Book References to Add to the Resources of the WebsiteChapter 5 – Working as an Extra
Jesse Heiman is a well known background extra who became an internet sensation when a montage of all the films and television shows he could be seen in did the rounds on the internet. He went on to star in a Super Bowl commercial so being a background extra worked out well for him.
Chapter 7 – Make Your Own Movies
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck often share in interviews that their academy award winning script ‘Good Will Hunting’ was born out of pure frustration. They had been landing small parts but hadn’t been able to break through into the lead roles they wanted. They were able to turn that frustrated energy into creative energy and entered stardom via their script writing efforts. Matt spoke frankly about this on the Today Show in 1997 when he was interviewed by Matt Laurer “the script was really born out of frustration, just at our unemployment, so we wrote it pretty much out of desperation.”
According to www.sundance.org there were 14,849 films submitted from around the world for the Sundance Festival in 2022 of which 84 feature-length and 59 short films were accepted
Kevin Smith started his filmmaking career making Clerks for $27,575. He brought in people he connected with on a short filmmaking course to do the technical work and cast friends such as Jason Mewes to act. Kevin went on to direct several films with the same people.
Chapter 9 – Stand Up Comedy
In an interview with HitFix, Steve Carell talked about what it was like to work with director Adam McKey on the movie ‘Anchorman’ in regards to improvising comedy “he really allowed us to try anything, I’d never done anything like that. It was such a great environment because he did give everyone this freedom to fail and try anything.”
Chapter 12 – Watch Movies/Television/Plays
Some scenes look so real because they are. For example, watch the famous ‘falling scene’ in the breakout movie ‘Die hard’. Actor Alan Rickman wasn’t truly dangling out the window of a high rise building but he was being suspended 40 feet in the air with an air bag below. The plan was to release the cord suspending him and capture his facial expression as he dropped. A countdown was being yelled out to prepare him for the fall but the crew were instructed to release him early. Charlie Picerni was the stunt coordinator for ‘Die Hard’ and shared what was involved in an episode of ‘The Movies That Made Us’. “I told Alan, go on three, two, one, go but I told the stunt guys to let the rope go on one”. The special effects foreman, Thaine Morris added before they reached ‘one’. The result is what you see in the movie. A perfect slow motion shot of his face truly turning to terror before falling to his imaginary death.
There are lots of ways that actors create real experiences in fake environments. Kirsten Dunst, for example, received an Oscar nomination for her role in Jane Campion’s ‘Power of the Dog’. She shared in an interview with the A.V Club that she would spin in circles before the camera started rolling to accurately portray a drunk woman. “Allison Janney taught me this trick of spinning around in a circle a bunch to kind of feel out of it. It works well for stumbling naturally because you’re dizzy and it really helps to close your eyes while doing it.” She didn’t need to be drunk to do a convincing performance, she just needed to authentically feel the dizziness and nausea that can be experienced by an intoxicated person.
Chapter 13 – Memorising Lines
A study completed by the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science concluded that handwriting notes allows for greater memory recall. Essentially the results of the study found that when you write something down you use multiple areas of the brain. This allows the information being processed to be encoded more deeply in your memory.
Several studies have been published on the topic of music and memory including one by the University of Edinburgh which looked specifically at using music to help participants remember a foreign language. Three groups were taught Hungarian words. One group learned by speaking the words, another group spoke the words with a beat rhythm and the third group sung them. After 15 minutes they were tested and the singing group had the best recall of the lot. You could dive deep into the scientific findings on the neurology of the brain but in summary they have found that the brain is more receptive to new information when it enters via a catchy or memorable tune.
There are numerous studies that confirm the benefits of sleep regarding memory such as the one undertaken by KT Potkin WE Bunney on the effect of sleep on long term memory in early adolescence. Their research found that new information absorbed by the brain when awake is transferred to long-term memory storage while we sleep during specific phases of sleep.
Sleep Improves Memory: The Effect of Sleep on Long Term Memory in Early Adolescence | PLOS ONE
Chapter 15 – Learning Accents
One of my favourite shows for accents is Killing Eve, Jodie Comer is an absolute accent genius. At the premiere of season two she told the press that her love of accents started as a child watching TV.
