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Learning, Changing, Dreaming
And the Emmy goes to... me! Okay, I confess that's what I'm hoping to hear Oct. 3 because our Web series, "The UnReal Housewives of Kansas City," has been nominated for a Mid-America Regional Emmy in Advanced Media-Arts and Entertainment. No, it's not my best actress Emmy that I'm sure is coming someday (wink, wink!), but it's still pretty cool. Plus I'm totally one of those narcissistic people that displays awards and posters and ads of things I've done in my home office, and I think that little Emmy statue would make for a nice conversation piece. I'm just saying.
It's been a month of learning and stress for many reasons. The Emmy nomination was great news because it was actually something I could take pure joy in without any stress. The short film I'm producing and co-starring in is still in preproduction, and I really think it's going to kick ass. I'm sure everyone feels that way about their own passion projects, but I really believe in this piece. The script is gut-wrenching. I hope we are out of post before December so that I can share the results with all of you readers. That being said, I am definitely stressed about every aspect of this project. Sleepless nights and the whole works. True story: Due to stress and not eating and not taking care of myself properly, I actually passed out for the first time in my life last weekend. One of the more humiliating moments of my life, but lesson learned. Big lesson learned. I'm trying to remember to slow down and take care of myself, but, man, it's hard.
The other, smaller piece of stress is coming from nervousness and anticipation about the Toronto Film Fest in a couple of weeks. Remember, Major Major Hollywood Motion Picture from the spring? Well, it's premiering in Toronto, and I am very nervous about whether or not I made the final cut. I really hope I did just because it is going to be such an amazing film. I am so excited to have been a part of it and really hope that one scene in particular is in there, because I think it's a funny scene and I was really proud of it. I'm not going to Toronto, but I know some people who are, so hopefully I will get a report back after it screens. And if you have been curious as to which film it was these last few months, two words: Reitman and Clooney. It's going to be a lethal combination, I assure you. Awards season, look out: They are coming.
Anyway, I'm off to eat some breakfast—really did learn my lesson about skipping meals—before another meeting with my fabulous director, Nicholas E. Vedros, to work on the short. He's here from L.A. this week, and I hope we can get a lot done. Learning and stress, learning and stress.
Julian Miller, Chicago
I'd like to start off this month with an apology to Back Stage readers and staff for my "missing in action" column last month. Part of the reason for my absence was the attendance of a funeral. Funerals always put me in a weird mood—as I'm sure they do for most of us. Suddenly that bad callback or the waiter I had to ask 12 times for ketchup doesn't seem so important.
The reminder I get from the somber and reflective time spent honoring the departed is the theory that every seven years we go through a big psychological change. We essentially assimilate all that we've learned, all that we've gone through, and all that we've achieved, and we turn it into the person who will grow and change for the next seven years.
While I won't say which seven-year period I'm at the end of, I will say it's been an interesting transition. I've been on a self-imposed hiatus and disconnect from the world of acting. At some point this year I was just going through the motions, and I wasn't sure why or to what end. The only thing I did know was the rat race to "the top" wasn't bringing me any joy. I even stopped going to auditions, because I felt like I was just taking time in the room away from people who wanted to be there. I got tired of seeing the same faces of desperation trying to navigate the same path, and I simply stopped.
Now I've decided I want to be the kind of actor who does it for love and nothing else. I've decided my life should be lived to support my acting habit rather than in the pursuit of acting for the sake of acting.
I've also moved to a different city. I left Philadelphia, which I originally picked for its proximity to New York City and theater scene; I ended up finding out that I was spending more time in Manhattan than in Philly and then traveling around for contracts. I also found, as a black actor, there just wasn't enough opportunity in Philadelphia itself. So I moved to Chicago, and I'm getting ready to invest myself in its theater scene. I'm refreshed and refocused and looking forward to learning more about my craft as I get to know Chicago. As I write this, I'm getting ready to send out my first headshot and résumé to request an appointment, and I'm happy to say it's an appointment I want and can't wait to go in for. Stay tuned!
Anyone who has recommendations for great places to train or teachers/private coaches in Chicago, drop me a line, c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leon Acord, Los Angeles
I'm always stunned when actors complain about how hard it is to keep a play fresh. Personally, I'm grateful whenever I find myself in a long-running show, because I feel I don't get close to where I want to be, performancewise, until at least the last week. So I'm elated that "Carved in Stone" was extended for another four weeks.
It's wonderful to be so familiar with a show that you no longer need to think about the "externals." You're free to simply exist in character, respond to the changing circumstances, explore the world of the play and your character, and make new discoveries. In other words, all you have to do is act.
It's like driving along a very familiar, well-known route. You no longer think, "I turn left here, and then I have this far to go before I get to the freeway." Your body knows the drive so well, it does the driving, leaving your brain free to daydream, talk to yourself, sing to the radio, rehearse a monologue. You don't anticipate where you are going or dwell on where you're coming from. You are truly in the moment.
It's exactly the same on stage in a long-running show. You know your lines backward and forward; relationships and trust have been established with your fellow players. All the questions from the first weeks of the show—Will the scene changes work? Can I pull off that costume change in time?—are answered. You know what works and can fix what doesn't in quick order.
You can't get lazy, of course; you still do all your homework and character work. But then, when you get to the theater, you and your fellow actors can explore and examine and simply play.
