3 Things I Learned Making a Movie in Paris

1) Be prepared. Actors often are taught (and believe) that “preparation” is the thing
that we should be doing to get ourselves ready for the role. Well, yes, there’s that.
But that’s just sort of obvious to me. Learn your lines, know what you’re talking
about, understand the scene, make choices, then go for sh*t!

But the most important kind of preparation is preparing for everything that you
wanted to prepare for that no longer applies. In other words prepare for the
unexpected. Because that’s the real art very few people teach and is also what
happens in the real world of filmmaking: You only get one take to do the scene you
were thinking in your head you were going to crush. You’re “prepared” to do your
close-up and it starts to rain. The monologue you were ready to slay just got cut.
Completely. Your co-stars don’t know their lines, so the scene now becomes about
surviving it so that you can at least get one take without mess-ups. The focus-puller
can’t focus, so you have to do 15 takes. The noise of the nearby subway is so loud it
disrupts every take, so you have to move locations.

Preparation is being open to where life and its moments take us. Not what we
thought something should sound like on the page or in our heads.

2) Who are you? I had a student at our London studio ask this about herself, “Who
am I?” It’s perhaps the most important question you can ask. If you don’t know who
you are then how can you make art? Art requires a very personal point-of- view. And
often, a life-or- death commitment to tell a story, or fight for a cause, or overcoming
huge obstacles to share your work with the world. Without knowing who you are,
what you stand for, what you believe in and what you wish to say through your
personal self-expression, you become a spectator of your own life. Unseen.
Unspecific. Don’t worry so much if you haven’t figured it out yet. Or that your
opinions and passions might be wrong. Have them anyway. By exercising your
viewpoints about things, you start to move forward in the world, articulating a more
present, passionate, articulate and capable you. And with more you, comes so many
more powerful things, including your art.

3) Get out of LA. Or NYC. Or London. Or wherever you live. Take a trip. Change it up.
Get out of your routine. Science has shown the benefits of travel. Not only do you get
to eat fresh baguettes daily while in Paris, but you also change the wiring in your
brain. When we visit other locales, we see the world from a different perspective.
Namely, that of possibility. We become curious, excited, and open. That has a direct
correlation to the neurological wiring in your brain that creates new neural
pathways and allows you to see your life (and its challenges) from a new viewpoint.

Sometimes actors are scared to take a vacation because they say, “What will happen
if I miss a job while I’m away?” The benefits of going away for a weekend far
outweigh your sitting at home waiting for your phone to ring. So be brave and go
someplace new and see how it actually assists you in points 1 and 2 above. And you
might end up also falling in love and moving to a whole new city.


Take Off That Emotional Diaper: Potty Training and the Creative Process

We recently potty trained our two year old twins. It was, in short, …interesting. A messy and strangely enlightening experience. It struck me how easy it is to take for granted the commitment, concentration, awareness and surrender that goes into something that most of us don’t even remember learning. And how parallel the process of learning this very basic activity is to the process we go through as actors willing to leap into the unknown.

The very first step with my kiddos was to ditch the diapers. And we did. From one day to the next the comfort zone was gone. And we never went back. We made the commitment to stay the course instead of avoiding the mess by retreating back to what was familiar and comfortable. This must be the first commitment of the actor when taking our work and our life to the next level. Allow ourselves to completely step out of our comfort zone and not go back, but stay the course no matter what kind of messes comes to pass, no matter how many loads of dirty laundry there are to tend too. The new space can be safe and still uncomfortable and present a whole new opportunity for our life and our work.

The next step, as with our two little ones, is to begin to develop a whole new awareness of our bodies and the sensations that arise. Understanding new cues and negotiating new sensations, in our body, in our feelings, in our connection to others, opens entirely new possibilities in our lives as actors. It may be awkward at first. As a matter of fact, we may be terrible at it for a while. Fumbling, baffled, and, yes, messy. But as always, the mess becomes our magic.

Along with the new practice comes a certain protocol. Pants down, pants up, hands washed. We have may have mastered hand washing long ago but now we can learn new habits of being, feeling, expressing. Sometimes we may regress but if we stay committed then the habits will take hold and eventually become effortless, become a part of us.

