“How do you become a star?”
That is a question that was asked of me not too long ago by one of my students. I thought it was a good question. However, in order to answer, I would ask first, How do you become a great actor? How do you set your goals so high that no obstacle will get in the way of you achieving them?
We all have a desire for excellence and to not settle for mediocrity. We want to understand what makes for greatness. Like in any profession, you want to dedicate yourself to study. Study great performance and understand what makes them unforgettable. An actor that creates a character that gets under your skin and makes you feel something for them is no small feat. When that performance stays with you long after you’ve seen it and it made you feel for the human condition, that is a gift.
Look at how great actors like Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender, and so many others hold the screen—what their physicality is like as they move their bodies in different characters; what their choices are in every moment. Study every scintilla of what their hands do and their eye movement, how they hold their heads, how they breathe, how they convey grace, how their sexuality emerges through them, how they make us feel different emotions, how they are a vessel for the story they are telling.
Make a list of 100 performances to not only study but, dissect. Watch them in slow motion; watch them without audio. Find the subtext of what is underneath every line, every frame. It’s only with that kind of an in-depth analysis that you understand why this acting, that galvanizes you, is so good. And then you have to take all you’ve learned that has simmered in you and inspired you and then you have to do it. You have to act.
You can’t become a great actor by reading an acting book (although you should read many), or by thinking about your acting.
Acting is doing on all levels, so you have to actively be working on stage, on film, on TV—wherever and whenever you can do it.
You have to play many roles. No part is too small. You become a great actor by playing many roles. You should have a high vision and a passion for the characters you can play, but also realize that there are stepping stones and that a series of small parts enhance your experience as an actor.
There are many stories of actors that come onto set to play a small part. They have a few scenes and they are so good that the director keeps adding and adding more scenes. That is why they say there are no small roles. A complete immersion into the craft will make you an actor. Your undying dedication to it will make you great.
Danner is teaching her special two-day seminar “The Golden Box” on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. To learn more, visit www.michelledanner.com.
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