Today we’re interviewing two Ottawa-area actors to get a little insight into what it’s like to dip your toes into the Ottawa film industry. They’re both fresh faces on the scene and have their own perspectives on what it’s like to shill for work around these parts.
Meet “Annie”, a 36 year old aspiring actor. She’s just recently enrolled in Acting for TV & Film – Level 1 at The Acting Company and has been putting in time at The Actor’s Gym. Annie is finding the courage to pursue a dream she’s long had, and is excited about learning as much about her new craft as possible.
Don Lee considers himself to be a late bloomer as far as acting is concerned, having stepped on a stage for the first time since elementary school as recently as 2008. It was a one-line walk-on part in an amateur production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (for the Mississippi Mudds in Carleton Place), but he was hooked.
Annie’s answers will look like plain old text while Don’s will be distinguished by Italics. I am, obviously, the bold one. 🙂
What is the audition process like for you?
Annie: To date I have only submitted responses to casting calls via video audition. After indicating my interest to audition, I would receive the sides. Prior to recording and submitting my audition, I would take the time necessary to practice and experience the lines in various ways.
Don: It’s not too stressful and I think the worst part is not getting any significant direction to understand fully what is wanted in the role. However, I read a quote recently from a big-name star (so big that I’ve forgotten his name!) and I try to keep his advice in mind: don’t go in with a mindset of “I hope I get the part.” Go in knowing that the Director and Producer have a problem: they have to find the right person to fill the role, and YOU are that right person!
What unique ways have you used to get noticed?
Annie: To start out I started posting questions in online forums, including Facebook. I got a lot of positive feedback following expressing my desire to get into acting. I have also taken head shots and posted them in public forums online. In doing this, I made a connection with a local filmmaker/director/videographer that helped me with my first cold read as well as recorded my first response to an audition.
Don: I have joined all the relevant Facebook pages that I’ve found, established relationships by making comments, etc. I’m also quite willing to do freebies for small independents in order to meet and be seen by more people and spread my name around as much as possible. I also think the basics of all working relationships are important: show up on time, do what you’re told, keep quiet on set, etc.
I had no concept of how much Facebook was playing a role in getting people noticed, and I hadn’t considered, but clearly should have, how the internet is helping casting producers cast a wider net in terms of seeing people for auditions from all over the world.
How do you prepare for a role?
Don: I try not to make too many assumptions about how to portray my character until I learn what the Director wants; there seems little point in getting a certain persona down pat and then finding out that the Director wants a totally different interpretation. I guess my main goal is to get the lines flowing smoothly and then try to follow direction.
Do you think it’s more important to have brilliant writing or strong direction, and why?
Annie: I think that both are equally important and that they complement one another. Strong writing is important as it enables the actor to envision what the writer’s idea of the character is. It provides context for the development and the actor’s presentation of the character. Strong direction is important because it sets the parameters, the boundaries for the director’s vision of the character, in which the actor has the freedom of creativity to operate within.
Don: Both are important of course, and there are undoubtedly directors who can make an acceptable product from the worst script. However, the old saying is that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and there’s also the biblical thing about a house built on a foundation of sand. Thus I have to say the writing is the more important.
It does seem to me that you could give the same script to two directors, and one end product might be vastly better than the other, depending on the talent of the directors. But no director can save a film if the story’s just not there. Unfortunately, I can think of a few movies of late that seem to agree with your hypothesis, Don. What’s the point of a great cast if the characters are underdeveloped? Or the point of breathtaking cinematography if the story is lacking? It seems like such a waste.
What, in your opinion, is the juiciest role you’ve seen in a movie?: I think that the scene from the movie Monster’s Ball where the characters played by Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton make love for the first time is the juiciest role that I have seen in a movie. In the context of the movie it was just so totally unexpected and incredibly raw. It was ultimately a moment that made history as it followed that Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress for the role she played.
Don: Boy, that’s a tough one, especially at my advanced age and remembering movies that go back to the 50s! The first one that comes to mind is Lee Marvin in Cat Balou, and also in The Dirty Dozen. And I can’t dismiss images of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones!