Which takes us to the all important SURRENDER. At some point we just keep showing up and trust that the musculature of our being will continue to respond naturally and develop to support us. The body DESIRES full expression. If we give it the opportunity and trust our support system we will flourish and expand in to our fullest potential as artists.

As always. The key is to pay attention, stay present in our body and the moment, practice compassion and humor when we figuratively poop our pants, accept help and guidance from our support system and trust our true nature to rise up and show world what we truly are. Magnificent, complicated, messy and beautiful human beings!


If You’re a ‘Star’ Then Why Do You Cast Yourself in the “Bit Role” of your Life?

Why do we cast ourselves in the bit role of our lives?

You’re a star.

You come from stars.

You’re made of star material.

A recent article in The Guardian revealed that astronomers have discovered by
computer simulations that “nearly half of the atoms that make up our bodies may
have formed beyond the Milky Way and travelled to the solar system on
intergalactic winds driven by giant exploding stars.”

What? Read that sentence again!

You’re not only made up of the exploding supernovas of the past, but also from
galaxies far, far away.

Good to know. We’re cosmic. We fly like the wind. We’re limitless.
But we forget this so often. If we come from infinite space, why do we relate to the
finite so much?

It’s simple. The stories we tell ourselves are more often tied to our past
transgressions, guilt, shame, traumas and challenges that we start to live our lives
from those limited experiences (and fears) rather than remembering we are also
simultaneously bigger than the limitations those narratives provide.

For sure my past experiences have made me who I am – both good and bad – but it’s
important to remember we have a choice in how we wish to move our narratives
forward. Make them work for us, rather than being stuck in a feedback loop of
depression and revisiting the past over and over in self-defeating ways.
I always like to say, if you don’t like the chapter you’re currently reading – turn the
page!

Just let the stuff go that’s holding you back. Negative self-judgments, outworn
stories, toxic relationships, unsupportive friends, demoralizing self-dialogues, self-
defeating habits, unkindness, whining, complaining, self-victimhood, blame.

Just breathe in and exhale out all of that stuff. Most of which, ironically, has actually
become neutralized now due to time plus healing and only gets rebooted because
we hold on to it. We let it define us. We trigger ourselves and the stories that come
with our past.

Stars don’t hold onto any of that shit when they’re exploding into new galaxies and
neither should you.

Just. Let. It. All. Go.

And be the star you are.


Who You are When You’re Not ‘Acting’ is the Acting We Want

I was recently listening to the podcast Off-Camera with Sam Jones and his interview
with actress, Holly Hunter.

In it she talks about, how who we are in between takes – is how we want to be in the
take.

In other words, we’re not “acting”. We are simply being. But then the director shouts
“Action!” and we tense up, start “performing”, add layers of effort and try to “build a
character” and start to “do.”

If the goal is to not act, why is it so hard to simply be? Which involves not acting at
all?

The most difficult task you will ever face in life is to completely be who you are.
Accept who you are. Love who you are. Let a story be told from your point of view.
And embrace all parts of who you are. Which includes the parts we run away from,
hide, disguise and are disgusted by or frightened of.

The energy we give to what we think performance and creating is about – is really
energy that is to be utilized in simply being.

To be who we are is the beginning and end of all creative expression. If it’s always
you, why do we try to pretend to be someone we’re not?

I guess it’s easier. It’s safer. It allows us to control things and operate an agenda.
Ms. Hunter goes on to say that the key to honest, exciting work is to, “Court the
unknown. Woo it.”

But the unknown doesn’t exist in places that we try to manipulate and control.
When we talk about the unknown we’re talking about literally existing in places
where we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next moment.

Like life.

Which is terrifying for every single human being on the planet.

The world we seem to be experiencing right now demonstrates a level of chaos that
erupts as a reaction to the unknown-ness of the moment. That can be scary at a
mass level because we’re also then dealing with millions of other people’s reactions
to the unknown.

And everyone reacts differently. Which is, most people freak out! And in other cases,
sadly, they react violently.

