When I was a kid young actor, I got by on my instincts and ability to take direction. As I got older, I began to realize that instincts only go so far, and I felt a need — a very strong need — to formally study the craft of acting, and to gain a deeper understanding of the art. I spent years studying in various programs, most of them based on the Meisner technique. I learned how to break down scenes into beats, how to understand what my characters wanted and needed, and how to make emotional and intellectual connections to my characters, as well as the other characters in the scene.
One of the fundamentals of Meisner is “keep it simple.” It’s something a lot of inexperienced actors don’t do, because they (understandably and incorrectly) believe that unless they are doing something with every line, every beat, every reaction, every moment, then they are not acting. The trick is that almost all of acting is reacting to things going on around you, and letting those reactions happen naturally, through the lens of your character’s needs, wants, fears, expectations, and circumstances. The very worst thing for an actor is to get caught acting, so the other trick is to know all of that intellectually, and then let it all go so it happens emotionally, naturally.
I have nearly three decades of experience performing as an actor in all sorts of productions, from dramas to comedies, from stage to television, from period pieces to contemporary ones. I feel very confident in my ability to do the work an actor needs to do to be prepared and to create a believable character. I haven’t always been in fantastic works of art, but I’ve always done my best to bring something meaningful to the piece, and do justice to the writing (the number of actors who don’t understand or respect that the thing we’re doing existed as a thing long before we ever held the pages in our hands, and should be respected as a result, is staggering).
I’ve been working on The Big Bang Theory this week, and I’ll be on Stage 25 Monday and Tuesday next week, before I return to my corruptible, mortal state on Wednesday. This is the first episode I’ve done (and I’ve done a bunch) where I finally feel comfortable as an actor, like I know what I’m doing, like I deserve to be there, like I’m not going to get cut for screwing up the jokes. You see, all that stuff I said about being an actor? It’s true, but working on a show that’s shot in front of an audience is fundamentally different from everything else we do as actors. I was talking with John Ross Bowie today about it, and he said, “single camera and theater can not prepare anyone for what it’s like to be on this stage when the audience is in the seats,” and he was right. I often tell people that it’s like playing baseball: it’s very different being in the outfield than the infield, even though you’re playing the same game.
Today, during our run through, I pushed a line too hard for some reason, and after the scene was done, Chuck Lorre reminded me that I didn’t need to do that. “This is one of those times when you can just let the words do the work,” he said. He was right. Letting the words do the work is the difference between a scene being funny and obnoxious, sentimental and sappy, clever or obvious. It made so much sense to me, and even though it was something I knew, it was something I had forgotten. It was like putting a quarter into an old videogame (let’s say TRON) that you haven’t played in years, and after dying on the light cycle level, realizing that you remember the pattern, but had forgotten it because you didn’t need it until just that moment.
I’ve been an actor for as long as I can remember, but in recent years, the majority of my creative life has been spent writing and producing. I’ve been using different tools in my creative toolbox, and I was grateful to Chuck for reminding me where I left the tools for this particular job.