Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi
By Marci Liroff
Megatalented television producer Shonda Rhimes just came out with a new book, “Year of Yes,” which chronicles the 12 months she spent agreeing to do anything and everything that scared her. It wasn’t just a “yes” to putting herself in harm’s way, like jumping out of an airplane. Most of us would say no to that. But she realized she wasn’t saying yes to much of anything, which meant she was avoiding new possibilities and opportunities. As she told NPR, “I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous, that freaked me out, that made me think I’m going to look foolish doing it. Anything that took me out of my comfort zone, I was going to do it, if asked to do it.”
I realized this new habit of Rhimes’ could be embraced by many of the adult actors with whom I work. I reference specifically “adult” actors because most of the children with whom I work don’t seem to have the same fears about taking risks. Kids will do just about anything for you in an audition or on set because their egos haven’t developed enough to worry about looking stupid. They take chances and risks and play the clown because it’s fun. They say yes to any game you set forth because their imaginations are still limitless. As we get older, we start building that “wall” to protect ourselves from uncomfortable situations and start to say, “No, I’m not going to do that, I’ll look like an idiot.”
Along with saying no out of fear, you close yourself off to the opportunity to do great things. When actors audition for a role, many times I see them staying within the boundaries of the material but not taking any risks by making bold character choices. It’s as if they were told to color within the lines. But after a while, that gets really boring for your audience (and the actor, I imagine).
The performances that grab us are the ones where the actor is doing something unexpected—where you don’t know what they’ll do next and it can be surprising and scary in the same breath.
Take a look at Johnny Depp in the movie “Black Mass.” Yes, we all know Whitey Bulger is a bad guy, a criminal, a killer. But Depp plays him so quietly, so reservedly. I’ve heard actors worry that they aren’t doing enough; they should study what Depp is doing in his most explosive and terrifying scenes. He fully sits back into his character and says yes to who he is at heart. Depp told a reporter, “For me it was walking that tightrope between playing a very dangerous, unpredictable walking time bomb who could also be emotional and even sensitive.”
I’d so much rather have you come in and make the wrong choices than no choices. Take a stab at it and say yes. That, I can work with!
Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.
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