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Research, Reflect, and Reconnect

Beth Grant, Los Angeles

Film Busyness

I'm baaaaaaack! I closed Cornelia at the Old Globe in San Diego on Sunday night. My husband and daughter came down for closing weekend and helped me pack up. I drove back to L.A. immediately after the show because I had a 7 a.m. call the next day on a little movie that had attracted me because of its sweet story and the chance to work with Dan Lauria. I loved him on The Wonder Years, but I was more attracted by his reputation for developing new plays and his commitment to theater. We had a fun day being married and telling war stories on the set of Life of Lemon.

This is not to be confused with another film I did, Dear Lemon Lima, which has been shown to much acclaim and waiting-list-only crowds at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I'm thrilled with the film's success—because of its coming-of-age story about a young girl who learns to accept her mixed-race heritage and become a leader, but also because of all the women involved: the writer-director, Suzi Yoonessi; the producers; even the D.P. Melissa Leo gives a bold performance, and Elaine Hendrix is hysterical as a jock coach.

I'm also excited about the upcoming Rogue's Gallery, a very dark comedy produced by my hero, Richard Kelly, who directed me in Donnie Darko. I got to do some improv with the masters: my friend Tim Bagley and his buddy Mike Hitchcock. What fun those guys are! The movie, which is loaded with stars—from Ellen Barkin to Zach Galifianakis—is a comedic exposé about the CIA imploding on the day of Barack Obama's inauguration.

Trailers are running for two comedies I'm in that open on the same day, Sept. 4. What are the odds of that? They are Extract, directed by Mike Judge, starring Jason Bateman and a whole cast of fabulous actors, and All About Steve, starring Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, both of whom I adore. Lucky, lucky me!

I rarely do commercials, because I don't have time to make the auditions, but one came to me on a silver platter, the date worked out, and I had a blast. It's for Skittles candy. It's a high-concept spot, shot like a Tim Burton movie. I'll let you tell me what you think when it runs.

I am so deeply grateful for all this energy around me. My daughter, may chieffo, is taking art history and karate, all in support of her plan to live her life as an actor. Life is good, and i'm humbled by all the activity. I say, "bring it on!" I'm ready for it all.

Leon Acord, Los Angeles

Understudy Skills

I'm in a blissful state right now, basking in the afterglow of Carved in Stone's successful June 19 opening. We couldn't have asked for better audiences. I'm grateful beyond words to have finally given Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy its L.A. debut. I'm as proud of our show as I am of our dedicated team of actors and technicians—and understudies.

Having an understudy is a relatively foreign experience for me. In 20 years as a San Francisco actor, I never had one. As a result, I've performed with strep throat, an eye infection, a cracked ankle, migraines, immediately after eye surgery, and while shooting a feature film. (But never all at the same time, thankfully!) Consequently, I've developed a strong work ethic: If I can talk and stumble around, I'm on.

But in L.A., where a single phone call can instantly change someone's life, understudies are necessary. Still, it wasn't something I warmed to very quickly. I was assigned my first understudy, the wonderful Christopher LeCreen, on my first L.A. play, The Scheme of Things, in 2004. Having seen him at callbacks, I felt he was certainly better for the part than I. I was terribly insecure. I feared missing a show, then overhearing the cast raving about his much better performance. Thankfully, that never happened—he never took advantage of his one guaranteed performance. Whew!

Backups weren't required for my next two shows, but Carved in Stone is an ambitious endeavor, and understudies are a must. To attract the best and brightest, we guaranteed three performances, with the possibility of more. We have an incredibly competent and dedicated troupe. I'm amazed how often they showed up at rehearsals to watch. They've been there at final dress and on opening night. Instead of desperate wannabes, they've proven to be young but seasoned professionals. We're very lucky to have them.

I knew I had to grow up, bite the bullet, and accept the inevitable. But I wasn't prepared to actually like my understudy. My role, Quentin Crisp, is understudied by a woman, Trace Taylor. She's been the nicest, most supportive person I could have imagined. She was at almost every rehearsal, was quick to cue me when I missed a line, and encouraged me every step of the way.

We're both inhabitants of L.A.'s Westside, so we frequently share rides, listening to Crisp on iPod and talking about how evolved he truly was. And we've become good friends. Trace came over one night for a Quentin Film Fest; we watched several of his films and I loaded her down with reading material. She's been devouring everything I give her. On opening night, there was Trace's fabulous laugh in the audience. Celebrating our successful opening later at a pub, we found ourselves sitting together, hugging and squeezing and professing our mutual love and respect.

I've come a long way, i suppose, because i'm actually looking forward to seeing trace go on for me! How sick is that? Learn more about the show at

Meagan Flynn, Kansas City, Mo.

Whiner Roast

Let me make it perfectly clear: I have no ill will toward the Walt Disney Company, the Jonas Brothers, or anyone who has ever played a character named Sharpay or Gabriella. However, after beginning my third week of teaching at a theater camp with a Camp Rock–meets–High School Musical theme, I'm about at my limit. The kids are cute, but I wake up about five times a night with irritatingly catchy Disney pop tunes in my head.

I took this teaching position as a "fun" summer gig and as relief from producing and regular acting duties. It's been fun, but now I'm getting completely burned out, and I've had to turn down two acting jobs already because of this commitment, which is hard to swallow.

