Acting : best advice I've ever heard about acting. by Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster

best advice I've ever heard about acting.

Actress Ruth Gordon got booted out of The Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1914. 50 years later (after she won her Oscar for "Rosemary's Baby) they invited her back to give a speech to the graduating class. this is what she said: “Never give up,” I told the graduating class. “Never give up” sounds easy, but it isn’t. “Never give up!” Does that seem funny to tell you, who haven’t gotten started? That’s when you have to be warned! I can’t give up. I have too big an investment. It’s when you’re starting is when not to get discouraged. The last time I was at the Academy, the president said, “We feel you’re not suited to acting. Don’t come back.” Well, you see who’s standing here. “And on that awful day when someone says you’re not suited, when they say you’re too tall, you’re not pretty, you’re no good, think of me and don’t give up!”

Richard "RB" Botto

Love this, Stephen. Fantastic share.

Richard "RB" Botto

I think that's an awful attitude, Alle. Sometimes talent is "hidden" by a lack of confidence, guidance and access to education.

Antonio Ingram

That was passionately felt Stephen. Thank you for sharing that sir. This is what success is all about.

Kevin Jackson

I agree with both of Alle and Richard, actually. Lee Strasberg once said of one of his famous students (I'm not going to say who, but it's someone we'd all agree is an all-time great), "I never thought he was very talented." Strasberg never said that to the actor, however, because, to paraphrase, he felt his role was to be the best teacher to this actor he could be, not to offer his subjective opinion of the actor's talents. Make a top 20 list of the greatest film actors of the past 40 years and I guarantee this actor would be on it. Imagine if Strasberg had shared his opinion with this actor; we might never have many incredible performances (including several Academy Award winning and nominated performances). There's also a fairly famous story attributed to Casting Director Georgianne Walken of her telling one of today's A-List actors that he should find another profession. Glad he didn't listen to her. On the other hand, we've all seen that person who desperately wants to make a living as a creative person and just isn't very good. It can be painful to watch, especially if the person is a friend. It also can create incredible frustration because people like this play a large role in clogging up the system as bad as it is and creating the environment of hostility and exclusivity that we often see in the mainstream industry. Unfortunately, as the two stories above illustrate, there's really no effective way to determine who is "bad" and who is "good" in any sort of absolute way. Both of the actors referenced above have been nominated for Oscars, one has won twice, and both have won Golden Globes. If arguably the most renowned American acting teacher of the past 100 years and one of the most preeminent Casting Directors of today could get it so wrong, how could you ever come up with a system that would get it "right"? You can't, so we all have to live with the fact that, as frustrating as it may be, there are always going to be people we personally think aren't talented who are not only competing with us for the same jobs, but even getting those jobs from time to time.

Richard "RB" Botto

I'm even talking about people who lack the confidence - and, at times, the access to training - that would allow them to even attempt to audition. This is something I witnessed many times as an actor in New York and certainly many more times running this site. Don't get me wrong, talent always wins the day, but there are people out there that confuse a lack of confidence with a lack of talent. A flower blooms when watered and fed.

Stephen Foster

my talent "comedy" wasn't even discovered until I was 40 years old. I had soo many lame-brain teachers teaching conformity when they should have said, "kiddo, you are hysterical, market that!" and Ruth Gordon was given CRAP to perform while at the academy. Sometimes, people in this industry say the wrong thing at the wrong time and actors get discouraged. and sometimes those with little talent and great ambition succeed.

Kevin Jackson

Alle, I have to disagree with the notion that talent is always possible to spot. Obviously, even people like Strasberg and Walken miss it sometimes, and if I had to choose two "authorities" on acting talent, those would be two pretty good choices. I, too, have seen many instances of incredibly shy people who were immensely talented, but you never would have known it had someone or something not opened those people up. I also consider myself a pretty good judge of talent, but I can't claim that I've never missed it when it has been standing in front of me.

Stephen Foster

"talent" is not always enough. I know PLENTY of actors who have LOADS of talent. what they lack is: the networking skills and the ability to effectively market their talents. In this day and age you have to be skilled at both developing your "talent" and knowing WHAT you are selling/peddling.

Richard "RB" Botto

To coin the kids...This ^^^^^

Kevin Jackson

Stephen, I absolutely 100% agree with you, although I don't think the point you're raising is what was being discussed. Alle stated that the maxim “Never give up” only applies to people with "talent" and the issue we've been discussing is whether or not talent is always immediately recognizable. Like I said, though, I do agree with your point that talent isn't enough.

Stephen Foster

well, we all pray we have "talent", but I just lay down the law of "never giving up" whether you have talent or NOT. it's taken me YEARS for CDs to recognize my "talent" (they still don't sometimes!)! In fact, the first movie that I was the lead in "Off Hollywood" the CD DID NOT want to cast "talent" (me) she wanted to cast a NAME (her friend). true story.

Kevin Jackson

Yes, I agree that there's no way to ever 100% take subjectivity out of evaluations of talent, so the best we can do is work to know ourselves and improve our craft as much as possible and forgo worrying about those things we can't control (like whether a "decision maker" will like us)... either that or stop waiting for someone else to give you a chance and find a way to create your own opportunities.

