An Actor’s Saga

“Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”

The great movie star from Hollywood’s golden past, John Wayne, once spoke those words. Although I’m not a fan of the word stupid, (John Wayne was never one to mince words) I’m not adverse to its sentiment. So, allow me to replace that inappropriate word with ill-informed or ill-advised.

In this day and age where scams abound, it is difficult sometimes to tell what is reality and what isn’t. How do you make the wisest choices? Who do you listen to?

During my years teaching acting in Los Angeles, I’ve had many students approach me with new theories on acting obtained from a variety of sources, especially on the topic of how to achieve success. One such student, a young man of great potential, approached me with the announcement that he was giving up classes. He wasn’t giving up pursuing a career in acting mind you, just giving up classes. Needless to say, I was surprised by this rather abrupt declaration. I asked him how he rationalized this decision. With great sincerity he related that the prior evening, at his job as a waiter in Santa Monica, he had a really great conversation with a fellow waiter. This waiter, an older man in his late thirties, had advised him to give up classes. To quote the older man, “Classes are a waste of valuable time. What you need to do is get out there and market yourself. You need to network. Go to parties and meet influential people.”

Well, this young actor immediately pounced upon this foolish notion. You can become a success by partying! What a revelation.

Of course, I couldn’t allow this young person to quit classes without giving him a counterargument against his decision.

I first confirmed, “Was the older man an actor?”
“Yes,” said my student. “He’s been an actor for over twenty years.”

“He’s been in the business twenty years and he’s working as a waiter?”
“Well, yes. He’s had some bad luck.”

“You’re seeking success advice from someone who has failed at success for twenty years?”
“Well, he has certainly learned what not to do.”

I wanted to say this man had not only learned failure, but he seemed to have mastered it. That was a little harsh, if not cruel. The older man may have had an extremely hard time pursuing a career. Who knows? However, that didn’t give him the right to dispense foolish advice to an innocent young man.

Instead I said, “In lieu of listening to someone who has obviously failed at a career, why not seek advice from those who have had a successful career?” I suggested he read biographies of famous actors. Today, I’d suggest he google actors/success/quotes and see what the computer has to offer. He chose not to heed my advice.

Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re… ill-advised

It’s been twenty plus years since I’ve spoken to this young man. Sad to say I never heard another word pertaining to this young man who showed such great potential.

Who Does Know Something?
I believe we all learn from those who have preceded us. They are those with information which will enable us to discover better pathways to our goals and dreams. I trust the wisdom of those who have achieved success.

When teaching my classes, I almost always have with me books by some of the great teachers of the past. I frequently quote these authors in order to support the subject matter I’m teaching that day. I speak their words along with my own so the meaning and purpose of that day’s education becomes clear. I rely on their wisdom to enhance my own.

Get to know these great teachers. Their wisdom will enhance your chances of a career substantially.

In your choice lies your talent.” Stella Adler
An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words.” Sanford Meisner
Overcome the notion you must be regular… It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.” Uta Hagen
Seventy-five percent of great art is hard work, only twenty-five percent is talent.” Lee Strasberg
You’re not an actor because you call yourself one. You have to earn it.” Larry Moss

A Few People Who Must Know Something
One of my favorite quotes of wisdom is from someone who has had a great deal of success, Denzel Washington. “I say luck is when opportunity comes along and you’re ready for it.”

Let’s say our unknown young actor goes to a party and does meet a famous producer. This producer believes he has the perfect role for this unknown young man. Our young actor is told to report to the studio first thing in the morning for an audition. Will this young man have the tools to land that job? I very much doubt it. (Please note the above scenario never happens).

Maybe our young actor was just tired of the process of learning a craft? That’s understandable. There are many who don’t enjoy studying. For example, here is what Mohammed Ali, reportedly the greatest boxer of all time, had to say about learning his craft. “I hated every minute of training…” however, he then added, “…but I said to myself, ‘Don’t Quit! Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.’”

As for our young actor wanting to meet famous people at parties, here is what Will Smith had to say about that, “Don’t chase people. Be yourself, do your own thing, and work hard. The right people will come to you.”

The most powerful words in that quote are work hard.
Denzel Washington might add to add to that, “You pray for rain you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s part of it. I’d be more frightened by not using what abilities I’ve been given. I’d be more frightened by procrastination and laziness.”

Our young actor doesn’t only have to rely on what successful actors have to say about success, (although subjectively their words should have special significance) but also the words of others successful in their fields of endeavor are worth listening to. Frank Lloyd Wright, considered the greatest American Architect of the twentieth century said, “I know the price of success: Dedication, Hard Work, an Unrelenting Dedication to the things you want to see happen.”

When Howard Stern was asked recently what he had learned from the hundreds of interviews he has had with successful people he answered, “I invariably thought of my guest as always being successful. During my interviews I learned about the struggles and hard work it took each of my guest to become successful.

“If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great” is quoted from actor Tom Hanks.

Russell Crowe elaborates, “I’ve never actually expected success, but it doesn’t surprise me when it comes, because I know how much Hard Work, I put into what I do. And, I have to in order to complete the fantasy of my life, which is to work at the highest level in the art form I’ve chosen to work in.

You may ask if there’s ever a time when our young man should leave class? Most crafts have no ending to the amount of learning needed and ours is no different. The awful, yet great news is you’re never finished training. According to Jack Nicholson, “The minute you’re not learning you’re dead.”

I believe we all have a basic wisdom if we would only stop and listen to our own common sense. I also believe somewhere inside the aforementioned young actor, the ridiculousness of this idea that he could find success by partying was obvious to him. Perhaps, after a time, if he had the desire, he might have, or did, reconsider his decision.

I love reading biographies of famous people. I’m intrigued by the roads they traveled to their success. The voices of all these famous people resonate with me. I firmly believe that for the most part, those voices resonate with the majority of us.

Are there any risks our young actor should have taken?
Historian Claude Bissell once noted the importance of taking risks. “Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.”

It is vital to an actor’s growth that he or she take risks. The actor must be willing to go beyond the comfort zone. For many, this personal risk is frightening. Walking into moving traffic is foolish, not risky. Sometimes being vulnerable can feel like walking into moving traffic. This is when and where we risk as actors, when it pertains to our artistic growth.
Steven Spielberg said simply, “Acting is about courage.”

I wish the very best to all of you. “Be courageous, not foolish, on your road to success.”

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