Thursday, September 11, 2014

Are. You. A....GOD?

Why yes it IS the anniversary of Ghostbusters and yes my best halloween costume to date IS Gozer the Gozerian, but no, that's not what this blog is about. 


He is a trim, bald Jew who probably needs a girlfriend with a pair of tweezers.  If I am to worship anything, let it be the God of Comedy - his Larry David.

Myself and a recently discovered writing partner (hooray!) decided - without discussion - that we've been climbing small to medium to large comedic mountains in our minds for many a year and thus, as we venture together creatively, why not tackle the impossible Everest with sheer, guffawing ambition....and write spec for Curb Your Enthusiasm?

Yeah yeah I know - "How do you write spec for a show that's improvised?" - Highly intricate outlining / story-weaving for one thing. 

What's that? You don't watch it? SHAME ON YOU! Trust me, I understand the discomfort some express when having tried to get on the Curbwagon - much like I used to feel watching Ben Stiller films.  Back in the day, I recall sinking into my theater chair while Stiller was caught, humiliated, shamed, defied, unsupported - all in the name of supposed funny as he "met the parents".  But armed today with my myriad of life experiences and perhaps some tempered doses of cynicism, I can easily ingest the comedy of Mr. David with glee.  I think much in part due to his brilliant tap into absurdist nuances on all things mundane. I will drink buckets of that highly-concentrated syrup and never tire. Who needs pancakes?

But comedy is the thing. I never liked choosing between that or drama - instead, I am fleshing out (quite shamelessly) my comedic side as the year progresses because....well, it's just about time! I came out of the womb laughing. I crack myself up far too much. I study stand up and listen to numerous comedians' podcasts and most of all - I just feel free inside the funny. There ain't a feelin' like it. I also did three comedy shows on stage last year - and that momentum really became the impetus to stop RESISTING comedy.  I've always resisted it professionally - whether it is plain old fear, self-consciousness, strange expectation, being forced to choose - who knows? It no longer matters. Comedy's been a-knockin' on my door my whole life so I'm just going to let him in.

Hence my watching Broad City: Season 1 in three days. 

On the other hand, I continue to work diligently in my Jaffe intensive.  It has been a side-swiping bitch to find my own material - GOOD material - on which to work and hone. Sifting the internet for a great scene is very needle-in-haystack, especially when you are always craving perfection like myself. After hours and hours of research, it feels darn fabulous to find some dialogue that goes down like the perfect glass of water - refreshing, quenching, a part of you. 

Now, the best and final challenge of my course: find a scene that you ASPIRE to. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh BOY!  Bette Davis, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Marion Cotillard - yes of COURSE I think of to WHOM I aspire to first. Then the titles will flow in later. Might as well pick a crazy hard, ball-buster of a scene that requires the chops of a giant. I might fail miserably, but that's the point of class, isn't it? It's a learning ground. Life is a frickin' learning ground. So go for the gold, baby.

Speaking of - just enrolled into Aquila Morong Studios. SUPER excited. Let's go bask in the light of tough, intelligent, grounded feminine power. And John Hindman. He's cool, too.

Now here are some clips from one of his best episodes "The Bare Midriff" co-starring the ab-fab comedy starlet, Jillian Bell. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Layer Cake...

I serve a loooooooooot of cake over the summer.  Almost every Saturday somewhere in Malibu. Usually the view is killer, the sun sets brilliantly and the rental fee is sweetly over $20k.  I'm serving up this wedding cake that has been snagged from public presentation to be cut covertly in the kitchen and dispersed in perfect portions by sweeping the room. Trying to fill the hands of a swaying Aunt who has wandered aimlessly near. Also, maybe a bartender you've been ranting with all shift. 

All day today I have been responsible - not without restless Cheetah syndrome round my room, but hey, good things come to those who slowly chew on them while chewing on other things way too simultaneously and inconsistently and it ends up taking an inefficient amount of time.  Did I mention I'm sometimes like a befuddled physics professor / octopus that is reaching around myself for answers and actions to pair? 

I have tormented myself all afternoon by trying to complete the homework assigned: find a final scene with which to audition (in this specific intensive I have mentioned previously).  The FINAL scene. That means, the most dramatic? The most meaty? The most hilarious? Of the highest standards? Layer by layer, the pressure builds albeit like a bunch of heavy blankets, but suddenly I'm sweating and there's clearly a fan directly over my head - the only soundtrack I have for hours upon end searching online. I can't concentrate on reading scenes while listening to tunes. Lessen the distraction for Professor Octopus. 

So many options to consider when beginning a search (which subsequently began Thursday): Film or television? Well that question will never get resolved until I look at all actresses I resemble/aspire to - and how far back in history should I go - oh I love Carole Lombard but dated material and lofty ambition? Well, no I should be funny and sophisticated and this IS a comedy office, but wait what about Meryl Streep's resume, something from when she was younger? Is that too hopeful or too foolish? Make it your own. Dear God, there's so much television and I watch many things but not enough like Homeland - um, Claire Danes is too award-fresh for me to take a scene from that show, especially having never really seen it - again, who am I? Jean Valjean?  If I can't choose from drama or comedy, there's a problem when that intersects with film or television and maybe I should have chosen that genre first but I didn't want to discount anything. 

