Acting Coach in Los Angeles - Deryn Warren

Acting Coach
As a former actress, a film and theater director and as someone who has watched hundreds of auditions I am uniquely qualified to coach actors to win parts from casting directors.

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Acting Class in Los Angeles - Deryn Warren

Acting Class
I teach actors how to risk, how to rise above the crowd and how to make exciting choices. Learning a perfect audition technique improves all your acting skills.

Virtual Slate - High-quality genre films with experienced directors attached to maximize profits for investors

Virtual Slate
is a startup partnership established by Deryn Warren and Jan Reesman to obtain financing for a slate of films. The films fall within the popular genres of family, horror, action/adventure and thriller and are commercial projects chosen to maximize profits for the investor. All films are intended for theatrical release, but should also perform superbly in the domestic and foreign DVD markets.


How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with You
How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with You - Expert Advice on Acting Technique, Script Analysis, and Taking Risks
Buy How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with You from Amazon.com
Buy How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with You from Amazon.com
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Buy How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love with You from Amazon.com
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Expert Advice on Acting Technique, Script Analysis, and Taking Risks
Deryn Warren


Contents


Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi
   
Chapter 1 Ways to Make the Audience  
  (and the Casting Director) Fall in Love with You 1
Chapter 2 Making Choices, or What Am I Fighting For? 10
Chapter 3 Beats 23
Chapter 4 Subtext 44
Chapter 5 Be Specific 56
Chapter 6 Acting Traps 65
Chapter 7 Comedy 75
Chapter 8 Script Analysis 132
Chapter 9 Technique 183
Chapter 10 Questions and Answers 207
     
A Manual on How to Rehearse
  by Michael Shurtleff, author of Audition  
Epilogue 225
Performance Rights 226

Introduction

Early in my career I was looking for a middle-aged German man to play the part of an elevator operator for a play I was directing in Los Angeles. A young African American man sent a résumé with a note saying he knew he wasn’t right for the role, but he wanted to audition anyway. I couldn’t resist his enterprise (in those days I was doing my own casting), so I put him on the list. The producers and I had finished auditioning many competent but unexciting middle-aged actors with German accents when the young man came in to read for us. As soon as he began we were in love. He was charming, funny, and appealing. Without lines he showed exactly what he thought of everyone who got in the elevator. He brought so much more to the role than I or the writer had dreamed was possible that we rewrote the part for him. Since then I have watched hundreds of actors audition, but less than one in twenty made everyone in the room say, “Bingo! That actor brought something so unexpected and remarkable to the role that he’s got the part.” I wrote this book to make you that actor. Whether you’re in a casting room, on stage, in film, or in television, whether you’re doing Shakespeare, a sitcom, or a soap opera, I want you to be a better actor than you dreamed was possible. I will show you how to risk, how to go beyond the obvious, and how to use your most exciting self in every role. You will learn to make the best out of every script, deepen your choices, perfect your technique, and get hired. Once you have the job, you will make your audience fall in love with you.



1. Ways to Make the Audience
(and the Casting Director)Fall in Love with You

Use Yourself, Not a “Character”

We want to see your unique self, not your unique self’s idea of a character. You are different from everyone else.
Your parents, your history, culture, friendships, traumas, socioeconomic status, and education all add up to give you a rich background to draw upon. Each actor’s approach to the circumstances of a role is different. If you use yourself, you are using your rich background.
No matter how much background material you could imagine for your “character,” no matter how many pages of background you write, your imaginary character will never match your long and complicated history. Use yourself in the circumstances of the role. It is you who are in love. You are robbing a bank. You have only one eye. Use your imagination about the circumstances, but use yourself and your instincts to react.
If you are playing someone with a low I.Q., play yourself having a low-I.Q. moment. We all have times when we can’t figure out a math problem, or can’t read a map. We feel silly or embarrassed or we laugh at ourselves. Make sure it is you working to understand something that is beyond you. There is nothing interesting about playing a dumb person with no dimensions. You embarrassed that you are not smart, you working to understand what is beyond you, or you trying to cover up that you don’t understand, are all interesting choices that involve hard work.
We all play many roles in daily life: employee, parent, lover, friend, party animal, and professional person. In each role we act differently, but we are still the same person. You will feel different in every role, just as you feel different when you are wearing a formal outfit compared to when you are wearing jeans. That is why it has been said that a costume is 80 percent of a character. We assume roles all the time and we are ourselves in each one of them.
Assume a role, but don’t play a character. Be yourself in the situation with your own reactions. I call it looking out of your own eyes.
No matter what role you play—a superhero, a supermodel, an intellectual, a farmer, or even a psychopath, you want your audience to
be thinking, “That actor is so exciting, intelligent, and full of vitality that I’m falling in love.”
How do you make them love you?

