpose. They also often offer a chance for exposition, serving as the audience’s stand-in. These characters ask the important questions, helping to further the plot of a story. Excellent actors take these roles and turn them into something more than a plot device. This was the case for much of the supporting cast on “Buffy.”

One of the most difficult supporting roles on the series was that of Xander Harris, portrayed by the underrated Nicholas Brendon. In a series that was filled with witches, werewolves, demons and, of course, vampires, Brendon was the everyman who had to hold his own in an other-worldly atmosphere. The actor was given lines that were largely meant to serve as comic relief. However, his ability to add depth and meaning to simple one-liners made his character an integral part of the show. Watching Brendon, I have learned not to take any lines for granted.

Some actors were so adept at their roles on “Buffy” that their bit parts were expanded into multiple episodes, some even becoming mainstays on the series. Seth Green, who portrayed the werewolf Oz, was meant to depart in the same season that he appeared. Treating his character with unexpected sensitivity, he made the viewing audience fall in love with both the man and the monster. As an actor, Green could convey more in an eyebrow raise than some other, lesser actors might be able to do with an entire page of dialog. Green has taught me to try new angles with my characters; to explore the unknown.

Julie Benz’s character, Darla, was originally meant to be killed during the second the episode in the series. Instead, her presence was thought to add a needed layer to the romance between Buffy and her vampire boyfriend, Angel. Benz’s approach to her portrayal as a vampire was a combination of old-school horror and girl next door. She was at times soft spoken and sensual, and at other times terrifying. Benz would go on to appear in many more episodes of “Buffy” while also playing a crucial role in the spin-off series “Angel.” What she has taught me is to remember that every role can and should be multidimensional.
 

Big Bads

For the uninitiated, “Buffy” ran for seven seasons. Each season had an over-arching story that appeared throughout the series, culminating with an ultimate face-off with the Big Bad. Buffy and her gang fought many other monsters along the way. Some of the most memorable of these lesser monsters include The Gentleman, a gang of mute, heart-stealing demons who communicated through gestures rather than language; Gnarl, a parasitic flesh-eater with a sing-songy style of speech; and the Turok-Han, the ultimate vampire. Interestingly, all of these monsters were played by the same actor: Camden Toy.

Toy’s movements can be considered their own form of art. He is able to convey any type of emotion he wishes with or without a script. His episodes can be studied by anyone who wishes to be more physical with a performance. Acting is much more than the spoken word. Toy encompasses this in each of his roles.

It can be extremely difficult to visibly portray emotion when covered in prosthetics, which are required for many of the monsters on the show. The Master, played by Mark Metcalf, was a creepy vampire who was adored and feared by other under worldly creatures. With a face completely disguised throughout his run on “Buffy,” Metcalf used his gestures and voice alone to give viewers an almost sensual fright. Considering the versatility needed for these roles, the Big Bads of “Buffy” have taught me to never rely on one facet of my craft. Rather, I should hone all aspects of my acting ability to create a truly meaningful character.
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Playing a superhero is never a simple task, but it was one that was made for Sarah Michelle Gellar. She chose to play Buffy Summers as a typical girl who just happened to also have super powers. Anyone could relate to Buffy’s daily struggles. She had boy problems. She worried about her hair and clothes. She had difficulty relating to her mother and studying for her SATs. Because Gellar was so able to encompass these everyday traits of her character, she was able to show the viewer a superhero that could almost be real. She was as adept at displaying physical power when fighting a monster twice her size as she was at showing extreme grief when handling the death of her mother. Gellar could play funny, frightened, determined and even bored, all in the same scene. She has taught me to never give up.

Elements of a Great Script for Actors

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One of the most vital components to crafting your art as an actor is working with an excellent story. Even the best actors may struggle with films that have mundane, confusing or poorly developed plots. Reading script after script may leave you scratching your head, wondering which movie stories are the best to hone your craft and reach an audience.

Regardless of the genre, elements of a good movie story remain the same. Learning these elements can help determine which scripts offer the best use of your time. If you wish to lead your own project you should also ensure your story follows these basic rules.

An Opening Hook

The first thing a good movie story does is grab the viewer’s attention. A movie’s opening act sets the tone for the rest of the film. This does not necessarily mean that a movie must start with an exciting event or surprising twist. Screenwriters must simply pay as much attention to the beginning of the story as they do to the plot and characterization.

Excellent Character Development

A screenwriter should know his or her characters inside and out. Fully developed characters have motivations for their actions. They have genuine emotion, backstories and personalities that ring true.

Character development should not be confused with excessive or unnecessary exposition. A well-fleshed does not always need overly apparent details. Indeed, some of the most intriguing characters on film are those that are the most mysterious.

An example of excellent character development in film is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. There is little to no backstory available for each of the lead characters, yet their motivations and actions ring true. Tarantino took time and care with each role, even going so far as to give the anonymous criminals real names and backstories that are not necessarily revealed over the course of the film.

