- Fear Isn’t Real. But These 2 Ways Of Conquering It Are.
- The Most Important Thing To Remember About Casting
- The #1 Thing You Need To Do To Not Be A Cell-Phone Addicted Zombie In Life!
- What If You Tried Doing This 1 Thing To Change Your Life For The Better?
- If You Don’t Start Doing This More . . . You’re In Big Trouble.
Author Archives: Anthony
What are we all so scared of?
Being seen? Failing? Not measuring up? Being rejected? Vulnerability? Thinking the rest of the world will see how badly we often think of ourselves?
All of these qualities are part of being human and being brave enough to step out into the world with something to say.
They’re also a part of what it means to be a truly authentic actor.
But so often much of our life energy is spent reacting to things from a fearful place (dating! auditioning! booking a job!) without having awareness that we’re even doing so.
Part of our evolutionary growth is to understand when we react to something based in fact (rarely) and instead, do so out of habit.
There’s always going to be a part of us that’s fearful – sadly – as a response to our knowledge that our mortal body is going to expire. And also our being hardwired – it’s in our DNA – physiologically to respond from the flight-or-fight response. (That reptilian brain in us is alive and kicking.)
But the kind of fear I’m talking about that stops us from achieving our dreams is fear based in ego.
The Ego = Small. Separate. Stuck. Our Saboteur. The only way we can overcome that which our ego tells us is not possible for us is by being open and being aware of that dialogue itself.
A lot of what we don’t realize is we let a fearful reaction to things be the overriding principle in our life. Fear masks itself in subtle ways so we don’t even know it. When we respond in a cynical or sarcastic way, when we procrastinate, or have excuses, or complain or say “no” to things; when we ignore or avoid – these responses can often be passive forms of fear.
The goal is to become aware of when we respond habitually. For example, realizing when we don’t say “yes” to something. Maybe it’s because we’re scared to risk or be exposed, so we say “no” instead. Procrastination – we keep putting off that thing we know we can do, because to do so might mean we could get rejected or fail or discover we’re not so great at it after all. So we let fear keep us from even attempting.
If there was one thing I could help actors understand is that there’s nothing to be scared of. Our work is a work of joy and hope and light and possibility and we’re all in it together. When people set out to make projects they set out to make the best possible creation they can achieve. That means they want you to also be your best.
So when you book a job, it means someone likes you. That’s why you booked it. There’s nothing to be scared of.
But we let our old conditioning kick in and listen to the junk thoughts it creates in the mind.
So understanding that fear – False Evidence Appearing Real — can really stop us from moving forward when we believe the things we tell ourselves in our head – is already a step of awareness.
The next time you’re feeling triggered and scared, ask yourself these two questions.
1). Why is it not okay to let go of the fear? (You may discover some surprising explanations of how the fear is protecting you.)
2). What does this fear want to show me? (If you’re brave enough – and willing to listen – there is great insight into where you may get stuck in life and how to overcome it.)
Creating a new paradigm around fear will truly set you free from it.
So “feel the fear and do it anyway” as the saying goes – as we’ll never be completely devoid of it. But create a deeper understanding of it as well and you might discover the fear part gets less and less.
A thing experienced is not a thing perceived.
We so often are in our heads about what we think something looks like (a choice, an idea, a commitment to something) that instead of committing to that thing and having the experience, we second-guess it based on what we think the casting director is looking for.
The casting director doesn’t know what he or she is looking for. Neither does the director or producer or agent.
Yes, they may have a “type” in mind. And if you physically fit what that type is, you can get called in. But that’s at the physical/superficial level. And there are hundreds of actors who may share your type. So what sets you apart is your giving yourself permission to do it your way. Not the way you think it’s supposed to be or what you think they’re looking for. When you do it your way unapologetically you will become what they’re looking for.
I recently assessed an actor who explained to me how he went to an audition and the casting director asked him, “Do you have any questions?” (Which to me is a polite way of simply saying, “Are You Ready?!”) But he took that as an opportunity to second-guess his choice and asked her if the relationship between the two characters was adversarial. The casting director said no. He was screwed. He immediately went into his head (taking the Brain Drain Train) and doubted everything he wanted to do. Scared to go for his original choice and not follow his impulses led to his reading being flat and unmemorable. Surprise? Not really.
He came to me after the audition and told me what happened and I asked him to do the scene for me just as he read it in the room. And yes, it was as flat as a pancake. Womp Womp.
I asked him to do the scene again coming from his original choice of exploring a more adversarial point of view. He did and the dynamic completely changed.