This is what contributes to chaos. At some level, everyone is reacting to their fear of
the unknown and thereby taking action in ways, that in so doing, they feel they will
be safer, more protected or have more control.

If we exert our power, we will be in control. If we marginalize others, we will be in
control. If we threaten or bully, we will be in control. If we intimidate, we will be in
control. We see this demonstrated from the highest level of government in our
country, to individual hate groups marching in the streets, to state and federal
policies and laws passed that strip away people’s basic human rights.

Collectively, it can be damaging and painful.

So, we, as individuals – in our own lives – work toward a greater acceptance of
letting go. (This doesn’t mean we don’t stand up for important moral and social
causes.) It simply means, on a daily basis, we work toward letting go of the small
things that cause disruption in our own lives because they can’t be controlled.
And, then, as artists, we try to work within this framework to allow more freedom
and empowerment to come out of these moments when we let go of trying to “make
something happen” and instead allow things to happen to us.

It’s counterintuitive, I know. I’ve just explained how it’s human nature to exert
control pretty much everywhere in our lives. Just watch yourself on a daily basis. We
are all control monsters. And yet, the aspect in our work (and life) that creates the
most excitement and creativity is when we allow things unplanned and unscripted
to take us to places not yet traversed.

The easiest way to get there is simply remembering the laws of the Universe itself.
We are living on a rock spinning around in the middle of dark matter in a galaxy that
is dwarfed by the billions of other galaxies in infinite space.

We. Have. No. Control.

Good to know.


Take the “No Complain Challenge” Part 2

A couple years ago I asked people to take the “No Complaining Challenge” to see how long they could go without complaining. Sounds simple enough. But it isn’t. And I think most of us failed.

Take The (Almost) Impossible 7-Day Challenge

Complaining, it seems, is one of those habits that’s hard-wired into our being human. And the more we do it, the harder it is to shake ourselves free from this tendency that erodes our happiness and I think is more based in comparison “I should be more successful,” “I should have more followers,” than fact.

Elizabeth Gilbert mentions the problems with complaining in relation to being an artist in her book, Big Magic. She brings up a number of points (below) that I want to expand on.

1) If it were easy (being an artist) everyone would be doing it. But it’s not, so shut up. I mean, really, that’s the gist of it. We have chosen this experience. We have decided to live our lives pursuing acting or writing or singing. If you hate it, get out. If you don’t, then take heart that you’re one of the brave ones who is attempting to do it in the first place.

2) Complaining is just boring. I don’t know how my friends put up with me. Maybe they do because as soon as I’m done bitching about my “problems” they chime in with theirs. It becomes a complaining conference. Try to do it less and call your friends on it as well. You might discover you have nothing else to talk about and sit in wonderful silence instead.

3) Ms. Gilbert mentions that each time you complain, inspiration takes flight and doesn’t come back because there’s no room for both to co-exist. I can’t be in inspiration and complaint at the same time. I also have found that there seems to be more and more behaviors that rob me of my inspiration in the same way. Reading Facebook newsfeeds, getting lost in the Instagram wormhole, comparing my life to someone else’s (mostly those presented on social media). I always called it “Compare-and-Despair-ism.” But I think we should add a new step. “Compare-Complain-Despair-Explain.”

4) Complaining keeps you stuck. It just more firmly establishes roots where you don’t want them. And over time you’re going to be in trouble because those roots will be so deep you won’t be able to dig them out.

5) I think we complain as some sort of justification of our lives. That we’re not as talented or successful or awesome as we think we should be (or actually are). So we rationalize or excuse or justify our lives away. You have nothing – ever – to defend about who you are or where you are in life.

Basically, what would we discover if we just stopped complaining?

That our lives are pretty damn great.


Let. People. In.

Let’s face it. Sometimes it can feel like we are under constant assault. A steady stream of people with unsolicited opinions of who you are, what you should be doing, how you should feel, think, vote, or believe. You’re too far left, you’re too far right, you’re too in the middle. You’re too thin, or too fat, too pretty or too ugly. We get good at shaking off the haters, pulling the drawstrings of our hoodies and focusing straight ahead, building up walls of protection around our minds, hearts, and bodies.