Chapter 16 – Self Tape
Another person who took a risk was Austin Butler who sent a tape of himself singing and playing ‘Unchained Melody’ at the piano in his bathrobe for the part of Elvis. He shared what happened in an interview with ‘The Project’
Chapter 18 – Special Skills
Don’t underestimate the relevance of your special skills, they might end up being crucial to the plot of the story. You might remember Mandy Patinkin who played swordsman Inigo Montoya in the movie ‘The Princess Bride’, but did you know that he studied fencing during his time at Juilliard?
Mandy Patinkin Performs at Kimmel Center – Jewish Exponent
According to Harvard, learning an instrument also improves your memory which we know (from chapter 13) is crucial for actors.
Mind & Mood – Harvard Health
Natalie Portman also threw herself into her role as a ballerina in ‘Black Swan’. She trained 5 hours a day, 6 days a week for a year.
Chapter 19 – Auditions
The filmmakers for ‘Avengers Infinity Wars’ gave fake scripts with red herring plot twists and turns to their cast during filming.
Paul Bettany (Vision) on the bizarre secrecy of Avengers Infinity War & fake scripts – Premiere – YouTube
The cast of the fifth ‘Scream’ movie were also kept in the dark with each of them being given different scripts with different characters being murdered and different killers being revealed.
Chapter 20 – Dealing with Rejection
You might feel awful now but one day you could be sharing what happened as a funny story on a talk show. Just jump on YouTube and watch Jack Gyllenhaal tell Jimmy Fallon the story of his terrible audition as Frodo on ‘Lord of the Rings’, it will remind you that even stars bomb auditions.
In fact some of those big stars were scarily close to quitting before they finally broke through. Melissa McCarthy was going to quit the day she turned thirty. The day before her birthday she got the call that she’d landed the role as ‘Sookie’ on Gilmore Girls
Melissa McCarthy Almost Quit Acting Days Before Landing ‘Gilmore Girls’ (2014) – YouTube
Jennifer Anniston missed out on the lead role in the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ which led to her auditioning for a new TV show called ‘Friends’.
Pulp Fiction (1994) – Trivia – IMDb
Chapter 21 – Contracts
Reece Witherspoon famously arranged in her contract to keep her entire costume wardrobe from ‘Legally Blonde 2’ which included 77 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes.
Some actors negotiate for a body double to be used when it comes to nudity or body specific shots, e.g. Julie Roberts in Pretty Woman used body double Shelley Michelle for a number of scenes.
Tom Holland has become famous amongst his Marvel cast for accidentally dropping spoilers and is now managed by only being provided his lines instead of the entire script
Recordings of actor outbursts are one such type of leak that can be embarrassing for an actor. Both Christian Bale and Tom Cruise have had such leaks released to the media, many actors have come to their defence regarding the intense pressure actors can be under.
Chapter 23 – Rehearsals
A number of actors including Marisa Tomei did table reads for the role of ‘Penny’ in the series ‘Big Bang Theory’ before Kaley Cuoco was cast. The table reads revealed that the character (originally called Katie) needed to have a more upbeat arc and a story that was less troubled.
Chapter 24 – On Set Experiences
An actor is supposed to pull their punches, hitting their co-star with much less force than they actually could but Sylvester Stallone told his co-star Dolph Lundgren to hit him properly in Rocky IV. Perhaps with all the training he’d done Sylvester thought he could take it but he didn’t take into account that Dolph was a trained fighter. He hit Sylvester in the chest with full force as requested which landed him in hospital with a swollen heart. That hit is still in the movie today. Sure, actors are often willing to make sacrifices for their art but your sacrifice should never require you to end up in intensive care for 9 days like it did for Sylvester Stallone.
In ‘Man on the Moon’ Jim Carrey was re-enacting Andy Kauffman’s infamous wrestling match with Jerry Lawler. To elicit real anger from the wrestler Jim spat in his face and the resulting reaction from Jerry saw Jim taking a trip to the hospital.
Even still, some actors choose to do their own stunts which is risky. Tom Cruise did his own stunts for ‘Mission Impossible – Fall Out’ and broke his ankle halting production for 6 weeks
As more women start to direct rape scenes we see a new perspective emerging. When women direct these scenes there is less focus on the physical act itself and instead more is revealed of the trauma happening emotionally to the victim. You can see this in the rape scene of Hannah Baker in ‘12 Reasons Why’ which was written by Elizabeth Benjamin and directed by Jessica Yu. The act is implied more than it is shown with priority given to showing the harm caused.