Here’s the insight! In his mind (and in his committing to something) he thought he was being adversarial (and that it would read only that way). But for me watching him – it simply read as someone who was more committed and more interesting; someone taking more chances and was sexier and more mysterious. He played more, had more fun and was consequently more real and human. In other words – not flat. So he didn’t come across as adversarial. He came across as being alive.
The breakthrough is in realizing in making a choice (and no longer asking for permission to do something!) what you experience in your own work and what we might perceive are completely different things.
Stop making everything so black-and-white and reductive. Trust that the magical alchemy of acting and playing and creating in the moment takes care of the details that you don’t have to micro-manage.
If you’re having an experience, I am having an experience. And so will the casting director or producer or director. From there they may give you an adjustment or take you in another direction. But if you don’t first allow yourself to have the experience they won’t either (!) and you’ll be unmemorable. And that’s where the thing about “type” comes in. If you’re unmemorable, there are hundreds of other people out there who can fulfill that which you are reading. And do so in a memorable way. That is to say, their way.
And that’s what’s memorable about it.
So don’t delay any longer. Go for things fully. Committedly. Stop second-guessing. Trust that in strong choices, the person watching will have their own subjective experience witnessing humanity in front of them. They will. Stop trying to control what you think other people should – or want – to see.
That requires trust.
And a healthy sense of giving yourself permission. So the next time someone asks, “Do you have any questions?” – and you don’t – trust the part of yourself inside who has the answers.
Breakthroughs in life occur at the feeling level.
That’s the beginning and end of it. If we want to evolve, grow, face our fears, reach new heights, become the kind of artist we know we can become, we have to feel our way there. We have to feel things we aren’t accustomed to allowing ourselves to feel. Feel things we try to control and suppress. Feel things that we have judgments about. And then be brave enough to communicate those feelings to another. When we feel vulnerable. Exposed. Scared. Intimidated. That’s not just the call into acting. That’s the call into life itself.
Just feel. Period.
Your feelings don’t have to be pretty or together or understood by others. They don’t have to make sense. Feelings often don’t make sense – that’s why they’re feelings! How do you intellectualize love, compassion, hope, fear, sadness, empathy, desire? You can’t. Or you can try but the intellectual component only takes you so far. But the more we allow ourselves to actually be, the more our life begins to transform in positive ways.
But when we don’t give ourselves permission to feel, we move through life anesthetizing ourselves, putting us in a zombie-fied state of existence. A numbness that we accept as status quo. A standardized way of just getting through the day. We wake up one day (if we’re lucky) and realize we’ve merely been surviving, not truly living. Or maybe we’ve been living but not thriving.
To thrive is to be emotionally engaged. Curious, Excited. Passionate. Vulnerable. Out there.
The breakthroughs that have occurred in your life have all come at the emotional level. You experience grief, tragedy, loss and the experience profoundly shifts you or changes your outlook. You express pain, frustration, turmoil and an insight occurs from the release. You live in joy, ecstasy, passion and realize you’ve never allowed yourself to feel that wild or free.
You could argue that breakthroughs occur first at an intellectual level. Perhaps you solve a math theorem or make a new scientific discovery or uncover a new model for physics – and those achievements, of course, require a great deal of brain energy. But what comes with the intellectual insight is the commensurate feeling in your body physiologically and in your heart. You feel overjoyed or relieved. You feel gratified and elated. You feel a “Eureka!” sensation inside. That’s not intellectual. That’s emotional.
So feel. It sounds so easy. But when you begin to look at how often you cripple yourself from feeling, you realize that like anything else, it’s a journey. It takes time. But the pay-off is really truly living life, and really the essence of life itself.
What do you tell yourself when you don’t get the job? Be honest. Generally it follows something along the 5 stages of Grief. (Sometimes all within the same minute!)
1). Denial. “Ummm . . . What? They definitely don’t know what they’re doing! They’ll figure it out and when no one else does a better job they’ll bring me back in.”
2). Anger. “WTF! I hate this business!”
3). Bargaining. “I didn’t want that job anyway. Lame. A better job is coming along that I wouldn’t be available for if I got that crappy role.”
4). Depression. “Oh Gawd. What am I doing with my life? I can’t take it anymore.”
5). Acceptance. “Oh, I got another audition? Cool!”
That’s quite the mental roller coaster ride we take and it often leaves us feeling queasy and insecure. And the same formula could be applied when we get dumped by our perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, when an agent doesn’t return our calls, or when we get fired from a job.
What if we tried another approach? And we tapped into the ancient tradition of using a mantra as a grounding device to help us weather the storms of life? Not just in the acting world, but living life period.