Risk!

For every audition and for every scene, never be content with just saying the lines with some kind of meaning and emotion. Anyone off the street can do that. Risk! Add to the scene the biggest gift you have— yourself. Not your everyday self, but your extraordinary self.
Have you heard a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech? You could read his powerful words and be moved, but when you hear him saying the words using all his passion, his thunderous voice, his care to make each phrase of great consequence, then you are stirred and changed. He risked because he wanted to make an impact. He wanted to change the world.
Why do actors so often work with only a third of their personality showing? Without their natural energy and humor? Without even using their full voice? So many actors whisper, as if they were doing commercials for personal hygiene products. Polite is boring. Playing it safe is boring. Taking chances, risking, extending an idea from safe to spectacular is the actor’s mission.
Actors risk by using all of themselves, their own passion, humor, charm, intelligence, and vitality, by making unconventional choices and by not being afraid to make fools of themselves.
Two actors play the part of a bank robber. The first actor commands men, women, and children to sit on the floor and not move. He sounds like a mean cop ordering around criminals he despises. He threatens to blow them all to hell if they give him any trouble. Then he grabs the money and runs.
The next actor is just as tough but even though he has the same lines, he uses a flirtatious tone when he talks to the women. His eyes widen with glee when he sees the money. He even winks at a scared kid. Yes. He’s the actor the casting director will cast. He’s the actor the audience will fall in love with because he is the actor relating to the other actors in the scene, using all of his personality: his humor, pleasure in life, and confidence.
At parties, do we notice the person who sits in a corner not disturbing anyone? No. Going to a party determined to have a good time takes a get-up-and-go attitude and guts. We notice the person who is fascinated or amused by the other guests. Why would actors choose to be any less?
Even though Hannibal Lector, played so brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, was a serial killer, we found him mesmerizing. He used irony, which is a dark humor, and exhibited a fierce intelligence. Look at The West Wing. There isn’t a scene in which the actors don’t use irony or a wry sense of the ridiculous. The men on the staff like each other. They have fun. They look like people you’d like to meet. It’s how they got the parts.
Some people can sit in a chair not saying anything and they look appealing. “I bet that man has a lot to say. I want to meet him,” you might think. You are attracted to his interest in his surroundings, a twinkle in his eye, an appreciation of the people around him. Jack Nicholson just has to raise an eyebrow and the audience adores him. He takes a lot of pleasure in himself. He always looks happy and cool, and his raised eyebrow tells you he’s having a fantastic time. He may not look as good as he used to, but he’s just as engaging and fun.
George Clooney, Goldie Hawn, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jackie Chan, Hugh Grant, and Will Smith all have charm and humor too. Their personalities made them stars.
You don’t have to be in a comedy or even have an outgoing personality to win over an audience. The vulnerability of shy people, an ability to laugh at themselves, and the energy it takes for them to fit in is very appealing. The point is that you should never use an excuse not to show as much of yourself as possible. No actor should say, “I’m playing a nun. I have no feelings for men.” Or, “I’m a lawyer. I have to behave professionally at all times.” These excuses don’t allow your personality to reveal itself. Using excuses, inexperienced actors rationalize why they don’t have to risk. Actors tell me “I wouldn’t do that” when the role they are playing demands more than they feel comfortable with, but we don’t want to see only your everyday persona. We want to see the part of you that is capable of being a hero, or of being cruel, or of showing exquisite tenderness. We want you to have depth.
You have to push your comfort level. I once coached an actor who was auditioning for the part of a bomb expert defusing a bomb with the clock ticking. She said the words just fine, but her body wasn’t tense. She couldn’t raise the stakes high enough. She didn’t put herself in the situation. In the scene she was in mortal danger, but she was afraid to make a fool of herself by “overacting.” How could anyone believe she was defusing a bomb that was about to go off, if her body didn’t show extreme tension? (She didn’t get the part.)
A new student in my class had not yet learned to use all of her personality. Her first line said she was tired, so she played weary throughout the scene, which is not attractive. She needed to play a game of humorously being soooo tired instead. She argued with her male partner, making points in an irritated fashion, and even went so far as to sigh at his lack of understanding. No one would find such a person appealing. When I suggested she work to make him fall in love with her instead of merely scoring points, she was transformed. She became sexy, intelligent, likable, and humorous. The argument became a playful flirtation. We liked her (and the scene) because she showed us many aspects of herself.
Dare to be dramatic. Dare to stand out from the crowd. Dare to make risky choices. It’s how you got your first part over the competition and how you keep getting parts.