You can understand that I might black out in front of a wall of soup cans at the grocery store from the pressure. 

Regardless, I've made headway. In other news, I saw a seamlessly gorgeous film today (also a part of my "homework", heh heh) and was pleasantly surprised: Sin City (A Dame to Kill For). Stunning cinematography, perfect transitioning of a graphic novel brought to life, tons of terrifically dramatic voiceover by Rourke and Brolin with gritty, whiskey-sodden words. Blood lessened in its grotesque nature by being often white - I appreciated that, Rodriguez, nice touch. 

I do have a small bone to pick with Eva Green, however. I love... eighty-five percent of her. But that fifteen percent is what bothers me each and every time I closely survey her performance. Something is missing that sells me entirely.  With certain lines and moments, she seems to be skimming the pond, intention lost, point of view less seasoned and suddenly you realize you're eating tofu. Still, she is beautifully shot (no pun intended) and often completely naked - something for you boys to look forward to. But the scenes in the pool are devastatingly pristine and her career is going swimmingly as of late - a more resonant path of roles in an actress's career is nice to see after a slew of big-budget deflations. 

As I continue to mull over my own branding - which roles are most appropriate for moi at this time - there are some wonderful examples of casting today, especially on television. Higher grade actors being cast as repeating leads, carrying the weight of a season rather than a snippet of an afternoon. Also, unknown actors surfacing and adding butter to decadent cake mixture. Now, there are way too many delicious cakes to try.  A good problem to have as an audience member and a good one to pollinate with as a bee in the industry hive. 

We are most alive when we work - actors. We should be drawing energy and excitement from what we love and then pouring it right back in. The choices TO make become clearer and clearer the more time we spend ruminating on what they might be then seeing what sticks. Hold up - hey, this scene has a wholeness and points of view, relationships, moments - are all so clear to live. Trust me, it will become a piece of cake. "Preparation should free you to the unexpected." And fearlessness will quickly expand your understanding.  

The other day, on a break from work (oh I have interesting jobs) I shot an actual bow and arrow onto an archery target for the first time, Hunger Games style, yo. With some professional guidance and fifteen arrows, I stabbed those hay bales to death. But four wobbly sticks made it to the target and even punctured it. That's four more than I ever had before. #closertobeingapro

Let's make this a week of accomplishment, growth and strength. Aaaaaaand cake. Throw a piece of cake in there for yourself. Work a wedding or something. Make $. Get by. Hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Building the Bicycle (in Reverse!)

Last night, I audited a fabulous scene study class. 

A marvelous quote about the importance of research uttered from the whip-smart lips of our class leader: Preparation should FREE YOU to the unexpected. 

Yes, yes, YES!!!!  I am Meg Ryan in the diner at hearing these words. Dear God, Yes. I sat there fighting the urge to kick myself at this most obvious key to acting - because it may as well be an iron-like skeleton thing buried deep in the mountains of Mordor as far as most actors are concerned.  I don't spend much time in New York, but I know enough to understand the vast difference in acting culture between here and there. One that involves the letters A, Y, Z and L. 

How refreshing to sit in a classroom where someone is kneading and pounding on you like the acting dough that you are. Sure, their forming methods are carried out mainly with fists and rolling pins, but the pressure of those hands come from a love of the craft.  I can endure the stretching, pulling, tearing, repairing, shaping, baking, burning, icing, and sprinkling if it means I will be a damn fine cookie one day. You should too. 

As I walked to my car, I thought - these people are truly teaching us how to ride a bicycle. No, they are teaching us the mechanics of the bicycle, too.  NO - they are teaching us how to build the bicycle in reverse - very Halt and Catch Fire - by breaking down all of its mechanics and going over every groove of every part and every connection between every piece. But one must understand that the bicycle isn't acting itself, the bicycle is YOU - in a scene, in those circumstances, in that skin.  Then, once you have thoroughly explored that particular bike (because you never get to build the same one twice), you have to learn to ride it.  Upon learning to ride, suddenly the repetition and depth will allow room for grace, for panache, for freedom to explore the land through which you ride.  You can do tricks - and you can modify them to your talents alone. Wheelies, handstands on the pedestals, hopping...around....okay, my terminology of bike tricks is quite limited. 

Research, research, research - an endless task for an actor.  READ - a good general rule. Find the time. Pull that time out of your ass. It's 2am and you have work in the morning but there are 10 more pages to read. Grab that cold brew coffee concentrate from TJ's, pop that addy, and giddy up, my friend. Preparation - a word foreign to many in the La-La Mer. I think the lifestyle ideal of sitting poolside all day is a diseased dream, a cloud of red sickness particles floating around actors' heads like that flu epidemic on that one Simpsons episode. (Dating myself? Um, so...?) 

