How to Take the Elusive Note ‘Throw it Away’

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Photo Source: Nick Bertozzi

In a scene from director Mike White’s newest film, “Brad’s Status,” actor Jenna Fischer was asked to taste spaghetti sauce her husband (Ben Stiller) had just made. The actor found herself going through all sorts of machinations to find the intention of the scene. She realized, as she told an audience during a panel discussion following an L.A. film screening, that the enthusiasm and fun environment on set was all she needed to tap into to simply “love the fucking sauce.”

I’ve given countless actors the direction “Just throw it away” in an effort to have them keep it simple and stop overthinking.

I asked actor Joe Pantoliano (“Sense8,” “The Sopranos”) what he thinks the phrase means. “‘Throw it away’ is a code-word action indicating less, quiet, a stillness,” he says. “Most times it’s best to simply say the lines and let the musical score do the heavy lifting. In creating a role, you have many moments, and pieces of moments, that fit nicely into the frame of the camera. Simplicity is key.”

I wondered if he'd ever found himself trying too hard at a scene—until he had an epiphany that he just needed to relax into it. “I’m sure,” he says. “But I approach the work with the intention that each take is the rehearsal. I also know what I and my character want together. The important thing to do is throw it all away and listen to the other players, what they are saying and doing, and to react to the organic simplicity of the moment.

“Once we get into coverage, of course, there are physical activities and actions that I must repeat in order to have the editor be able to cut scenes together. If the script supervisor says, ‘You scratched your nose on this line,’ I have to scratch my nose. But I’m always searching. I’m always trying to lose myself, to spontaneously be in the moment [and make] space for those happy accidents to occur.”

Actor and director Griffin Dunne (“I Love Dick”) has another take. “To be told to ‘throw it away,’ as in a line of dialogue by a director, is initially met with shame because you fear you have been caught committing the grossest of acting sins: overacting,” he says. But that can also ease the pressure on the actor to “deliver” and free up space to go in a different direction than initially planned, he believes.

“The villain who serves up a nice, flat ‘I killed her,’” he notes, “is much scarier than the wild-eyed maniac saying the same line.” Dunne’s variation of “throw it away”? “Say it like a dead person. It often leads to the actors really listening to each other instead of planning how they are going to say [a line]. It breaks down expectations.”

Inspired? Check out Backstage’s Los Angeles audition listings!

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Marci Liroff
Known for her work in film and television, producer, casting director, and intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world. Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light.
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