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Secret Agent Man

Talking About Everything but the Craft in an Acting Class

Talking About Everything but the Craft in an Acting Class

I never wanted to be a Hollywood agent. When I was a little kid, my dream was to be a secret agent, just like James Bond. The desire was so strong that I convinced my dad to help me write a letter to MI6, requesting information on how to join. It took a few months, but a kindhearted clerk actually took the time to respond. Unfortunately, it was bad news. He informed me that only British citizens qualify. I remember being disappointed, but when you're that age, life goes on and tomorrow never dies.

At this point, I'm sure you've made the connection between my childhood dream and the name of this column. What can I say? I may not have a license to kill, but my role as Secret Agent Man has given me a chance to help actors battle the forces of ignorance. It's not the same as fighting Goldfinger, but I still feel pretty damn good about myself. And I always end my week with a vodka martini -- shaken, not stirred.

A few months ago, childhood fantasy and adult reality merged into one.

It was the start of hiatus, and I didn't have much on my plate. So I started thinking about the connection between 007 and my alter ego. Was there a way to incorporate some of that excitement into my life as an agent? And that's when it hit me.

I quickly called an acting teacher I've known for years, and I asked him point blank, "Can I go undercover in one of your classes?" He laughed and said yes. The mission was on!

Naturally, I couldn't show up at his studio dressed in one of my fine Italian suits. The actors would smell the agent on me. So I picked up some torn jeans and an old hoodie at Goodwill. I also put a ton of cheap product in my hair. The illusion was complete. M would be proud.

On the day of my adventure, I arrived 10 minutes early so I could observe the students from a distance. Watching them interact was fascinating. Instead of getting ready for class, the actors spent their time pumping each other for information about auditions and representation.

I also noticed how all their conversations had a negative tone. Nobody was sharing good news. They were just whining about their difficult lives and how hard it was to catch a break.
Believing I understood their method of communication, I decided to jump in and introduce myself as an actor who was there to audit the class. They accepted me as one of their own because I kept complaining about my agent and lack of auditions.

The class started on time, and I spent the next two hours watching actors butcher good material. It was amazing. None of them took any chances. Every choice was the obvious one. I remembered how a casting director once told me that if she reads 10 actors for the same role, nine of them will make the exact same choice. So guess who gets the part?

At about the halfway point, I realized my friend was an excellent teacher. His notes were insightful and motivated the students to make stronger choices. I was especially impressed when he explained how important it is for actors to bring their own personality to their acting. That lesson alone was worth the price of admission.

When class was over, I slipped away quickly so the students wouldn't see me getting into a car none of them could afford.

The most amazing part of my undercover experience was that I never heard one single actor talk about acting. Every conversation before class and during the break revolved around the business. Am I the only one who finds that very depressing?

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