We use a mantra to quiet the mind. And like neuroscience has shown, creating new patterns of thought reboots old neural grooves that are habituated and unhealthy. So like anything, we use a mantra as a vehicle. As a practice. As an understanding of process. As awareness. As a way to let go and trust.
The point is to gain peace of mind. Because if you don’t have peace of mind on your journey, what do you have? No amount of money or fame or popularity or success can provide that for us. Peace of mind comes from the mind.
The word mantra literally means an “instrument of thought.” And when you begin to use one, you can learn how to go beyond the mind and get out of the vexing self-dialogues we often hear ourselves engaged in.
Instead of beating yourself up when things don’t go your way, why don’t you try any of these more truthful statements?
“I am ready for success.” (You are.)
“The universe is orchestrating the details for me. It’s safe for me to let go. I don’t have to control everything.” (You can’t anyway.)
“I’m in the right place at the right time doing the right thing with the right people. Always.” (Boom!)
“I am peace. I am light. I am love.” (Indeed.)
“My life keeps getting easier and easier. And more and more fun.” (For shizzle!)
“Everything always works out for the best for me.” (It does.)
“Let me be me. I accept and love myself exactly as I am.” (If you don’t, no one else will.)
Let your mantra be a centering thought when everything else in your life seems to be anything but that. You’ll find that amidst the disappointment of rejections and setbacks, you’ll become more resilient and adaptable. And actually, start having a lot more fun. Even when you don’t get the job.
You have to love yourself. End. Of. Story.
What else is there really on this individual journey we’re all taking? If you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly love another and radiate that love to your work, creativity, the birthing of new ideas and bringing something tangible and worthwhile into the world?
When we get triggered in life, when we get rejected, when we want to give up all hope and chuck it all in, we must come back to self-love.
Our culture, though, has a misunderstanding of what self-love is.
We think it’s namby-pamby, new-age-y, kumbaya phooey.
But self-love is brass tacks being. Think about acting. The art of acting is in many ways one of the highest expressions of creative love. We share ourselves bravely with other human beings through this vehicle of intimacy and vulnerability and power and courage.
When I was in my 20’s, I didn’t think I had time for self-love. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I just thought I could barrel through everything, continue to take action and keep going. But eventually, life is going to catch up with you. What you resist persists.
We have to love ourselves, but not by the standards society sets because those are measured by the external. We equate the expression of love through things. If you’re not aware, your self-love becomes based on things that society says signifies love. Those measurements are not only unattainable but also ephemeral and can be destructive because they’re based on illusions. Ashton Kutcher says, “There’s a propaganda machine around fame and celebrity.” We think if we get that, we’ve got life by the balls. But self-love doesn’t come from how beautiful or physically fit we are, or if we have a perfect figure with 5% body fat or how successful or popular or famous or stylish we are.
It comes from self-acceptance.
You have nothing to prove. To anyone. Whether you are working or not. Famous or not. Established or not. You’re already okay as you are.
Self-acceptance requires us to love those parts of ourselves we don’t already love. Those parts of ourselves we keep hidden, that we’re scared of, that we think something’s wrong with us for having them. These are the parts that we actually need to live in our wholeness.
The parts equal the whole. Not some parts. All parts.
I had a student recently who told a story of how he bullied a number of kids when he was in elementary school (he himself being a victim of bullying). Now as an adult – and a famous actor to boot – he does a lot of charitable work on behalf of organizations that help bring awareness to anti-bullying campaigns. But he feels because of his celebrity that he’s a hypocrite for doing so. How could someone who bullied so many kids now be stumping for charities about anti-bullying?
His own guilt and shame around that part of himself shows that bullying never ends.
We bully ourselves.
But the deeper learning comes from the insight that it’s not in spite of his having been a bully that he’s now charitable, it’s because of it. All parts of ourselves make us whole. Even the parts we’re ashamed of and continue beating ourselves up for.
Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Realize all experiences in life lead us to wholeness.
Without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.
Remember just how much you’ve already accomplished in your life.
We forget that. Especially when we face constant rejection and hear endless “no’s” and begin personalizing and believing the negation means there’s something wrong with us or we’re untalented or flawed in some way. We start believing the illusion that this business is harder than any other. That it’s stacked against the actor. That it’s impossible to break through.
But the physics of this business is no different than any other business. There’s going to be nepotism and class-systems and arbitrary rejections and an old boys club favoritism in any career in which you wish to succeed.
Over 50 years ago, Vincent van Gogh said, “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”
You see? It’s never easy for anyone. Period.
If you look at your life, the tremendous amounts of effort you had to exert to overcome obstacles and get to where you are today – speaks of the possibility of your spirit. But it also shows that nothing is a closed system. Nothing. To think otherwise is to limit something that is limitless.