Chapter 26 – The Mindset and Wellbeing of an Actor
They attempted to make Neo’s character female and cast Sandra Bullock but she turned it down and so Neo remained a male character and eventually went to Keanau Reeves.
Some leading men have shared the extreme techniques used for ‘shirt off scenes’ including dehydrating themselves. Henry Cavill shared on the Graham Norton, “it’s the worst part of it. Diet is difficult, and you’re hungry but when you’re dehydrated for three days, you get to the point on the last day where you can smell water nearby.
Some actors are able to portray weight gain by wearing a ‘fat suit’ which is certainly a healthier alternative. This is what actor ‘Chris Sullivan’ used for his role as Toby in the popular TV series ‘This is Us’. However, there was some backlash to the use of the fat suit by viewers who felt that the role should have gone to an actor who was large as larger actors are so often overlooked for roles.
Some actors don’t feel comfortable in a fat suit or wearing prosthetics and want to have a more authentic experience with the character they are portraying. That’s how Charlize Theron felt about wanting to accurately portray an overwhelmed and exhausted solo mother in the movie ‘Tully’. She’d gained weight before for a role when she played Aileen Wuornos in the movie ‘Monster’, so she’s no stranger to body transformations. She spoke candidly about the weight gain for both roles in an interview with people magazine:
“For Tully, I didn’t want to do something that felt, you know, not true to women out there who do this everyday. They get pregnant, they gain all this weight and it’s a struggle. I didn’t want to be that actress that shows up and says ‘give me a fat suit’, I guess I wanted to feel as close as I possibly could to what that feels like. I was 27 when I gained weight for ‘Monster’. I was 42 for ‘Tully’ and my body flipped me off quite a bit. It’s way different when you’re older. The second time around I dealt with depression for the first time in my life. I ate a lot of processed sugar, it put me into a terrible depression. My soul felt heavy, I was really unhealthy. I threw my back out, I couldn’t sleep, I was lethargic.”
Jared Leto also encountered problems when he put on 67 pounds for his role as Mark Chapman in ‘Chapter 27’. He said in an interview with the Guardian “Really, it’s a stupid thing to do. I got gout and my cholesterol went up so fast in such a short time that my doctors wanted to put me on Lipitor, which is for much, much older people.
Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s 47 pound weight loss for his role in the movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Fortunately Matthew did seek advice on how to drop the weight as safely as possible. He shared on the Ellen show “I met with nutritionists first to work out how to safely lose 3 pounds a week over 4 months.
Jennifer Lawrence, for example, was under pressure to lose weight for her role as Katniss in the movie ‘The Hunger Games’ because her character was supposed to be malnourished. But she pushed back, instead wanting to portray the character as strong and healthy. She shared in an interview with BBC Newsnight “we have the ability to control this image that young girls are going to see, it’s an amazing opportunity to rid ourselves of the unrealistic expectations of this industry.
Plus size actors like Amber Riley who starred as Mercedes on the TV show ‘Glee’ found weight loss pressure incredibly hard. She was being offered roles for characters that she described as ‘sitting in the corner loathing themselves’. In an interview on MTV’s ‘This is how I made it’ she shared “I never wanted to play a character that hated herself. I wanted people to know that those aren’t the only kind of roles for people like me. I’m not going to conform and hurt myself and do something crazy to be a size 2.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Rebel Wilson shared that her decision to get healthy received pushback from her management team, “they asked me why, why would I do that? Because I was earning millions of dollars being the funny fat girl and being that person.
Male actors too have started pushing against the constant commentary about their body size. After losing around 80 pounds actor Jonah Hill got so frustrated at constant comments about his body that he took to Instagram in 2021 asking his followers to please stop commenting on his body.
Actors dedicated to their craft and intent on delivering an authentic performance will dive into learning whatever skills are required for the role. It might be a grueling experience like Natalie Portman’s efforts to master ballet for the movie ‘Black Swan’ or a fun and amazing experience like Daniel Raddcliffe taking accordion lessons from Weird Al Yankovich for the movie ‘Weird’.
In an interview with Looper, Alex Wolff who played ‘Peter’ in the movie ‘Hereditary’, shared the difficulty he had in speaking out about the toll the movie was taking on him. “It’s very hard because as an actor, you really don’t want to sound pretentious or self-serious because we have a cushy job in a lot of ways. But this, emotionally, was one of those tough ones. It was one of those ones that really did some gymnastics on my emotional wellbeing.”