Stephen Foster

I agree 100%. Actors should constantly being making their own breaks. "talent" regardless

Kevin Jackson

No one is suggesting exploitation or saying anything about what your needs or intentions are. Strasberg was simply an example of someone who knew acting talent as well as anyone and still got it wrong occasionally. All I'm saying is that you don't always know; no matter how much of an expert you are, you are going to miss a few. And I say this as someone who is not only very well educated, but also a consistently good judge of talent. I know I'm not right 100% of the time and neither is anyone.

Kevin Jackson

I don't know... Strasberg trained many of the greatest actors of the past 50 years and Georgianne Walken has been a Casting Director for 25 years who is not only married to one of the greatest actors of the past 50 years, but has cast nearly 90 films and two of the greatest television series ever. If even they admit they get it wrong once in awhile, I think it's safe to say we all do.

Kevin Jackson

I can't speak to the experience in Sydney, of course. I've lived my whole life in New York and Los Angeles. Actually, I can kind of speak to the experience in Sydney a little bit, since I know a handful of Australian actors and am aware, of course, of the many others who have come here and become huge successes. NY and LA are zoos beyond your wildest imagination, if you've never been there (and by "been there" I mean lived and worked there for an extended period of time), where you are constantly getting metaphorically kicked in the face. It's difficult to fully grasp how many actors live in those two towns -- particularly Los Angeles -- until you've experienced it first hand. The last thing I produced had over 750 submissions, on average, for every single available role (~25,000 submissions for 32 roles). Let's say only 2% of them were talented (a little harsh, but for the sake of argument it's a good number). That means that about 15 really talented people auditioned for every single role and about 14 really talented people got rejected for every single role. That happens multiple times, on even larger scales, every single day in this town. That's why it's important to "Never give up." No matter how talented you are, you will be rejected 99%+ of the time. And with such a large pool to wade through, if you're on the other side of the table, you WILL get it wrong occasionally. It's simply unavoidable. I'm not pretending it happens a lot, but then again I don't tend to follow the careers of the actors I DON'T hire, so who knows? It's telling, though -- and I say this fully aware that I may be overstepping a boundary here -- that you started this conversation by saying "People who don't have talent at something shouldn't obsessively focus on what they can't do" and yet you talk fairly extensively in your last post about how long it took you to get over the people who tried to tell you what you couldn't do. That's really the whole point here -- it's not for others to pass judgements on your talent and only YOU can tell yourself whether a pursuit is worthwhile. If you think the pursuit is worthwhile, never give up, no matter what anyone else says.

Stephen Foster

my original post was only about "perseverance" which I try to instill in every actor whether they have "talent" or not. Talent is something you are born with and something that must be cultivated. understanding your talent and marketing it, now that a whole different skill set. a lot of folks these days don't have what I call "talent" but they do have a marketing "team" behind them.

Stephen Foster

I'm talking about actor's overcoming objections to people who tell them to stop. talent is a given. I think we are talking about 2 different things, my love. but thank you for caring enough to voice your thoughts. it's a rough bidness no matter how you slice it.

Logan Scott Matthews

Thank you Stephen! I'm with you all the way!

Kevin Jackson

1000s of talented people get rejected in the mainstream entertainment industry every day. It's reality. So "don't give up" is a pretty big deal, because you're going to be rejected constantly no matter how talented you are. Also, no one is the absolute arbiter of talent -- even the greatest of the greats in this industry will admit this -- so this idea that people "without talent" should just get out of the way is spurious at best. I'm frustrated by the overcrowding in this industry, too, but I know the answer isn't "everyone who I personally think isn't talented should just get out." I WISH it were that easy. It's not.

Russ DiBello

"It's people without talent that should make space for those who do, rather than crowd the wheat grains with endless chaff! " I'm still waiting to hear who's wearing the badge, which gives them the authority to determine who "people without talent" are. If the official arbiter of Talent turns out to have questionable talent, his or her own self, what do we do then? Laugh in their face, and press ahead, to discover the "Ruth Gordon" in ourselves? Or do we simply assume they're correct because they've got the badges? And just give up? Nah. Keep going. If, after a reasonable period of time which you've set for yourself, you're not working 3 times a year... so they say... you're not a "working actor" and you can use THAT as the indicator of where or not you're "chaff". Or for that matter, you can even keep going another mile or so beyond your own deadline, and maybe be pleasantly surprised!

Stephen Foster

Thank you all for sharing. I think an actor must decide for himself whether or not he has TALENT, but I've seen many a GREAT ACTOR get shot down in a casting room or in a performance when the talent was GREAT but those with the "badges" were NOT.

Nancy Davis Williams

I read a biography on Liberace a long time ago. I remember that he started out at bars, and a customer once poured BEER all over his hands while he was playing, but he kept playing. I'm SURE that piano must have had to be replaced if the beer got all over the KEYS. But he kept trying. He would get ridiculed when he caught the bus, because he wore make up.

Stephen Foster

I've been told more than once that I would "never be cast" and that I wasn't good enough...but they were all wrong. It's not about TALENT. it's about what you DO with that talent (or gift).

