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Educating Oscar

Educating Oscar

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a big fan of the Oscars. The show is a celebration of everything I love.

It's also a reminder of all the great acting we've seen over the last 12 months. There's something to be learned from those performances, and I'd like to draw your attention to some of my favorites.

A perfect performance is a rare thing, but Sean Penn delivers just that in Milk. We all know he's a gifted actor, but I've always felt there's a similarity to his work. Well, not this time. Penn completely disappears into the character of Harvey Milk, becoming gay without turning into a stereotype. The next time you see this movie, ignore the story and just focus on his acting. It's a master class in total immersion. Every moment is genuine. There are many successful actors in this business who can only play a variation of their true selves. That's fine, but wouldn't it be more exciting to do what Penn pulls off in this movie? Have you ever completely disappeared into a character?

A lot of people feel that Brad Pitt is nothing more than a pretty face and doesn't deserve a gold statue for his work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. These are people who don't know anything about acting. When I go to a play, I tend to focus on the person who isn't talking. I try to see if he's really listening to his scene partner, or if he's just standing there, waiting to say his next line. Remember: Great acting is reacting. If you don't believe me, watch Brando in On the Waterfront. Watch him when another character is talking. That's great acting. And that's exactly what Pitt does in this amazing movie. If you can learn to really, really listen to another actor, I guarantee your reactions will be genuine and you'll be on your way to becoming a great actor.

As an agent, it's my job to attend showcases. I hate these things because they're magnets for bad actors. Everyone recites their lines without making strong choices. That's why I rarely sign anyone from a showcase. If an actor isn't committing, why should I? And that brings up Heath Ledger's brilliant work in The Dark Knight. It's an example of total commitment. The Joker is real. You believe every moment. Ledger knew that winking at the camera wouldn't work. He would've ended up with nothing more than a weird character in clown makeup and funky clothes. So instead he made a strong choice and gave it his all. Why can't all actors do this? Why do so many of you settle for good when you could be great?

A talented actor doesn't have to be the lead to make an impression. Check out Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. If Ledger wasn't a lock for best supporting actor, Shannon would be the hands-down winner. He plays a math professor who's had his brain fried by shock treatments. Playing crazy is tough, but Shannon digs deep and finds an original approach to the character. The guy is memorable. Are you?

There are lessons to be learned from all the nominees this year. Let's not forget Viola Davis, Mickey Rourke, and Melissa Leo. They deserve the attention they're finally getting. And Frank Langella is terrific in Frost/Nixon. (Michael Sheen was good too.) So forget about who wins and who loses. It doesn't really matter. These talented people have done you a favor by putting free acting lessons up on the big screen. Set the bar high and learn from them. It sure beats taking classes from some failed actor who charges you $200 a month for the right to hear his worthless feedback that's based on nothing.

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