Jude Law. I remember when A.I. came out, I read this snippet on his preparation for his superb execution in the role of Gigolo Joe: "Law spent months studying the great movers of old-time Hollywood: Valentino, Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant. He also borrowed from top-heavily graceful screen baddies like Robert Mitchum, rock'n'roll knee-tremblers like Presley and Gene Vincent, even from the Johnny Bravo cartoons he watches with his children."  All that to capture the smooth, flawless movement of his robot character - despite only actually dancing for a mere moment in the epic film.  He went for it like a honey badger.  This is WHY I became an actor - because I love to learn - but I see that despite being better, despite having a stronger muscles, I am still lazy.  And if I'm lazy? Then at least 90% of my peers in this town are in a coma. 

I look forward to taking this class (once I audition, that is).  I like to see a teacher spew questions faster than an arcade gun in a mega-space war game. It's thrilling.  Don't get me wrong, I have met some incredibly knowledgable teachers while here in Los Angeles - and grateful to have had experiences with each of them - but these peeps were the real deal. The Pushers. The Pokers. The Provokers. The Thinkers. 

I talk often on this blog about fear. Fear is not unlike the idea of Satan - a great enemy that we can defeat over and over again, but can never destroy entirely. (Note: Religious metaphors born from my upbringing, not meant for present day endorsement.)

All of us have our daily battles with fear. Even Greats, like the late Robin Williams - an alien of talent who is now moonwalking with MJ somewhere in the clouds while Bacall watches from an ornate chaise. He shot through our lives and our hearts like a blinding ball of pure energetic joy.  Truly an Empath was he - else he could not so brilliantly portray a body of work that delves from one extreme side of the human spectrum to the other. Let the preparation, let the work - the hours and hours and hours of work - free you to the unexpected. And don't forget to be kind and make people smile in the meantime.

In related news, I am getting my hair did this afternoon. Perhaps a journey into the unexpected? Hey, not every battle has to be so serious. Lighten up, will ya? ;) 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Post-Mortem or Roll Away That Stone!

What is it about inspiration at 2:30 in the morning? 

Who cares, is my response. It's like finding that rubber ball you lost six months ago under the couch, clouded in dust bunnies (the cleaning of which was your original impetus to move the damn thing in the first place) and then saying "Hey! THAT'S where you are" proceeding to bounce it around joyfully while all else falls away. Remember? You really missed that ball - and now you've got it back and life can go on a bit more freely, with a little less weight. 

That's what writing does for me anyway. That and getting those crazy thoughts down to smirk at later. Or learn from again. Or from which to recognize the patterns and wap my forehead with a smacking palm of self-chiding. 

After parting from particular agents and a particular manager - many things have changed in my career. I have many exciting pots a-boilin' - none QUITE roiling, but perhaps on the cusp (like me - The Virgo/Libra that I am. What? Don't worry, this isn't about that - though don't discount some astrological strums here and there. In fact, take a moment to ingest the possibility that humans may in fact be influenced and molded by the stars and sea. Whaddya think about that? Tell me later. On to the news.)

Two-thousand-fourteen has been largely a creative year. I am developing my first screenplay based on a resonant experience doing theatre in a quaint mid-California town and also a dream I once had involving a needy, teenage spirit. Never before have I truly delved into the development of such a story - conceived as a short film, originally - but my imagination took the proverbial reins and galloped to other lands. The horse's mouth was (and is) foaming.  It's been surprising, sensitive, terrifying, and incredible to create thus far - and I cannot weigh on it so much expectation, though the temptation is certainly there as my chest swells with pride. Regardless of where this particular script goes, it will forever be a milestone on the road of E. Swan.

I'm also learning guitar - three months in, folks. As impatient as I normally am (I want to be good NOW!), I continue to tell myself that music is more natural to my make-up than blood. Too true are these words. Dragons are to Khaleesi as music is to Eva.  Wielding an instrument gives me a new power of creation I did not pursue before - and writing music is wonderfully validating for all the years of singing in the Great Halls of My Head.  Maybe one day I can add this to the "special skills" section of my resume. Maybe one day I'll have an EP. Every day of practice is another closer to fleshing out these once distant possibilities.  

What else? Weeeeellllllllllll (deep breath) new headshots at the end of the month, back in Janet's Meisner class and its oh-so-sweet, watching the crap out of some HBOGO (and feeling inspired), writing a spec episode for a show on HBO that I absolutely adore with all of my little harts (and feeding the funny bone while at it), began an audition intensive this very evening with Sheila Jaffe's casting office, making nut butters like there's no tomorrow (because who knew I had a talent for it???), doing many things for the first time, calling out to the Ladies of La La for support and love as we veer forward in this strange land where indigenous jerks roam, and looking forward to homework that is creatively necessary and self-assigned! Books, shows, scripts, live theatre, magazines, websites, and talking of many things - of cabbages, of kings!

Let's just say, it's nice to resurface from a complex New Year. 

We can't control the darkness around us. I find it is easier to take a breath and let my eyes adjust. 

More to unfold.