Saturday, March 27, 2010

On Actors, Inspiration and the Pursuit of Dreams...

I was thinking recently about some of my favorite actors… Top-tier people like Gary Oldman, Russell Crowe, Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet… and those are the names you recognize. but there are so many more whose work I really enjoy. Who, time and again, turn in solid work. The people you see and say, “I love this guy!” or “She’s great.” And while I know their names, you may not.

People like Catherine Keener, Bruce McGill, Carla Gugino, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Ted Levine, Kevin Dunne, Emily Mortimer, John Slattery, John Hawkes, John Ortiz, John Ashton, Joe Pantoliano and the late great JT Walsh. Look any of them up and I guarantee you’ll have seen them and appreciated something they’ve done over the years.

Thinking about this made me realize how much I love actors in general. Not just their work, but being around them. The energy that surrounds them is, to me, like a drug. By being around them and talking with them, it makes me want to create. It reinvigorates me!

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with 6 up and coming actors (I've left out the names to protect the innocent) and it was literally the highlight of my week. The experience reminded me of the scene in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, where Richard Dreyfuss as 'Roy Neary’ becomes aware that he was invited to take part in the events which had been unfolding around him. This wasn’t chance. It was destiny. His destiny. Something had been calling him. Something told him that he needed to solve a mystery – he simply had to find out about that mysterious shape that had been haunting him… and once he knew, he had no choice but to go there. To find it. No matter what the challenges. No matter the odds. These six people were on a similar journey. They were pulled. Drawn to acting, as if by some unseen force – some from what seems like a million miles away! And despite the odds (like, for instance the fact that only 1% of the Screen Actors Guild is working in film at any given time), they refuse to quit.

In the group was a handsome young guy from Germany who grew up with the Wall dividing his country making it a "dark and grey place," and who flew across the world to follow his heart. There was a spunky, adorable Australian girl who, when she found out she could afford to come to Hollywood, literally packed her bag and flew the next day. There was a handsome Puerto Rican/Italian guy who gave up a six figure salary to chase his dream and follow in the footsteps of his uncle (a working actor). There was the stunningly beautiful blonde girl who decided that despite the abundance of pretty blonde girls in L.A., she simply had to take the chance – in fairness, she’s not your typical blonde (not by a longshot). There’s the guy who grew up on a farm in Oregon and found a way to become an actor, first on a local level, (by driving to “town”), and who then decided the time had come to head to L.A. Finally, a girl from Chicago, the child of a Detective and a classical musician who has been modeling and acting since before she could talk.

We hung out and talked to each other for nearly five hours! We laughed, we told stories and I found out so much about who they are and what they intend to accomplish.

Since my father passed away three years ago, I have become acutely aware of time – and more importantly, how quickly it passes. I mean, I feel like we just passed Christmas and we’re already hitting April! The summer movie season is about to start (what the hell???!!!) Anyway. As I sat there, listening to their stories, telling some of my own, and just sort of feeling these people and learning about their infinitely interesting lives, time (for me), literally melted away. Their commitment to their craft. To their dream. It was… well… inspiring.

This couldn’t have happened at a better time for me. Having been back in L.A. for several weeks, and with GIRLFRIEND winding down, (at least, the production end), I had found myself somewhat deflated.

In New York, there are people everywhere. Fascinating stories. Snippets of conversation on the subway. It’s constant. A truly a magical city. In L.A., here I was again… driving around in my car. By myself. Isolated. Missing out on life! Feeling the inevitable breakdown which usually hits me after I complete a project. But in an instant, that all changed.

Let me back up a bit.

I have known Bobbie Chance, an acting coach in the Los Angeles valley, for 23 years. As a kid, I studied with her (yes, at one point, acting was my aspiration). Last year, I looked her up to see if she was still teaching and happily found that she was. I began going to her Thursday night Showcase – not as a student, but as a professional filmmaker, and out of those Thursday nights I have made a ton of new friends, and even added a few members to the class.

