The Obama administration is considering lengthening the US public school year. Even if you are not a kid in public school (or the parent of that kid), this still matters to you.
One of the things we find over and over again is the nothing great happens without hard work. You want to improve your academic performance? More time in school helps. More studying helps. More attention to your homework helps. That Makes sense.
You want to be a better actor? Same rules apply.
“I used to think as I looked at the Hollywood night, ‘there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.'”
– Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn had it right, and she didn’t just dream. She worked hard. Despite commercial success as a film star, she took a break and moved to NY to study with my dad and improve her acting. It worked. Her talent blossomed and she started to take control of her career. She had talent and beauty, but she also had the courage to commit herself to getting better at her craft.
As someone who was notorious for being late, she once famously told me dad that she was ‘incapable of being on time.’ My father’s response? “Darling, if you cannot be on time, be early.” And she was. For his class she would come early and wait.
But what if you are already in class? Then what?
1) Get there early. Prepare yourself while you wait. Look over your scene, begin to search for tension in your body that you can release to improve your concentration and expression. You can squeeze hours of extra time out of your training just by not wasting the first 20 minutes of time settling in. Come ready to work.
2) Don’t just wait for class. Find more to do. Many actors are in class only one or two times a week. Some lucky ones might have class 5 or 6 times a week. But even that is not enough. I recently finished a book, Outliers: The Story of Success, by my current favorite writer, Malcolm Gladwell. A central point of the book is how success comes out of moments when special opportunity meets a person who has put in a tremendous amount of work to become great at what they do.
It is not enough to get the mythical Lucky Break. Yes, you need a break along the way, but you also need to be really good at what you do so that when you get a chance you are ready to deliver. If you are an actor you need to be an actor more than 4, or 10, or even 20 hours a week. You are an actor every day. So rehearse, practice, and don’t stop.
3) Make yourself great. Find extra time to enhance your abilities. When you brush your teeth, pay attention to what you feel in your body (your gums, but also your lips, your hands, your feet – really look at yourself in the mirror). You can make yourself more aware and more observant.
Try out accents. When you can talk to your grocery clerk without him/her looking at you funny you are making progress.
When you watch a movie, don’t be a passive fan. Watch as an actor. Pay attention and note what you see and what you feel.
Read books in your spare time (there is more of that than you think). Learn to dance. Inspire yourself with art.
The bottom line is that if you want to be a great actor (or a great anything), you need to work at it. You need to live it and work at it for as long as you can. That is the edge that Marilyn Monroe, and so many others, had that no one talks about. That is what separates the “Lucky Ones” from the rest.