Is it more fun to play the hero or the villain, and why?
Annie: I think that it would be more fun to play the villain. For me, I try to be the best person that I can be, whether it’s for my family, my friends, my colleagues etc. As a society we are expected to follow certain moral codes and standards and of course the law! I think that playing the villain would be much more fun as it allows the actor to explore a totally different realities and mindsets that they may not otherwise have a chance to experience.
Don: I have no strong feelings either way, and in any case I have no relevant movie experience. I have done a number of live dinner-theatre murder-mysteries with the Mudds and I seem always to play the villain. I do enjoy that role, especially when the plot is such that you are not revealed as being the villain until very near the end.
What movies or theatre productions made you fall in love with acting?
Annie: The movies that made me fall in love with acting include The Color Purple, Not Without My Daughter, and Pretty Woman. The one that stands out the most for me out of the three would have to be is Not Without My Daughter. I could not have been more than twelve the first time that I saw that movie and I still remember, as if it were yesterday, how completely moved I felt by the heroism and the emotion that was depicted throughout that movie. It was the first time that I had seen anything like it.
Don: I don’t think it happened that way for me, and again, considering my age I had seen a hell of a lot of movies and plays before giving any serious thought to doing any such thing myself. Two one-man shows come to mind though: Henry Fonda as Clarence Darrow and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain.
Acting seems to necessarily involve a certain amount of rejection. How do you keep motivated?
Annie: Being as new as I am, all experiences, good and bad, including rejection, are opportunities to learn more about myself and the art. My desire to develop the skills as an actor as well to learn as much as I can about the craft are what motivate me to keep trying new things.
Don: I think the first thing is to remember that there IS a lot of rejection, and even the biggest stars have experienced it at some point; it’s an integral part of the process. Also, I try to remember the statement attributed to Thomas Edison when asked how he kept going with his attempt to invent the electric light bulb after failing literally thousands of times. His reply was that he hadn’t failed thousands of times; he had successfully discovered thousands of ways that wouldn’t work!!
In discussing one of your previous answers, Don, Matt mentioned that both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase had been considered for the part of Indiana Jones. It’s hard, maybe impossible, in retrospect, to see the role as theirs. And both went on to have highly successful careers – it just highlights the fact that the director will find ONE right person for the part (okay, maybe a second when the first drops out due to “scheduling conflicts” (cough-rehab-cough) but you get my drift). Tom Selleck, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges, and Steve Martin were also considered, but it’s hard to picture any of them holding the ole bullwhip quite so convincingly.
Whose film career do you most admire, and why?
Annie: I would have to say that I admire Will Smith. This would have to be because he is so incredibly versatile. He began his career as a rapper, which led to his first TV role, on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Following that, he crossed over to movies and has been starring in blockbuster films in a variety of genres since.
Don: The first name to come to mind is Henry Fonda, and I guess the next would be Gregory Peck. To the best of my knowledge, both had long successful careers without a lot of the notoriety so common in the industry. Neither was super splashy, they simply gave highly credible performances in a quietly-competent way. Afterthought: also Meryl Streep.
What is the movie industry like in Ottawa?
Don: As an outsider moving in, I would say surprising! Until I got involved myself, I had no idea of the amount of on-going activity that exists here. To be sure it’s not Hollywood or even Toronto, but I think a lot of people would be surprised by the amount of movie activity that takes place here on a regular basis.
How do you, as an actor, define success?
Annie: As an aspiring actor, being successful would entail learning the art of acting and being able to embody virtues of the craft and perform either on stage or in front of a camera with competence and confidence.
Don: For me in my specific set of circumstances, success would be getting reasonably steady paying work as an actor. On further reflection, that would be astronomical success!
A big Asshole thank you to both Annie and Don for submitting themselves to our questions. If anyone’s got any questions for them or anything to add to the conversation (have any of you got any acting experience???), please feel free to let us know in the comments!