The last time I produced a short for a friend, I cast two roles out of Bobbie’s classes and sent our lead actress to study there!

So in a way, being allowed the opportunity to go in from time to time and watch these people perform, is mutually beneficial. I get to watch good work and from it, I refill my, um, creative juices (for lack of a better term) and they have a forum to meet people who may, at some point, be in a position to change their lives because, as I often say, "films, for the people who make them, are kind of like a lottery ticket - you only need one to take off and your life will be completely different."

To see the sheer amount of undiscovered talent out there makes one feel like, even though the movies I’ve made are small (so far), that they are worth the effort… worth the pain. Because if these actors can strip themselves bare and leave every ounce of themselves on the stage in just a classroom setting, then I have no excuse but to pursue this showbiz dream with every single beat of my heart.

So if any of you read this thing, and I know I’ve said it in person, but again, “thank you.” You guys inspire me.

I was once asked by a class of high school drama students what advice I might offer them as far as getting into the acting world in L.A.

My response? “Don’t.”

I watched as they all looked at me quizzically. Their faces fell. Then, after a moment, I continued:

“Unless… Unless you have no choice in the matter. If performing… interpreting a script. Creating a character… expressing yourself through art… If doing that, to you, is like breathing and to do anything else would be like literally killing your soul… then fight for it. Fight for it with everything you’ve got because it’s a long, hard road and no one is going to hand it to you.”

I looked around the room and I could see a few of them brighten. In that moment, I recognized the ones who would fight. The kids whose need, not for attention, not for stardom, but for a forum for creative expression and for art, would never stop. And that too was inspiring.

If you happoen to read this blog and acting or film is not your thing, you can still use this. Whatever it is that you want. Whatever inspires you. Hold onto to it. I’ve been working in film for 16 years and I’ll turn 35 this year – I’m now on my second feature film as producer with more in the works, and the only reason I’m still here is simply that I refused to give up. I refused to hear “no.” …Not that I haven’t thought of throwing in the towel (I have… more than once). But in the end, as I said, to do so… to… admit defeat would have been something akin to dying. It would mean letting that flame that has burned in me since I was a child in that first screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” go out. And in the end, I could never do it.

Best regards. ‘Til next time. Thanks for reading.


  1. Loved reading this! I, too, am greatly inspired by actors. It's an amazing art form that I grew an appreciation for once I decided to take two acting classes at my college. And you're right, you can see so much passion in them, because most of them put their whole past behind them just to pursue their dream.

    In regards to time.. I understand entirely. Over the summer, someone I know was murdered by someone else that I know. Once that happened, time sped up incredibly. Death is absolutely frightening. It shows you how little time we have on this world. I used to think to myself, "I'm a writer, but I can be a writer for the rest of my life, I can take my time." But you never know what can happen tomorrow. Tomorrow might not be. And then all of the time I've spent thinking about my passion for writing and all of the times I have thought to myself, "Maybe one day I'll make something out of myself" will be wasted. And it's sad, because since I've talked to you about screenwriting, I've thought of a million ideas but I still didn't take the time to actually write. I'm only hurting myself.

    Okay, here I go babbling. I'll leave it at that for your sake : )


  2. First, sorry for my bad English. It's not my first language! :)

    People who pursue their dreams in the acting field, or something completely different are real inspirations to me.
    I am not at all in the field of cinema, although it is a passion, but as a spectator. I study sociology and history, and I know that I have trouble when someone says to me "no" or "Irina you can't..." I give up easily.
    So those who leave with just a bag to pursue their dream in a world so difficult such as Hollywood, where they will have have a lot of "NO", have all my respect. I wish I was as strong as them.

    I totally understand about the time. To be honnest, it's worry me often. And this brings me back face to face with the dread of death. To die young. To die without any of my dream realised...

    But I'm young and still trying to find the meaning of life.

    anyway, great blog, keep up!