That is – you.
The spirit of who you are is inexhaustible; as powerful as the cosmos. We’re made of the same stuff as the atoms that created the stars that banged this universe into existence some 4.5 billion years ago. We are made up of this infinity. We have infinite potential.
You can’t let people preach limitation on you to the point that you give up hope. You also can’t allow the people “out there” be the arbiters of what’s hot or popular or fashionable or talented. You might say, “Well they are anyway Tony.” Well, actually, they’re not – until something or someone breaks through and then “the experts” ride the bandwagon saying, “This is the next big thing!” Everyone in our culture seems to be waiting for someone to tell them, “These jeans are so hot!” or “This song is a hit” or “That person’s going to be a star.”
Decide for yourself. You’ve been doing it all along without your even knowing it. Just do it now a little more consciously.
So when you feel this business is stacked against you and there’s no point going on, just remember where you are now and what you overcame to get here. My dear friend, Nick, just got dropped by his management company and was really feeling like he was back at square one. I asked him to recall how much he’d accomplished just to get here.
His dad died when he was 14. He moved from Serbia – a war torn country in the 90’s – to a small town in Minnesota as part of a foreign exchange program, even though he spoke little English. He graduated from an American high school there with honors, got accepted into Harvard and graduated near the top of his class. He started his own successful tech company (and many other ventures) and decided a couple years ago to finally pursue acting, which he’d always wanted to do.
Now don’t tell me you’re going to be defeated by an agent telling you, “We’re just not that into you!”
Remember just how far you’ve climbed and how much you have to be proud of the next time a door slams in your face. Don’t let someone’s “not getting you” define your years on this planet.
You are bigger than the rejection. You’re bigger than a door slamming shut. And in the world of infinitude, there are simply more doors to knock on that will magically open for you. You just have to walk up to them. But that can’t happen if you give up. So don’t.
Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what everyone’s doing every day of their lives, but we don’t realize it because we’re so caught up in the myth that “making it” looks a certain way and is a final finish line at which we must arrive.
In that illusion, we compare ourselves (and our struggles) against the ones who don’t appear to have any (all the famous, glamorous, beautiful people of the world!) and then we despair thinking we’re never going to get there. (Wherever “there” is!)
Okay. Take heart. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has along their life’s path faked their way through. Vamped. Punted. Improvised. Made shit up.
I’ve done it innumerable times. From my early days of waiting tables in New York (Having no clue how to even place an order!) to acting Shakespeare (What the hell was iambic pentameter?) to writing (It took me 8 years to write my first book!) to teaching (Aren’t teachers supposed to be like . . . 70?) to directing (Can I please give you a line reading?) to relationships (Still a work in progress!) to . . . well, pretty much everything.
The victory comes – as social researcher and writer Malcolm Gladwell points out – when you keep going and arrive at 10,000+ hours which makes you a bit of an expert at what you do.
That’s 10 years people!
So in that decade there’s going to be some faking! Figuring it out. Falling apart. Putting it together again. Thinking you know and then realizing you don’t.
It’s called learning.
But you can’t arrive at that juncture of becoming a talented actor and confident auditioner, or skilled writer or experienced producer or genius animator if along the way you judge yourself for where you are and decide it’s not good enough, so you pack it all in and move back to Idaho.
Things. Take. Time.
You don’t have to know everything. You just have to try.
You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to be willing.
You don’t have to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You just have to accept yourself for who and where you are.
As you do, you discover that the answers you think are outside yourself are actually all contained within.
But this discovery comes only by your willingness to really be out at sea. Unmoored. Sort of like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips or Robert Redford in All is Lost or Sandra Bullock in Gravity. (Wow, there seem to be a lot of films this year where the protagonists are literally and figuratively afloat!)
Well why is that? Because along the way to becoming anchored – when you’re feeling anything but . . . there’s going to be a high level of “faking it” and figuring it out as you go along.
It’s because of that that you eventually get there.
So fake it and you will make it.
Whenever I’m in NY teaching at our school there, I’m reminded of how much humanity is about . . . well . . . just being human.
Maybe because LA is shaped by a car culture, it’s so easy to remove ourselves from life (from connection, from vulnerability, from having to confront life head-on as we’re walking down the street). Instead, we escape into the confines of our cars, roll up our windows, tune out the world and what we’re feeling. When we do, we sometimes forget that really being human is the hardest thing to be.
We try to look a certain way and keep up appearances. We cut feeling off at the pass. We avoid being perceived as “not having it together.” We pressure ourselves into thinking we have to be perfect . . . like all the time! We’re hyper-aware of how we look and negotiate with ourselves around the discomfort of aging, rejection, self-worth, relevance, comparing-and-despairing, self-judgment, failure and not believing we should share this discomfort with anyone. (Which further exacerbates our feeling alone.)
