As my students know – I think in metaphors. They pop out of my mouth on a regular basis. One of my favorites is the comparing actor training to athletic training. A lot of actors don’t see the disciplines as similar – as though being a great actor is some sort of mysterious gift that you are born with or not., but being an athlete is something that you can develop. Kobe Bryant’s work ethic was legendary. He was famous for his 5am-7am workouts in high school. No one got to practice before him or left after him. He fine-tuned both his body and his skills. He made sure his body was able to do everything he needed it to, whether it was greater speed or the strength to match up against a LeBron James. He found that type of intense preparation fun! Without that work ethic and a love of the process – he might have just been another talented high school player. That’s the physical side of his training.
For actors, day in and day out work on flexibility, using the breath, emotional access and strengthening the voice is important so they can consistently meet the emotional and physical demands of the work. Do you have an argument scene? Will you be able to take multiple takes yelling at the top of your lungs without damaging your voice? Will you be able to repeatedly access emotional moments and not dry up? Can you handle the tongue twisting dialogue of a medical drama or a Shakespearean play? We stretch, do yoga, study voice, do articulation exercises and work out our imaginations and emotional temperaments every day to get in actor shape – so that whatever the scene requires, our body, our voice and our emotional life is ready to convey it.
What’s the actor equivalent of Kobe’s workout? His famous 1000 shots a day? In the Meisner Technique – it’s our repetition exercises. At least 1000 moments daily of connection and focus, deep listening, and riding impulses. This exercise has the actor repeatedly being affected by every little nuance they receive. Working on these exercises every day removes defense mechanisms and gets actors out of their heads so that being spontaneously reactive is in the muscle memory. It allows actors to feel deeply with no fear of showing those feelings to the camera or audience. As any athlete knows – the minute you engage the intellect on the court is the minute you miss a shot. The minute you think about your performance you are no longer living through something truthfully in the imaginary circumstances. Kobe also made sure to continue working on his strength and flexibility because it’s not enough to just be able to make the shots, you need your body to be able to handle the demands of 48 minutes of running, jumping and physical tussles with opponents. Actors need to be able to handle 8 shows a week and grueling emotional and physical demands.
But there is more than the physical side of basketball and acting. In acting we call it the craft. It is all the stuff you need to do before the opening night or the big game to be completely free and at your best. Crafting means breaking down a script into beats, objectives and actions, using personalization to connect to the stakes and understand the emotions of a scene, and researching to help interpret a character. Actors need to be insatiably curious about those characters, learning how to effectively research the time, place and genre that character lives in or the performance will fall flat. The same way a great athlete spends time breaking down a defense an opponent and referee positions, actors break down dialogue, characters, and storyline. The important thing for both an actor and an athlete to remember is that once the performance begins you can’t be working on any of this – you either prepared enough or you didn’t – and it’s time for the instrument to take over – the muscle memory to step in.
So, at EMAS we are always reminding our actors that they need a finely tuned instrument as well as the ability to craft personally and effectively. It is not enough to just know the plays and understand the opponent, without being strong, flexible, and able to work instinctively – your basketball prowess will only go so far. Actors who have all the craft training but lack emotional availability, a dexterous voice, an expressive body or imaginative stamina will not engage their audience. The story might make sense – but it won’t compel anyone to watch.
I like to leave my students with this quote from the Black Mamba himself:
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late, and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.” – Kobe Bryant
A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness. They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread themselves out. That’s totally fine. After all, greatness is not for everybody.” – Kobe Bryant.
“The mindset isn’t about seeking a result—it’s more about the process of getting to that result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a way of life. I do think that it’s important, in all endeavors, to have that mentality.”
“A lot of players don’t understand the game or the importance of footwork, spacing. It’s to the point where if you know the basics, you have an advantage on the majority of players.”
Many actors are given gifts. It is clear that with James his dedication and work ethic is what has made him one of the best to ever play.