Okay, enough whining. I hate whiners. Which brings me to my vent for the month. I'm really tired of hearing actors whine lately about all the things they aren't getting—especially those who whine about not having any work and then turn down opportunities. First let me say, I'm all about turning down work if it's a bad script, poor production values, an unprofessional director, etc. But I'm talking about people who turn down work or miss opportunities due to plain old laziness and then whine later about never working.

An example that comes to mind is an audition I just had for a production company here in town. The breakdown wasn't totally clear on some aspects of the project and how it was to be shot. It took several calls and emails to my agent, and calls and emails by her to the producer, and then a discussion with the producers when I arrived at the audition, to clarify everything. Turns out it's a kind of fun, over-the-top project with a good production team on board and the potential for being a nice paycheck if I book it; just an unclear breakdown. One of the producers at the audition mentioned that she thought the breakdown had scared a lot of people off and they'd had trouble getting actors in.

Again, I'm all for avoiding something that's shady and walking away from things that aren't the real deal, but all it took was a couple of phone calls and emails to clarify everything, and no problem. Plus, this was one of the bigger production companies in town—worth doing research before saying no. I think about all the actors who didn't take the time to do the extra homework and instead just blew off the audition after seeing the breakdown. And a lot of these same women will complain next month about how they never book any of the good things.

Just my thought for the month: make sure you're not missing chances because you're not doing your homework. Otherwise, you'll be left as one of the whiners, and i wish bad things on whiners—like a dozen jonas brothers songs stuck in your head.

Victor Joel Ortiz, New York

Power Tools

Lately I've been thinking about the future of my career. In five years, will I be in the same situation? Auditioning? Asking casting directors to call me in? Looking for representation? It's such a powerless position. There is no shortage of talented actors in this business. What there is a shortage of is fantastic scripts.

I have always looked up to Matt Damon. I remember reading how he couldn't get work as a young actor. Now he's the best investment in Hollywood. Forbes said his films make $29 in profit for every $1 he's paid. If he couldn't get work, what hope is there for others? What he did instead was write a great script and sell it with himself attached as the lead.

Taking my cue, I have decided to apply to graduate school for film. That way, in five years I can be producing my own film and in a more powerful position. I would like to go to Columbia, but who knows if I'll be admitted? In the meantime, I'm reading Robert McKee's book Story to learn more about the principles of screenwriting. I'm also interested in attending the Actors Studio Drama School. I've read its application guidelines and I'm in the process of completing them. I read that Harvey Keitel auditioned for the Actors Studio 11 times before he got in, and he's now a co-president. Talk about persistence.

I've been cast in four NYU films (one graduate) and one Columbia graduate film since last month. I've been putting my best effort into treating these with the most respect I can, because my reputation is being developed. As a matter of fact, four of these five projects came to me through referrals. I've been learning to believe in the director's point of view and trust him or her to deliver a great story. I've also filmed a commercial for the Lance Armstrong Foundation that I'm hoping to put up on my website ( very soon.

I have an appointment with Paradigm next week, which I'm excited about. AFTRA's open-door lottery secured the meeting. I've prepared for it by sharpening my monologues. The goal is to have 10 ready to go at a moment's notice. Last month I went to a Q&A with Sam Mendes. I asked about his rehearsal process for film versus theater. He said that for films he never lets the actors perform the scene until it's shot, while in theater he runs the play continually to see where it is and adjusts it from there. It was encouraging to hear him speak about rehearsing, because he works in the same fashion that I was taught by Terry Schreiber. As a director, he seemed to be much more in control of his career and the stories he wanted to tell. I'm not sure that I'd want to be a director, but he does have it good.

Julian Miller, Philadelphia

Soap Sense

It is said that the heart wants what the heart wants. I never really understood just how true that could be until this past month.

After that fiasco with the inconsiderate actor I'd been working with and all that jazz, my heart simply wanted to decompress. Instead of doing anything even remotely related to the craft, I've just taken time for myself in order to regroup. I've been traveling, spending time in Chicago, Louisville, Detroit, and a few lesser-known haunts. It's been amazing to reconnect with friends and some of my other interests. My goals for my health and body are more on track than they've ever been. I've been running every day, eating right, and, honestly, just being more selfish than I've been in years.

I've been an entrepreneur since I was 16, and this downtime has enabled me to reconnect to my business pursuits. I recently became part owner of a company called Grandma Gee's (www.grandmagees
.com) that makes a natural handmade alternative to commercial soaps. It sounds a little boring, but I see the reason for the company as a metaphor for how I've been pursuing my career. We've been using soap all our lives (most of us daily), yet we never stop to ask what it is we're taking into ourselves with each use. We just use it and trust that it's good for us. Well, we owe it to ourselves to ask more questions than we've been asking. With soap we should ask because many commercial soaps contain known carcinogens. Add that to chemicals meant to open our pores, and the fact that we use the stuff daily, and it's a bad formula.

In acting, we open ourselves to directors and other actors and training, and we all want to be good or honest or hired or whatever word we use. We want it so badly that we take in as much as we can without regard for what it does to us. How healthy for you is your goal of being on Broadway? How realistic? Has it caused you to lose sight of who you are? How much are all those auditions really taking out of you? Are you handling the successes of your friends well?

I've dedicated this month and next to investigating exactly where i am on my path and if i'm happy with the moves i'm making and the steps i'm taking. In the meantime, i'm happy to breathe and not rush into anything until i'm certain that i'm ready and prepared to bring only my best to the table.

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