It’s ironic, then, that the art of auditioning (and acting itself) is really about being comfortable being uncomfortable.
In other words it’s about allowing oneself to be seen.
It’s an interesting contradiction because we’re in a business that’s all about “being seen” by putting ourselves out there. Yet the work often asks us to “be seen” in ways that are scary and vulnerable, raw and exposed, embarrassing and human. In short, we don’t, then, want to be seen.
I often tell my students that acting is really about having to be more honest in our work (in class, in a play, on set, in an audition) than we typically allow ourselves in life.
It’s about sharing our private selves publicly.
In the privacy of our homes we’re weird and sexual and complex and messy and obnoxious and loud and freaky. (And in NY you might even see all that on the subway!)
But when it comes to auditioning, we pull it all together and put on a perfect face.
Stop doing that. It results in zero possibility. No life force. No access to anything you want.
Let it all hang out. All. Of. It.
When you do, a casting director or director or producer sees a spark of your unique humanity (i.e., you) and gains insight into how to further open the actor up.
But if you remain a closed system, you’ve lost access to anything that’s remotely interesting. And you give the casting director no other choice but to utter, “Next!”
It sounds so easy. And in many ways it is. But if you haven’t developed a muscle of commitment and going for things consistently it’s actually the hardest thing in the world.
But practice does make perfect. (Or perfectly imperfect!) The more you do it, the more you start giving yourself the permission. And that’s all you can ever do.
No one can ever do that for you. Ever. No agent or manager or casting director or writer or producer or director or boyfriend or girlfriend or parent or teacher or friend.
As Tennessee Williams says, “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
But you have to try.
In your acting. In auditioning. In your life. In romance. In relationships. In learning. In self-expression. In doing things that scare you. In everything.
Simply, in Being Human.
What? “Well, Tony, I can’t very well get a job if I don’t audition!”
Yes, you can. In fact, you book jobs when you take the whole paradigm of what an audition is and turn it on its head.
The term “auditioning” stacks you against yourself and becomes an implicit order of self telling you that you have something to prove.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Absolutely nothing to prove.
You deserve to be here. On this planet and in a casting room. You are already whole and complete regardless of what an agent or manager or casting director (or anyone for that matter!) thinks about your work.
Your job is to tell your story. Not the way you “think” the producers want you to tell it. Not the way you “think” you have to do it. Your job is to do it your way.
Emmy-winner, Bryan Cranston says that you’re not “trying to get a job.”
Your job is to create.
An “audition” is an opportunity. It’s a possibility for someone to see how you choose to interpret the material. They’ve never, ever seen your way. Ever. So you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right just by being brave enough to go into a room and (in your creating) say, “This is how I choose to interpret this.”
Let’s face it. For many actors that’s the only opportunity you might have all week to act. If you’re not in a class, if you’re not on a job, if you’re not rehearsing a play, your “audition” is your two minutes to act. That’s what a 4-year college degree and an MFA in acting has gotten you – literally two minutes to act!
So you better put that degree to some good use and stop analyzing what you think they want. You are what they want, but you don’t think that because you distrust that doing it your way is potent and powerful and unlike anyone else’s. So you acquiesce your power in the name of an “audition” because you’d rather do it “right” or not make a mistake and do it incorrectly and upset someone. Or get bad feedback. Or risk.
What ends up happening? In the name of doing something “right” you do it “wrong!”
Stop trying to figure out what they want. No one knows what they want until they see it. That’s the intangible quality of life itself. It’s energetic. It’s timing. It’s essence. It’s creativity. It’s letting go of control. It’s alchemy.
Why do you book the jobs you have no interest in doing? You know the ones . . . Friday The 13th Part 77 . . . Leprechaun 3D . . . Godzilla vs. Battleship: The Final Sinking . . .?
You simply don’t care.
You’re not attached to how you look or what the casting director thinks of you or if you’re making the “right” choices or nailing the part. Instead, you’re playing (remember what it was like to actually play and have fun?), you’re engaged moment-to-moment, you’re surrendered in listening and unattached. You’re not focused on the end results or trying to get the job.
Then your agent calls and says you booked it and you’re like, “Nooooooo!”
A student reminded me that agents rarely call it “auditioning.” They call you and say, they have an appointment for you. Or a casting office wants to see you. Or your reps say you have a meeting or you’re going in to read for someone.
It’s only actors that create this idea in their head that it’s about a job.
So stop auditioning and what will happen?
You won’t have to anymore because you’ll be so busy working.