Ever since I began acting, I’ve ascribed such reverence to the word “actor.”
When I think “actor,” I think of that peerless ensemble in The Godfather. I think Brando in Waterfront, I think of Heath as the Joker and Ennis, I think of Philip Seymour and Denzel, and Chiwetel and Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson and Oscar Isaac. I think of Meryl, and Frances McDormand, and Joanne Woodward. I think of these people as the torchbearers, the preeminent students of empathy, understanding, insight, and honesty. They are the people whose work people turn to when feeling a little lost in the world, when we could use to be reminded what it’s all about. A good film or play reminds us what it means to be human, reminds us what it means to love, to be afraid, to be conflicted. Reminds us of what we’ve lost sight of within ourselves. Actors are wisdom holders, and the centerpieces of these works of art. Not only is there a wisdom inherent in their work, watching interviews with them only further solidified this instinctive conviction; they just seemed to get it. There was a self knowledge and a self possession, and a comfortabiity with the truth of the world - a willingness to confront the reality of their world and engage with it - that I found worth aspiring. I believe actors to be some of the wisest, most courageous and authentic beings our world has to offer. Sometimes I call bullshit during certain politically correct, overly sentimental acceptance speeches but - despite and aside from that, the reverence is real, and for a reason. I feel such admiration and gratitude for what some of these creators have shared with the world.
I’ve felt this way since I can remember, but it wasn’t until a few years ago I thought I’d try my hand at the game they made look so effortless.
My reverence has served as a powerful motivator. I’ve never felt quite worthy of the title “actor;” if that is what I call Oscar Isaac, what business do I have using that title for myself? I’ve spent the past three years in training, in classes, in rehearsals, reading plays, reading books on technique, reading books about theatrical aesthetic, watching the great performances on film, gleaning everything I can, trying to digest all that I can: trying to justify the title “actor.” I’ve spent my time in classes racing, with a feverish intensity towards “good” scenes. Was that good? Was that good? How was that? How was I? Do you think I’m a good actor? Or, is this not really for me?
I thought, “I’ll call myself an ‘Actor’ when I am worthy of the title.” I subsequently would think, “it’s getting closer.” “It’s getting close.” “Ok, almost there.” “I’m getting closer, now, for real – I’ve almost got it now.”
I was this way with basketball. Never quite took my seat as a ballplayer. To feel worthy of the title, the gear, the court, the thrills was a little above me, so… I worked myself to the bone, trying to make myself good enough. There was a level attainable, and it was within reach. I had to get this part of my game up to snuff, and get a couple more inches on my vertical jump, add a few more pounds of muscle. and then I could begin enjoying the game, start reaping the benefits I’d been denying myself, namely fun. I was almost there, then a little closer, then a little closer, but I would never arrive. I would drain myself in the weight room and in solo workouts on the court in the morning before afternoon practices. I’d show up for practice in the afternoon stuffed from all the food I’d eaten at lunch to recover from my morning workouts in my attempts to build myself into a real player, the kind of player who would start at a D1 school, the kind of player who was too good not to get major minutes, who coaches would refer to by saying, “he’s so talented!” I’d spend practice trying to work off the sluggishness of my mini food coma and defend that image of “talented” I’d ascribed myself while my teammates threw themselves into competing with each other, challenging each other, and developing chemistry with each other.
They were walking the path of being a ballplayer. I was putting the path on hold, withholding the experience until I was ready, till I was good enough. It was my way of postponing a confrontation of sorts, of meeting the moment head on. I was a lonely man on a lonely island. Not only did my playing, and my passion suffer greatly, I became an increasingly terrible teammate, and a greater and greater coach's nightmare. I became the guy nobody wants in the locker room, an infection no coach wants in their team's bloodstream.
So I quit. I traded in one potential path to validation for another. But I can't, and won't go down that path again.
I want to turn over a new leaf.
I want to begin walking the path of an actor more fearlessly and openly, with more enthusiasm for process and discovery, and less need for “good,” less need to know. I want to begin making my work much more about connecting with people, much more about finding the joy of working together, and much less about proving something, much less about being better than others.
Teachers encourage acting students to “let yourself be messy!” and to “discover the scene!” I thought that because I could get emotional I was letting myself be messy but I’ve slowly become aware of a level of control I’ve had over my work that not only inhibits my spontaneity and honesty but makes the work much less exciting for ME! It was always less about discovering anything new, and more about proving that I was "good." I am tired of, and will burn myself out, relentlessly pursuing everyone’s validation, approval, and permission, holding my breath until they give it to me. I am taking a stand against that tendency in myself. I am allowed to have fun, to enjoy making discoveries. I am allowed to be messy. I don't need to be good, and I don’t need to know. I don't need to know what I’m doing, and I don't need to know what to do.
I’m turning over a new leaf.
Shit is real out here.
No one is coming to save you.
Make it what you want it to be.