Always Use Humor

Risk by using humor in places that are not obvious. A sense of humor makes actors so appealing that it should be a part of every role. Even drama should have humor. Not necessarily the “hah hah” kind, but at least a wry acknowledgment of the oddness of the situation. A small laugh can escape in tense situations. For example, I was in a hospital waiting room while my mother was having a heart operation. Another family was there to support a young woman in her thirties whose husband was dying. At one point her friend brought in a huge platter of assorted sandwiches and told the young wife she needed to eat. The wife looked over the platter and gave a slight laugh as she wondered how to choose between so many. In the midst of tragedy there was still humor, which released the tension of the room. It was very human. If it had been an audition, the laugh would have added a unique dimension that might have sealed the part. (But again, don’t do anything for the casting director or audience; only concentrate on what you are doing to or for your partner in the scene, and use your natural instincts.)
Playing games with lines or using sarcasm are other important aspects of humor. One actor whines, “I’m so tired.” The other actor says the same words but sinks dramatically into a chair with the back of her hand on her forehead. She’s playing a game. They both may be tired, but which one is more appealing to his partner in the scene, and which one would the casting director fall for?
Look at the following lines.

LUKE

Brilliant speech, Max. Pithy lines. Pure genius.

MAX

What do you want?

Luke isn’t giving Max a real compliment. Luke is playing the game of—I’ll give you a ridiculously flowery pseudo-compliment, and you’ll know I want something. The exchange should amuse them both.
Game-playing makes unbearable situations bearable. Look at these lines from the title characters of Thelma & Louise, who are on the run for murder and are about to commit suicide by driving their car off a cliff.

THELMA

I guess everything we’ve got to lose is already gone anyway.

LOUISE

How do you stay so positive?

We love courageous people using humor in the face of disaster. One of my students doing a cold reading in class had a line asking her partner for a small favor. When he agreed, she said, “Really?” and laughed with so much pleasure and surprise that she got a laugh from us. What an unexpected, risky, and delightful choice for such an insignificant line.
The lesson is to find some aspect of humor in every role and to use yourself and all of your best assets—your intelligence and vitality— to achieve your goals with your partner.
Another way to make your audience love you:

Use Energy

Energy is attractive.
Energy is full of life.
Energy is sexy.
Energy draws attention.
Energy makes stars.
Energy is fun.