We develop a sense of humor, making everything a joke so we can keep the world at arms distance. This distance gives us a perspective, yes, but it also alienates us and makes us feel more alone. The walls get taller, and we lock the gates, looking down on the world from a place of isolation and safety.

Then something happens. We start to notice that the interior is becoming weak- the beautiful spirit we built these walls to protect becomes dark, shrivelled up, and twisted. Before long, we no longer feel like the king or queen of the castle; we become prisoners.

What then? The solution is scary, because it involves a deal of risk. But it is the only way out. You have to let people in. That’s it. Throw open the gates, bust the locks, break down the walls, and let them in. Even the people you don’t like. Even the people who disagree with you. Even the people who’ve hurt you, and especially the people you’ve hurt.

If you do this, something amazing can start to happen. The people you let in will begin to let their own defenses down. Maybe not at first, and maybe not everyone. Maybe some people you let in will fail to accept such an extraordinary gift, but most will. And they’ll let others into their space. That is the only way we will heal. As people and a society.

And by no means is this an easy feat. I have practiced this for years, and yet I still shut down my heart, close it off from those who love me and those who don’t in equal measure. Dozens of times, on a daily basis. It’s the story of human history, and it will continue to be a struggle for as long as mankind exists. Open-heartedness, connection, sharing – these qualities move us from merely existing to truly living.  

The poet William Blake once said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.” If we let down our defenses, tear down our walls, and remove the barriers that keep us separate from each other, we step into infinite love. The rubble of the walls that were broken become seats at a massive banquet where all are welcome, everything is understood, and all is forgiven.

We aren’t there yet. But the work is there waiting for us. Step into your vulnerability. Look people in the eye with openness. Smile. Connect.

That’s how you Let. People. In.

Actors in the video: Mason Trueblood and Cece Paige


Make Mistakes, Attempt Things, Fail, Risk

Here’s your much needed reminder about acting, life, and whatever you might be going through today: Nobody has life solved, nobody has it perfect. It’s always, ALWAYS, a work in progress, and you’re always figuring shit out. It doesn’t matter if you’re Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper, or just who you are now in your own skin.

When we are first learning how to do this thing called acting, often our only frame of reference are these amazing finished works that look beautiful and effortless, and we think the folks who made them are superhuman talent magnets with perfect instincts and even more perfect teeth. What we forget, what we don’t see, is the process that brought this amazing work into existence.

You aren’t seeing the progress. The false starts and the coming aparts and the stuff on the cutting room floor. The stuff that doesn’t work. And that’s the lesson we all need to get into our bones if we are going to live successful, fulfilled creative lives: the process is more important than the result.

As artists, and specifically as actors, we are only responsible for being as truthful and honest as we can possibly be. The finished product of a film or tv show or piece of theatre has so many moving parts over which you as an actor have no control. Whether the cute guy in your class thinks you’re cute, too, is not in your control. The tragedies in the world that play out almost daily on our news feeds are not in your control.

When we fail to remember that truth, we open the door to anxiety, self-judgement, and despair. We feel like failures. We start to give up. Even something as ridiculous as Instagram can be a source of dismay. If you find yourself comparing your actual life to the photoshopped ones you see on your social media, you’re going to lose basically every time. I sometimes look back at my own posts and think, wow, I wish I had that guy’s life. It’s all a ridiculous illusion, and yet, if we give into it, it has the power to make us feel awful.

Sometimes, those feelings are unavoidable, even and especially if you are engaging in the process and letting go of your sense of control over the result. The reason it’s called a risk is because there is a very real chance that this thing you are trying to do or make or become might not work.

Even the most positive outcome can also mean that in the short term, something fails, falls apart. But when we realize that something not working out or going according to plan is not the end of the world, we begin taking risks more often. It becomes a habit. It becomes a way of life. Taking more risks becomes, wait for it…a process.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all together. You may totally wipe out. Just remember that making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. It just means you’re on the path. Period.


How To Have Your Feelings

Let’s deconstruct feeling, shall we, as it seems to be at the crux of almost all of our problems. Individually, culturally, and from a societal standpoint.