A New Way to Tell Stories

Storytelling is an art form that few can master. A story that is too simplistic may work well for young children, but will leave most viewers feeling empty. Using complexity to tell a story makes even a somewhat common plot seem refreshing and new. A good example of complex storytelling is seen in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. At its heart, the story is one of a struggling actress seeking revenge after heartbreak and rejection. Using a unique storytelling device, one that introduces the actress’s fantasy to the viewer before eventually revealing reality, turns what could be a common love story into a deeply moving film.

Christopher Nolan has made a career out of using complex storytelling techniques. A prime example is Memento, a simple, noirish revenge story. It is told using backward chronology. This was a technique that was seldom explored prior to the film’s 2001 release date.

Plotting and Subplotting

Complimenting a complex storytelling technique is the importance of a clear plot. Movies with muddled plots are difficult for actors and viewers alike. Most successful films have single plots that drive the story and subplots to keep the story interesting. A prime example of this is James Cameron’s Titanic. The plot of the story is seemingly the sinking of the Titanic, but in actuality the focus is on the love affair between the two protagonists. Subplots of a jealous fiance, a needy mother and a greedy treasure hunter only serve to highlight the main story.

A good movie story can, and in most cases should, be told in a linear fashion if it has a unique plot. This may be particularly important for fantasies and science fiction. Movies that already pull a viewer away from his or her own reality may create more problems if told in a way that is outside of the norm. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of using unique plots and characterization to drive stories with plots that pushed the viewer outside of their comfort zones.

The Importance of Believability

A good story is believable to the viewer. Characters should specifically behave in ways that would seem fitting for whatever situation they are in. This is as important for films with fantastical settings as it is for movies that take place in our world.

Movie stories set in the real world can take advantage of viewers already knowing the environment in which we live. That can be a downside to a storyteller who may wish to take liberties with reality. There are often problems with historical films that don’t portray past events in a realistic way.

Stories that take place outside of our world must build credibility, which can be difficult except for the greatest of screenwriters. An actor must sell the humanity behind situations that take place in outer space or in a world in which monsters exist. However, an actor can only be adept at this if the story is written in a way that allows viewers to accept this alternate reality.

Good movie stories are as varied as the people behind them. While the plots may greatly differ, the basics of an intriguing story told in an interesting way always remain the same.

Academy Awards Discussion – Thom Rivera

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As the Oscars fast approach – we thought we’d get our On-Camera instructor Thom Rivera to share his thoughts on this year’s top performances:

THOM:  There were some tough choices this year because there were some many great performances and really, really good films. As always, these are my favorite performances, not who I necessarily think WILL win.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic – his work in this was simple, subtle, powerful, charismatic. I heard him with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW after seeing the film, and it all makes sense.

Runner up – Denzel Washington, Fences – This is probably my favorite performance that I have seen Denzel give (close race with Malcom X). He was powerful, flawed and not afraid to be unlikeable.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Ruth Negga, Loving – This was a tough choice, but I think Ruth Negga’s performance, especially after seeing the documentary of the real Mildred Loving, was spot on. sweet, yet strong, quiet power, grace, and a grounded optimism that was incredibly moving.

Runner up – Isabelle Huppert, Elle – Damn, this was a tough film to watch, but Isabelle Huppert was a powerhouse. A true master of film acting. She took me on quite a ride. If you haven’t yet, see this film.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight – He made a tricky role look easy. To play the opposites of that character so believably, so simply. Man. That said, I wish everyone from this film could be nominated. They were all amazing.

Runner up – Dev Patel, Lion. I thought he gave a strong performance, but wish his younger selves could be nominated as well.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – toughest choice to make this year.

Viola Davis, Fences – always gives such a truthful, powerful, heart wrenching  performance. Flawless.
Nicole Kidman, Lion – Best work I have seen Nicole Kidman do. It was a surprising, subtle, effective performance.

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures – Ms. Spencer makes it look too easy. So good.

I think in the end, I have to give it to Ms. Davis . . .no . . . Ms. Kidman . . . NO . . . Ms. Spencer . . . . shoot. I can’t pick

BEST PICTURE

Arrival – Amy Adams was so good in this and leads a strong cast. The picture was shot beautifully, imaginatively. The structure of the story was surprising, unexpected and gut wrenching.
Fences – Start with August Wilson’s words, a powerhouse cast, obvious love and care given to the process . . .
Hidden Figures – COME ON. They took a very well trod formula for a movie and elevated it to something so very, very good. And that cast! That Cast!
Lion – From opening frame to the end with the real life Saroo, I was entranced. The performances the director got out of the first time actors in this film was truly amazing

Moonlight – MAN. Powerful, moving, inspiring, story that has rarely is ever been addressed. Again, amazing cast.
It’s a tough call, but I think I have to give it to Moonlight

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An accomplished television, film, stage and voice actor, Thom Rivera is EMAS’ On-Camera Acting Instructor. Read more about Thom.

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.

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!

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.