I'm very lucky my fellow players seem to share my philosophy. Everyone in the cast is always looking for ways to go further, to get more laughs. The relationships seem to grow deeper and the dramatic moments even more truthful with every performance. Each actor, in his or her own unique way, has truly become the character he or she is playing. I'm honored to share a stage with such a talented, hard-working cast.
A friend who saw the show on opening night came back to see the show again, now in its 10th week. Even though she loved the show the first time, she was absolutely gaga about all the little improvements we've made since we opened—including the music, placement of intermission, and particularly, the growing depth of our performances and the genuine chemistry between the actors.
Alas, all good things come to an end. Theater is always a risky venture, even when the economy is booming. During times like these, it's even more of a challenge. So despite rave reviews and enthusiastic audiences, "Carved in Stone" will play its final show Sept. 5, after 12 weeks and close to 50 performances.
Selling a show during a recession? Now that's hard work!
Victor Joel Ortiz, New York City
This month had many firsts—the first of which was "losing my virginity" on camera. I auditioned for Bruce Koken's HBO short film "Coco" last month, and I didn't get the part, but Bruce sent me an email asking me if I'd be the second string in case his lead fell through. Now, knowing full well that Tom Brady was once the back up for Drew Bledsoe, I agreed. Of course, as luck would have it, his lead fell through and I was cast. It was a comedy for the HBO short-film festival, and in the opening scene I am having sex. It was a bit awkward at first, but I must say that "private moment" exercise Terry Schreiber taught me sure did come in handy.
Aside from that, I was cast in yet another Columbia graduate film, "Low Blow," and this one was quite special because it was filmed in Baltimore. It feels great to be recognized for my ability and have transportation, food, and accommodations in another state taken care of so that I can work on a project. It also felt great to say, "I can't audition those days because I am filming on location in Baltimore; can we reschedule?" The script was great too. I played a pastor of a church who has a cheating wife. Fun! I also made some new friends on set, so I am always grateful for that.
Unfortunately, I couldn't audition for my friend Cat Parker's next play at Terry Schreiber Studio, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," because of scheduling conflicts, so I decided to help her out by being a reader. I couldn't recommend it more highly. I learned so much about auditioning. First of all: Don't move around arbitrarily, because it seems like you are not in control. Next, you really don't have to do so much. The words really are enough—if you did your work. On that note, do your work and be off book. You will always look better than the guy with his face in the text, and it will give you a sense of confidence that you belong in the room—which is priceless. Don't try to be funny or charm them; just be yourself and be professional, shake hands with them only if they offer their hand first, and have fun! They want you to go in there and be fabulous so they don't need to search anymore. Be the solution to their problem!
Also this month, my friend Christian Davies and I finally decided on a piece to audition with for the Actors Studio: "In a Dark, Dark House" by Neil LaBute. Rehearsals should begin soon. Lastly: From always being consistent with my mailings and keeping people up to date on my career and articles, I managed to get my first feature-film audition. It was for a small role in the new Matt Damon film "Adjustment Bureau." Wish me luck. More on me at VictorJoelOrtiz.com.
Beth Grant, Los Angeles
Here I am at Los Angeles International Airport, waiting for my flight to New York City. I did not sleep very much, and it is early. I have luxury problems! Last night was the premiere of "All About Steve" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Two nights ago was the premiere of "Extract" at the ArcLight in Hollywood. It's an embarrassment of riches for me to have two great comedies opening on the same day, Sept. 4.
"Extract" is the third feature film for writer-director Mike Judge. I love him. I have done a few voices on "King of the Hill," particularly Hank's mom, Tilly, so I had worked a little bit with Mike but really didn't know him as a person or a director. When I auditioned for him for the movie, he was a dream. We talked about the character and my ideas for her based on my mom's secretary from many years ago. At the audition, Mike and I would talk, and then I would read. We would talk some more, and then I'd read again, experimenting a little each time. It was really more like a rehearsal. Gosh, if only every audition could be like that.
At the premiere, I ran into Mike's friend Johnny Knoxville, with whom I did a film called "Daltry Calhoun." I really like Johnny. He has a generous spirit, and I believe is a great actor. I would love to do a really good, deeply drawn movie with him. He is, of course, from Tennessee, and I have this feeling we could get "back in the hollow" and do some good work. Like my character in "No Country for Old Men" said, I'll "prevision" it.
Last night's premiere of "All About Steve" was a blast. I have worked with Sandra Bullock four times now, and my daughter, Mary, has met her a few times. Ms. B's movies are always empowering to women, and my daughter is quite the feminist. In "All About Steve," Sandy plays my daughter who is named Mary. You can imagine how excited my real-life Mary was to be at the premiere. I am in awe of Sandy, her production company, and all the inspiring, strong female characters she brings to life. She has such an incredible spirit; she is a true leader.
Now I'm off to do a short film written and directed by Julie Pacino and produced by Jen DeLia. These two young women are on fire! I love working with young people who have passion and something to say. Julie wrote this part with me in mind because of my character Kitty Farmer in "Donnie Darko." I'm playing a religious fanatic kidnapper. After we wrap I have the distinct honor of reading my play, "The New York Way," to the brilliant Rupert Holmes, whom I have asked to do the music. I am so grateful. Sometimes I look around and realize that though I have not nearly achieved all that I dream of, this life is better than I could have ever imagined.
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