By: Jess Canty
So I was watching Serena Williams' press conference from after the US Open match in which she got into an argument with the Umpire - if you haven't seen it, feel free to take a watch as it is an incredible moment of poise and candor after what was for her a very emotional game.
I wasn't expecting to find inspiration for this week's post in watching this - but as art goes you never know where inspiration will come from.
Serena says a great many things that as a woman in business I want to thank her for - however, what is germane to our ongoing discussions about career and performance is the section about whether she would accept on-court coaching during a match if it was allowed.
Her response, I believe, is why she is arguably the greatest tennis player ever.
She says "...one thing I love about tennis is being out there and its the one time I don't want to hear anyone tell me anything. You have to problem solve. And honestly I feel like its helped me a lot in my life... one thing about tennis I feel like, sometimes, when I'm out there, I have a split second, a nanosecond to make a decision that can change the whole match, and the whole tournament... I know it sounds weird, but its my moment of peace when I'm out there on the court where I don't hear anyone...and I just try to problem-solve by myself."
As I have said before, one of the hardest things about being a manager is that I can walk you right up to the door. I can help you be as prepared as possible for that audition, or that job on set. But its YOU in that audition room. YOU in front of that camera. YOU have to perform. Your coach, your agent, your manager, your brother? We just have to wait nervously outside until you tell us how it went.
And what Serena is talking about here is where you have to get yourself to. It is exactly why we tell you that you MUST be in class. That you MUST get coaching for any audition.
So that you are at your MOST CALM, MOST PEACEFUL HAPPY PLACE when you are alone, in that room, or in front of that table or camera. That you LIVE for that moment, just like she lives to get on the court in a tournament final.
So that when it is just you in that casting office, and you've coached for a role and you have the sides memorized so well that you KNOW the scene to your bones and you suddenly think "what if I..." (there's that #whatif again) as you are reading the scene with the CD...
And then you ACT (see what I did there?) on that instinct.
You switch it up. You say a line differently than you did when you coached it. You GO FOR IT. And it changes everything.
You know who that is, right? That little voice saying "what if I laughed on this line?"
That is the character speaking to you.
The same way the character spoke to the writer when they wrote that line - now they are speaking to you, telling you how to channel that same line (these characters, they are pushy man).
The paradox, however, is that you will only be confident enough to throw all of the coaching and training out the window, if you are so well coached and trained that you fundamentally believe that your instincts are correct.
The character is you, you are the character.
BUT that only becomes true if you know the material so well that you are open to hearing that character trying to break through and tell you how they would play.
I have used the phrase before that actors can be "over-trained." But I think after watching this interview with Serena I need to amend that.
There is no such thing as being over-trained.
I think there is the wrong training. Actors CAN train the wrong muscles. It would be like Serena practicing soccer throw-ins before a grand slam match.
Are you in a class where people just gripe about how hard the business is? A coach that is too easy on you? Are you the "big fish" in class - getting an ego boost from being the "best one" in there that always gets the laugh or the applause and praise (hint, you need to take a harder class and work with actors whose credits intimidate you and/or the teacher with their name on the studio door).
I think, now, what is meant by "over-trained" is that the actor has let the training get in the way of instinct.
Which is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what it is supposed to do.
What your coaching and training is supposed to do is get you to the place where you TRUST your instincts. TRUST that the little voice in your head during the audition is RIGHT.
What Serena is saying here, ultimately, is that she trusts herself. She knows that if she makes a change - in that nanosecond she is talking about - that it will work out.
That if she goes for the backhand on a ball that may be headed out of bounds, she will connect. Even if in practice she would have let that ball go 10 times out of 10. This time? This backhand is going to get her the W.
The voice in your head during the audition? Is the role you've already booked - because if you listen to it you will book the role.
That moment you decide to laugh on a line that you've rehearsed as a scream 50 times? That is you channeling the character - and it is magic. It is what makes DPs hold the camera on your face. It is what makes directors forget to yell cut.
The "what if..." voice in Serena's head at that moment? The one speaking to her in the serene silence?
Is the player that has already won the game.