PAMELA ADLON’S MASTER CLASS ON BETTER THINGS
So… now that you have mastered the art of recognizing great writing I thought I would completely burst your bubbles. Or rather, I am going to let the amazing Ms. Adlon do it for me.
Give it a watch, and then we'll chat...
Oh hi! Welcome back! So I sat up on the edge of my couch when I was watching this episode. Why? Because she is 10,000% right. On all fronts.
So let’s review:
It is one thing to be able to do well with great writing. The job , however, is to make shitty writing great. There is an old adage that bad acting will ruin great writing, but great acting can mask bad writing. Most people would rather see a good actor in a bad script than a terrible actor with a great script. Get used to it and find your way in.
Actors must be willing to be vulnerable. Weak. Drama is written about people in their worst moments. On their worst day. On their most extreme day. On the day where all the shit goes wrong. Most books on writing talk about needing to “torture” your characters in some way. Put them through hell. So, what that means as an actor is that you MUST be willing to wear your heart on the outside. Want to know why I quit acting? Because the note I got all the time was that I wasn’t vulnerable enough. And I finally realized I didn’t WANT to spend my life being vulnerable on screen and in front of the entire world. If you can’t wrap your head around this you have chosen the wrong part of this business to be in.
But what about comedy? There is some nuance to what Ms. Adlon is talking about in this clip. She is specifically talking about how these two comedians took what was on the page a dramatic scene and turned it into a comedy by taking the vulnerability out of it. By masking it with speed and timing. Now obviously if you are auditioning for a comedy you need to be funny. But the truth is, comedy is just tragedy + time. You actually need to be MORE aware of the "heart" of the scene in comedy because the character is likely using the comedy to mask some pretty deep stuff. You have to tap into the pain that probably makes you a great comedian. And guess what? The best comedians give you the moment of vulnerability right before they double-down on the joke. This is why we love them because they can take us through the entire range of human emotion in a nanosecond. It is also why great comedic actors are able to jump to drama so easily - because they know, and are willing to give us a glimpse, of what is below the surface. What is underneath the quip and the joke. The pain that is behind the funny.
Acting for the camera for the most part is not about “performing.” It is about sitting back in the pocket and being natural. In life people don’t “present” (unless they are literally doing a presentation, which most people hate doing). People don’t “transition” – emotions HIT them. The best actors know how to do this – they jump from one emotion to another so skillfully that it feels like it is happening TO them. They are so in the moment that they are actually experiencing the emotions themselves OR they know the language so well that they make you believe that they are actually experiencing the emotions – either way it is magic.
Now, let’s go back to some of the best writing ever put on screen – and some of the best performances from none other than Robert Downey Jr., Whoopi Goldberg and Sally Field, Kevin Kline and Garry Marshall. Yep I’m talking about Soapdish people:
We can't tolerate this behavior.
Could you tolerate the one billion dollars
of free press we’re gonna get because
of what happened down there today? The phone’s
been ringing off the hook. We’ll be on the evening news.
The tabloids are going to say “real life soap opera.”
Celeste is a bad-news buffet. The people love her because she is…
and always will be the queen of misery.
She’s turned unstable…and we can’t…
Unstable? I’m stable Who wants
to watch me on television? Unstable is her talent.
Look at the photo below - a still shot from Soapdish. If you didn't know this movie, would you peg it as a farce? Look at the concern, pain, fear, shock and anger - and all of this is just on Sally Field's face!
This moment in the movie is hilarious because she is SO committed. SO over the top with her raw vulnerability. SO in it.
And so are Cathy and Whoopi.
Are you ready, willing, and able to show your emotions for all the world to see? ALL of your emotions? The good, the bad and the ugly? The hurtful? The painful? The agony and the ecstasy?