Think about it. Isn’t almost every challenge you’re up against in life in some way a direct correlation to how you feel? About the situation? Or yourself? Or the circumstances that got you there? Or the people involved?

“I hate them!” No you don’t. What they triggered inside you – some feeling part of you that is hidden or traumatized or unconscious or unwilling to be felt is what you really hate.

Zero access to understanding the complexity of feeling and trying to avoid it, makes some people act out. Others shut down. Some drink. Some spend 4 hours on Instagram. Some do drugs. Others eat lots of Doritos. And sadly, many blow things up.

Feelings have no socio-economic or gender or sexual identity or ethnic demarcations. Everyone feels – or avoids feeling – regardless of age, class, status, religious belief or geographical location.

Here’s how it works. For all sorts of reasons; childhood trauma, bullying, being born into a family in which you were neglected – or maybe the opposite is true – you were the family favorite, the school standout, the most-likely- to-succeed – it simply doesn’t matter. Being born into this existence and confronting the human experience head-on – as you evolve and find your way in this world – you are imprinted by life. Feeling imprints.

You see a bird die at the age of 8. You watch your mom screaming at your father. You try out for cheerleading and don’t make the cut. You almost drown when you’re 12. You see an alligator eat a zebra. You want to be a poet but choose accounting instead as your college major because it’s more practical.

A part of you dies. A part of you wants to grieve or scream. A part of you feels anxious or alone. A part of you feels just like that wounded animal.

Simple events and experiences have a complex emotional component attached to them that are then generally stored within us. And we forget about them.

Thank god.

As we journey on in life, however, at some point feelings start to rumble and come to the surface. Like volcanic offerings from our past. We find ways to jettison them. Ignore them. Pretend the deep, longing and pangs of our heart aren’t really there. They make us “weak” or “unlovable”, we tell ourselves. They aren’t “manly”. “I have to shut that shit down or I’ll be an irresponsible daughter” and on it goes.

So we start to choose things outside ourselves in an attempt to fix how we feel – which is really a buffer so that we don’t have to feel what we don’t want to feel.

It feels good at first. Whatever it is that we choose to use to not feel. But then, it becomes a real detriment and our coping mechanisms to avoid feeling then backfire on us.

Coping mechanisms are there to help us cope. Not heal.

But we don’t want to merely cope. We want to live. We want to thrive. We want to passionately engage with the world and share your gifts and talents. We want to be the real goddamn bad-asses that we know we can be.

In Michael Paterniti’s inspiring GQ interview with Brad Pitt, he asks, “That’s the thing about becoming un-numb. You have to stare down everything that matters to you.”

Mr. Pitt responds: “That’s it! Sitting with those horrible feelings, and needing to understand them, and putting them into place. In the end, you find: I am those things I don’t like. That is a part of me. I can’t deny that. I have to accept that. And in fact, I have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.”

Everyone feels. And everyone has different ways of not allowing others to see that they feel. We hide behind many things – pretty faces and expensive cars and lots of money and fame and social media followers.

But if the external can’t ever solve the internal it doesn’t matter how good it looks on the outside if it doesn’t feel that way on the inside.

So we take a deep breath. We ask for help. We stop shaming ourselves for feeling things. We talk to a friend to help us understand our condition in a different way. A burden shared is half the burden. We connect more. We try to get more honest. We stop compartmentalizing and comparing and thinking that we’re the only ones who feel fake, false, insecure, incompetent and ineffectual.

And the acknowledgment of this, itself, is a step toward the feeling we truly desire. Joy. Peace. Acceptance. Understanding. Compassion. Sensitivity. For oneself. For the human condition. For where you are right now.


How Do I say “No” to Life? Let Us Count the Ways. . .

How many times do you let the thoughts you think about yourself keep you from saying, “Yes”?

It’s so simple, this thing called life. It unfolds naturally in a big “Yes”. Life itself is “Yes”! If it were a “No” you wouldn’t even be here.

But we’re so conditioned to saying “No” that most of the time we’re not even conscious that we’re doing it. We complain, we rationalize, we get impatient, we check out, we get angry, we assume the worst, we blame or victimize, we expect, we compare, we shut down.

