Rumors are going around that George Clooney is positioning himself for a run for political office in California. Like clockwork, the chorus of boos can be heard. Many of the voices stem from the idea that actors are ill equipped, too vain, too egotistical, too unintelligent, too selfish, too amoral to be considered worthy of higher office. I call bullshit. The best actors I have had the pleasure to work with and know, have an uncanny blend of ego, world view, intelligence and empathy that would seem to be the very attributes that would make up a perfect public servant. But the argument against actors as incapable of greater action than being an “entertainment puppets” goes much deeper. It speaks to the idea of actors as unintelligent, ego driven, and childlike in their desire to not grow up; that we somehow devalue and lower the public discourse and poison the youth of America. For anyone that has truly pursued the craft and business of acting as a vocation knows, it is second to none in requiring you to bring so much of yourself to the table to succeed. The dedication, hard work, sacrifice, and soul-searching is extraordinary; and the scorn that befalls actors on a daily basis, be it from family or co-workers or friends, is a heavy burden to bear. Acting is truly an honorable pursuit. At it’s simplest, it entertains. At it’s most profound it changes the discourse of an entire population. I can think of few other occupations that would better serve the public trust.
I teach a lot of people who come to Los Angeles from fantastic training programs. Most of these people come out of schools and conservatories that focus heavily on theatre and acting’s application for that medium. And then… I hear their stories. From the CD who tells them to “ tone it down”, to the director who reminds them to “ do 50 times less” to the acting teacher who reminds them to trim, cut, strip away, hide, swallow, shrink, actors get rid of the size and scope of their passion and expression. It hurts like hell to hear this. We have been told to let it rip so constantly in classes leading up to this and have become proud (and rightly so) at the freedom of spirit, that this feels like a kick in the groin to have these words and admonishments come at us. Truth is, what these professionals are saying is absolutely correct. It’s how they say it that, while expedient, is hard to deal with.
We need to find a better set of terms to define the stage actor’s need to “tone it down”. In a recent class I found an analogy that speaks directly to this. Acting is like a light. On stage, you need a flood light to illuminate the inner fire and life of character and self. On camera you need a laser beam. Both illuminate, both shine and both have the power to open the eyes of an audience, but one is full blast and one is more focused. One is hot, fat and white and one is piercing and thin. But make no mistake, both lights come from the same source and serve the same purpose. So now, every time I hear “cut it back,” I think: focus the light. Every time I hear “Less Less Less!” I think: less refraction and more efficiency of beam. In the end, like the light from these two instruments, our acting is merely broader or more focused. We still need to keep the illumination bright and hot regardless of the medium.