Richard "RB" Botto

Bravo, Stephen.

David Chevers
Anne Stafford

Fabulous - thanks Stephen, needed to hear that!

Suzanne Ordonio

I love this! Thank you Stephen!

Hope Oluwafemi

Thank You!

Deryn Warren

I teach actors in LA and I tell them what my teacher who wrote AUDITION told me, "If you have to ask the question, should I continue, then quit, because this is a difficult profession where talent and persistence does not always make a big career." Both are correct statements, right? I wrote a book called How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love With You. I hope you will all read a chapter at DerynWarren.com and let me know what you think. My students work because I get them to make Risky! choices and use energy and humor. I love actors and wish success for all of you.

Stephen Foster

I think every actor suffers with doubt and fear. I think we all question at times whether to continue acting or not...I teach actors the ONLY lesson they really need to know "build yourself, build your dream regardless of the market" (the market will come to YOU!)

Deryn Warren

Alle, your comment "Stephen, you can have the highest level of talent in the world, and have no capacity to execute it." is right on. I teach actors all the time who have talent and have taken years of classes but have no idea how to audition. None. If you have talent but no technique then you won't get jobs, period. You have to learn how to hold the script, how to start with an action, to put a button on the scene by giving your partner a final message (ie. a pause). You have to know how to use silences and make discoveries and use humor. You have to make attractive choices so the audience loves you. If the script says you are tired, then don't play exhausted. Who wants to watch that. Play a game about being tired. Or fight the tired. That is why I called by book How To Make Your Audience Fall in Love With You. Too many teachers waste their student's time. If you want to work as an actor you have to rise above the competition. My LA students work because they blow away the casting directors. That is the first important step and then you have to know what you are doing on the set . . .

Stephen Foster

I think if you have a high degree of talent, you should have a pretty good idea of how to execute it, but I'll stick to my guns saying that actors suffer too much low self-esteem as opposed to technique or craft. (and bossy, rude directors or CDs don't help matters)

West Ramsey

Love her!

Nancy Davis Williams

Hi Ramsey. I'm a singer/actress and also write poetry. My maternal Grandmother's maiden name was Ramsay. Different spelling though. After she died, my mother and I found out that she won BEST SHAKESPEARIAN ACTRESS in New Orleans when she was in HIGH SCHOOL. Talk having it in your BLOOD.

Nancy Davis Williams

That's why I don't want to travel out of town to far away places. I'd rather seek FAME where I live. However Cape Ann in Massachusetts is a SEASONAL place, so opportunity is limited.

Deryn Warren

Alle, why did what I say that caught you off guard? Actors need a LOT of technique and can't always count on talent. In my LA class my super talented students (they have to audition for the class as I don't take beginners) work four times a night on great material. Actors should want to do that. They don't get to work enough. Also everyone needs a third eye to get rid of bad habits or encourage you to RIsk! more and make more exciting choices. Please read a chapter of How to Make Your Audience Fall in Love WIth You, at DerynWarren.com and let me know if you liked it, if you learned anything and if you agree with my approach. You will at least get a tip or two for your next audition. Deryn

Stephen Foster

technique and craft are great (even learning audition skills), BUT I think too little goes into developing the actors self-esteem muscles AND their craft of branding and netwerking.

Deryn Warren

Good point, Stephen. On the other hand my students gain self-esteem by learning an excellent craft and working on great material and getting feedback. They they help each other network. I love my class. Did any of you go to DerynWarren.com? I hope you want to see if you can get some acting tips that would be useful to actors and directors. For example I talk about actors auditioning for the part of a bank robber. One shouts orders at the scared customers and runs with the money. Another winks at a scared kid, flirts with the women and his eyes widen with glee at the sight of the money. Which one would you rather hire? Let's all give each other tips. Otherwise it is just talk. DerynWarren.com

Egypt Reale

Love the comment she made - so true and so needed! I find, when anyone tells me something other than - GREAT IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO THEN TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO HELP YOU - if they don't say that or anything positive - well, then, I get them out of my space and I all of a sudden loose their contact number.

Deryn Warren

Alle, if you are casting in LA PLEASE contact me through my website and see my actors. They will do you proud. Lots of actors can't audition. They are boring and play it safe and don't have a strong first line or silences or humor or charm. I teach actors to use it all and use themselves not a character. We probably don't disagree that much on that. I want the actors to use the parts of themselves that are shy or killers or flirtatious or vulnerable. I call it looking out of your own eyes. Then we believe them. That is why costumes are so important because we all act a lot different when we are wearing a ball gown as opposed to sweats. We have lots of parts in us! I am so impressed you read the first chapter of How to Make YOur Audience Fall in Love WIth you at DerynWarren.com. Too many actors or people in the business don't read. Good for you! Maybe you even want to GET the book! :)

Deryn Warren

Okay, Alle, great. You can always get hold of me through DerynWarren.com I know you will love my recommendations.

Egypt Reale

LOL. Yes, that actor definitely took a risk. LOL. It is amazing some of the things that occur in auditions - makes thing more interesting. Would love to chat more and help you out in anyway I can. Cheers

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