Chapter 27 – Acting Techniques – Living as Two People
Yale professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema published research on the effect of ruminating on negative events and the results showed that doing so consistently predicted the onset of depression especially in women.
Rethinking Rumination – Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Blair E. Wisco, Sonja Lyubomirsky, 2008 (sagepub.com)
You can see a clip of Katherine Heigl talking about using a personal memory for a particular scene in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and the toll it took on her
Katherine Heigl talks about Denny dying on Grey’s – YouTube
For Adrien, being willing to have an immersive experience delivered an Oscar winning performance but he has shared that it took a toll on him.
Adrien Brody Interview on ‘Pianist’ – YouTube
In the book references section of my website you can find a clip of Martin Freeman talking about his thoughts on Jim’s methods.
Martin Freeman Blasts Jim Carrey’s Method Of Acting In ‘Man On The Moon’ – YouTube
The imagination is a powerful tool but it too can be dangerous for your mental wellbeing if used without care. Actor Bob Hoskins is well known for his role as ‘Eddie’ in the live action animated movie ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. In 1988 when the film was made there were no green screens or digital effects. To practise getting his eyeline correct when interacting with cartoon characters, Bob trained his mind to hallucinate his fictional cast. The problem was that Bob turned on a tap using his imagination that he struggled to turn off after the film had wrapped.
1989: BOB HOSKINS on stardom and ROGER RABBIT | Wogan | Classic Interviews | BBC Archive – YouTube
A brain imaging study completed by the NeuroArts Lab at McMaster University, Canada revealed that activity in the part of the brain associated with self-knowledge and self-perception drops off when actors are performing.
Actors’ brain activity changes when in character | BBC Science Focus Magazine
According to the Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study completed by the University of Sydney in 2015, de-roling is taught in drama schools but actors seldom remember to use it
The Australian Actors’ Wellbeing study mentioned previously concluded that 43% of males and 36% of females surveyed admitted using alcohol at levels that placed them at moderate risk of harm or above.
MEAA Actors’ well being under the microscope – MEAA
Chapter 28 – Women in the Industry
The origins of theatre have been linked to the times of Ancient Greece, thousands of years ago. Many of the earliest Greek tragedies and comedies involved female characters from goddesses to wives and daughters, but they were always played by men. The reasons why pertains to a general perception that women were inferior during these times. Women were restricted in their movement, clothing and activities and they certainly were not allowed to make a spectacle of themselves on stage. Despite this being the case thousands of years ago this position held firm right up to and including the days of Shakespear, – women’s roles continued to be played by males. Women only started to appear on stage as recently as the 1600s and even then it was a slow and gradual change starting with Operas.
Women in Theatre: A Historical Look | NC Theatre
The use of black face was offensive enough but it grew worse with the rise to ‘the minstrel shows’ which were common in America in the late 1800s. These shows used vulgar and racist comedy to depict African Americans and their culture with stereotypical characters.
How the History of Blackface Is Rooted in Racism | HISTORY
Though its exact origin is hard to pinpoint, tales of a casting couch have been linked to the Broadway theatres that opened in the early 1900s, predating Hollywood studios
‘Casting Couch’: The Origins of a Pernicious Hollywood Cliché – The Atlantic
San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film completed a report that stated of the top 250 grossing films completed in 2022, 19% had women writers.
Microsoft Word – 2022 Celluloid Ceiling Report.docx (sdsu.edu)
Chapter 29 – That’s a Wrap
Shailene Woodley’s scenes as Mary-Jane in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ were cut after being shot. She said in an interview with Vanity Fair “For a few hours it was literally like, oh my god, was I awful? Why did they cut me? What are people going to think?” Thankfully for Shailene director Marc Webb put out a statement explaining that the film needed to focus on the romantic relationship between Peter and Gwen and that’s why her character was cut. He added “It sucks because Shailene is such a great actor and so cool and magical. It was just one of those things.”
July Cover: Shailene Woodley Wants to Be the Julia Roberts to Miles Teller’s George Clooney | Vanity Fair
I think it’s fair to say that most actors are unhappy about their scenes being deleted from films. Christopher Lee shared in a Q and A talk at the University College Dublin his disbelief that his scenes were cut in the ‘Return of the King’ Lord of the Rings movie.