We’re cranky, grumpy, moody, bitchy, negative, critical, bitter and entitled. All big no-no’s and “No’s” to life.

Mostly it’s our habituated thoughts that create such a negative reaction to things. We’ve been hurt, rejected, denied, penalized, made fun of, shamed and negated. We store those experiences inside us. We make up stories around them. They start to define us and then we come to expect more of the same based on our past hurts. Ultimately, they become preemptive strikes, which then close us out to where we want to go and what we’re trying to make happen in our lives.

Trying to stay open – which is another way of saying “Yes” is hard when most of the things we think about ourselves – or the world at large – are predicated on those habits. So we say “No” to:

1). The moment

2). The possibilities that the world is trying to offer you through the moment

3). Yourself

And really – point #3 encompasses the first two. It’s all interconnected. You, yourself are the moment. And you, yourself contain all the possibilities of what you’d like to see happen in your world, in this moment. But when you say “No” to them, there is no access to what you want.

I sometimes realize that it’s a wonder that my life even works half as good as it does in spite of me saying “No” to so many things. What a bummer. If I’d not demand or expect or believe that just because something has been one way for so long that it can’t be anything else. . . If I could just stay open to those spaces within myself that aren’t already preempting the moment by saying “No” to it, what might my life be like?

The beautiful thing about this discovery is that you see that no one is really denying you or saying “No” to you. You’re really doing it to yourself. And because the power then resides within you, you also have the ability to change it.

Such are the constructs of life. They’re your constructs. If you don’t like them, you can deconstruct them and build new ones. Or better yet, don’t build any at all. Just say “Yes”.


How to be a Real Artist

To be an artist has nothing to do with making art only – it has to do with how you see the world.

You’re not a poet just because you can write a poem but rather, because you see the world in poetry.

You’re able to see and express the beauty and possibility of the world and then capture that in inspiring words. You see the world like a poet does.

You’re not an artist just because culture deems you so. Being an artist is about seeing the world unlike how most of culture sees it. That requires taking risks in going against the masses and being willing to stand for something that might be ahead of its time or be on the fringes because it’s not yet been “accepted” by the masses. Most great things aren’t accepted by culture. That’s the irony of it all.

If you think about a great artist like Vincent Van Gogh – he wasn’t even considered artistic until after he died. He wasn’t traditional by any sense of the word. He wasn’t creating the kind of art, that at the time, people felt comfortable viewing. He pushed the envelope in capturing the world in ways painted on canvas that hadn’t been depicted before. He was bold. Different. He thought like an artist because he was one.

A lot of artists are outliers because they view the world in a way that isn’t common or base. Popular or obvious. They don’t see things the way everyone else tells them to see it. That takes innovation, courage, inspiration and commitment. And balls.

It’s hard nowadays to allow ourselves to be expressed at that level because we’re inundated by social media telling us how to think, feel, look, dress, be popular, liked or influential. The more we go to our phones and see examples of everyone trying to be like everyone else, we start to doubt our own ability to think differently. To create with wonder and uniqueness. Without realizing it, we get sucked into the wormhole of common-ness and sometimes cruelty, pettiness, superficiality and high-school- ness.

Steer clear of the stuff that makes you doubt and question your own weirdness. Let yourself elevate to those thoughts of why you wanted to create things in the first place. Let that artistry be a possibility for you. It is born in each of us but to really be living it means standing by the integrity of sharing your vision of the world with many people who won’t see it that way. They won’t simply because they can’t.

Taraji P Henson said in an interview recently that if she had listened to all the people who constantly told her it was impossible for her to pursue an acting career at the age of 25 (with a baby no less!) and move to California. . . she would “never have lived.”

That’s artistry. Not just because Ms. Henson “made it”. It’s wonderful she’s doing powerful film-work and TV. But she’s an artist because she was also brave enough to not listen to all the people telling her “No” and she chose to see the possibilities of her world in a different way.

So don’t let this business get you down. Think like an artist! See the world through beauty and compassion and love and simplicity.

To do that is art.


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