Secret Agent Man: The History Boys (and Girls)

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I have a leather jacket that's older than some of my clients. It cost me a nice chunk of cash at a time when I didn't have much to spare. This jacket has grown with me over the years, and I think of it as an old friend. But age has not been kind. I recently discovered small tears on the sleeve that signal the beginning of the end. So I decided to take action and find someone who specializes in treating this sort of thing. And I have to tell you, it wasn't easy.

After a few days, I tracked down an older gentleman in Beverly Hills who still makes his living working with leather and nothing else. He was Greek, with a thick accent, and I'd say he was somewhere in his 60s, possibly older. This man knows everything there is to know about leather. Two days later, he had not only made the repairs but he had also moisturized the entire jacket to make sure it would last a few more years. You don't see a lot of these guys around anymore. The older craftsmen are gradually disappearing, along with their old-school work ethic.

Meeting this man, a product of a different era, got me thinking about the way young actors approach their careers. It seems to me that a lot of you spend way too much time worrying about the business of acting when you should be focusing more on becoming better actors. Now don't get me wrong. I am in no way suggesting that you should ignore the professional side of your career. Yes, you should always be out there, making contacts, seeking good representation, meeting new casting directors, and all that jazz. But you should also be working hard to become the best possible actor you can be. No matter how good you are at networking, you're eventually going to have to put up or shut up. And if the talent ain't there, all that hustling will have been for nothing.

To be clear, when I say that you need to become a better actor, I'm not just talking about craft and technique. I'm also talking about history. Most of the actors I meet are, for lack of a better word, ignorant. They have no knowledge of the history of acting. They go to class on Tuesday and Thursday, and that's when they put in all their work. The rest of the week, they're fooling around, not doing a damn thing, or they're just focusing on the business side -- doing submissions and signing up for casting director workshops. Looking back on my years in film school, the best students were the ones who studied all aspects of filmmaking, including the history of cinema. They did this because they understood that the knowledge would complete them, making them better artists.

So I challenge all of you to work twice as hard in class. Trust me: None of you are as talented as you think you are. Everyone reading this column has the ability to grow and improve. Why settle for "good" when you might have the potential for greatness?

I also want you to embrace the history of your chosen profession. Get a group of friends together every week and watch classic films and performances. Study Chaplin's work in City Lights and see how he communicated feeling without lines. Look at Brando's early movies, like On the Waterfront, and you'll discover how one man's talent changed the future of acting. Watching these films will inspire you in ways you can't even begin to imagine.

If you're my client and I send you to an audition at the Myrna Loy Building at Sony, you don't necessarily have to know who Myrna Loy was. But, I think, in the long run it would make you a better actor if you did.

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