Too many actors are so terrified of overacting that they underact, and no one notices them. They justify their boring performances by believing that using energy and making risky choices won’t make them seem “natural.” But natural is often boring. If you are in a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive, and you’re idly listening to the conversation of a couple next to you, you will find that nine times out of ten it won’t interest you. Everyday life may be “natural,” but it is not the stuff of drama.
Don’t be afraid of overacting. We do it in real life. We overreact to things that later we realize were not important. We get furious, impassioned, and strident. We fight for our political views and maybe offend people with opposite views. Haven’t you ever been accused of going too far on some occasion? Overreacting is fascinating. Don’t we strain to overhear a couple fighting in a parking lot, and don’t we stop dead in the street to grin at someone whooping with happiness?
If a woman breaks a nail she can look at it with indifference and figure it will grow out, or she might go nuts. “Oh no! I had a perfect set of nails. The prom is tonight! This is an emergency!” There is no limit to how excited a woman can get about that fingernail, and the indifferent woman and the overexcited one can both be believable. Acting is about making choices. Exciting, energetic choices. Raise the stakes. Make that broken fingernail a disaster!
Melodrama is faking large emotion. If you don’t fake, you’ll be believed.
You will never be accused of overacting if afterwards you apologize in the scene with a smile or laugh at yourself or are embarrassed. Scenes should go up and down in energy, not stay steady. Steady will put the audience to sleep.
I went to a concert at Royce Hall in Los Angeles with a full orchestra and four cellists ranked in order of skill from first down to fourth. Three of the cellists leaned forward as they played. The fourth and least important cellist relaxed against the back of his chair. Each cellist concentrated. They were all excellent and skilled musicians. They all played the correct notes, but the fourth cellist didn’t have that extra something . . . energy.
Passive actors, actors who wait for their partners to begin the scene, who wait for their partner’s long speech to be over without itching to jump in and say something, who don’t have passion, are boring. They aren’t working hard. They’re using a disappointing fraction of their energy.
Another word for energy is WORK. Even if you don’t have lines, you must be working hard. The work of a scene involves giving your partner a message. You send messages throughout the whole scene through your lines and your actions. Hard work is interesting to watch. I don’t mean the work of preparing for a scene; I mean the

TIP: In any scene the actor with
the most energy is the one the
audience notices the most, even
if that actor has fewer lines.

work expended when one actor is working with passion to change his partner. When he has no lines he is still sending specific silent messages. He is concentrating, focused, energetic, ardent, fervent, and therefore fascinating. During a political debate, the panelists up on the stage waiting to speak are still using energy to react to what is being said, to comment with laughter or scorn or by shaking their heads. They are energized and communicative even without words. Their energy draws attention.
Work does not necessarily involve talk. Imagine going out with a new lover. You are constantly touching, flirting, giving sexy looks, turning your partner on, and showing your partner your appreciation. All this takes work. Think of a mother telling her child silently with a look or a gesture to kiss Aunt Mary—the Aunt Mary with a bristly moustache. The message is clear to the child. If it’s a comedy, the harder the mom works to send the message to the unwilling child, the louder the laughs will be.
Work is not necessarily loud. Filled silences take work. How about the silence after a marriage proposal, when the man wills the woman to accept? A lion hunkered down in the grass, concentrating on his prey, waiting to spring, is working hard. A couple giving each other a sexually charged look, or a soldier squinting down the barrel of his rifle, are all at their most alive. Their muscles are tight. They are focused and engaged. Work!

TIP: If your stomach muscles
aren’t tight, you’re not using
enough energy. You’re not
working hard enough.

Don’t think about tightening your stomach muscles. Work harder on changing your partner, and your muscles will tighten automatically. When I am talking to my students in class, my muscles are always tight and I sit up straight in my chair. Why? Because I care about them and I am working hard to communicate. If you are focused, your muscles will be working.

Love Yourself

Casting directors and audiences love actors who love themselves.
Did you ever see a skinny guy flex his muscles proudly in front of a mirror? Didn’t it make you laugh? Sure, it’s funny that he pretends he is gorgeous and ripped when he’s not, but our biggest enjoyment comes from his taking so much pleasure in himself. He’s being silly and having fun, and that makes us have fun. It makes us like him.
Don’t we love a kid who scores a goal and comes running off the field flushed with pride and pleasure? Don’t we laugh at his pleasure? Isn’t that kid the most appealing person in the crowd at that moment?
Conceit doesn’t look appealing. It looks self-involved. But confidence, readiness to laugh, and a great sense of humor are all very appealing. Look for places in your scenes where you can add these upbeat traits. Even Hannibal Lector, tied up and in a cell, still enjoyed his own brilliance.
I see actors make the choice to whine throughout their scenes, or become shrill, or shuffle back and forth, or hide behind their hair. Why should your partner do what you want if you are showing him such unattractive traits? Love yourself enough to make attractive choices for your partner.

Summary

Use your own passion, quirkiness, strength, intelligence, confidence, and depth. The more aspects you show us of yourself, the more riveting the audience will find you. Always find the humor or irony in every scene. Work with passion, focus, and energy to change your partner, and you’ve got the part. (Well, you have the part if you look the part, or their idea of it. If you aren’t too young or too old, too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, or if the director’s girlfriend doesn’t get it. This business is tough, but you knew that.)