The “perfect conditions” delusion: Insights and advice on giving a great performance under any conditions
Brian and Joe discuss their take on the myth of “perfect conditions” in the acting industry, with tips and guidance based on their own experiences, to make sure that everyday disasters and events not only don’t affect your acting – but actually improve it!
7 things you will learn about:
• Actor’s mentality: “The show must go on”
• Disasters, sleepless nights & more – How to switch it on!
• Staying focused when disaster strikes: Coping with preoccupation
• The importance of the audience – and why they deserve your best
• When less is more: A lesson from Roman Polanski
• Why perfect conditions don’t exist – And why you should just roll with it
• The importance of letting go: Why great acting often starts with “Screw it!”
One man – One mission: To rid the world of low-standard and mediocre acting, once and for all.
Brian Timoney, the world’s leading authority on Method Acting, brings you powerful, impactful, volcanic acting and ‘business of acting’ techniques in his special Acting Podcasts.
It’s Brian Timoney’s World of Acting – unplugged and unleashed.
Brian: Hi everyone, it’s Brian here. And I’m joined by Joe – welcome, Joe.
Joe: Thank you very much for having me, Brian.
Brian: Well, Joe, look, we are going to talk about something quite interesting and we’ve had some experiences of recently.
Brian: Like very recently – as in literally today.
Joe: [laughs] Yes.
Brian: So, what we’re going to talk about today, because I think sometimes actors – and it depends on the type of actor; there are some luvvies out there that, you know, ‘I’m only going to perform, darling, if I have the perfect conditions: the wind is blowing to the east and I’ve got blue M&Ms in my dressing room, et cetera, and then I’m going to take to the stage.’
Brian: But here’s the reality, Joe: we both know that often we have to work/perform under less-than-perfect conditions – in fact sometimes really adverse conditions; the conditions are not set up for you to, I guess, perform your best work. But it’s the reality of the business, of the industry – right? So, I don’t know about you but I have had on occasion situations where on first nights we’ve been rehearsing maybe until about two/three in the morning and then we’re up the next day.
Joe: Yes. Oh, my God – we had to repaint the theatre like the night before you’re going on to do – we literally had – the get-up was such a bad one that they’d drilled through this and drilled through that and it looked completely different to when we went to the theatre. And, oh, we were literally painting – it was a three-hander; it was David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow, which is no – it’s a piece of work, you know? And I remember us like having to move all the furniture again, move everything, people drilling and this and that. And you were like just up all night, and then next day you had the full technical rehearsal…
Brian: Full tech.
Joe: Full tech – which is the terminology, if you don’t know, it’s a full technical rehearsal, which means all the lighting, all the sound cues, making sure that everything is running and tested and that it happens when it’s meant to happen. And then you’ve got to go and perform. Look; there are endless – even like us here today, guys; you do not know the day and night that we’ve had.
Brian: Well, actually this is why we’re talking about this today, because I can admit – you know, I met Joe just outside the studio and he said, ‘How’s it going, Brian?’ and I went, ‘You know what? I’m shattered this morning.’ He said, ‘How come?’ I said, ‘Well, my little baby, Alice, has been up half the night – and so have I as a result.’ And I said, ‘So I’m feeling pretty tired coming into this. But you know what? That’s just the way it is.’ And actually you said, Joe, ‘Well, maybe we should have rescheduled it, done it another time.’ But I said, ‘Well, actually, you know what? I think it’s part of the actor mentality that kicks in and basically says, “You know what? If you’ve got to perform, you’ve got to go on and do something, you have to go and do it.”’
Joe: You just go, yes.
Brian: No matter how fucked you feel or how ill.
Brian: I mean, I’ve actually been on stage – this is a true story: talk about not-the-perfect conditions to perform in! Literally about 20 minutes or less, actually, I was due to perform and a tooth fell out.
Joe: Oh, my God.
Brian: A bloody tooth fell out – right? And luckily it wasn’t painful, but I’m standing there with my tooth in my hand and I’m going, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ [laughs]
Joe: Yes – what the hell am I going to do?
Brian: So, I went and spoke to the stage manager and I said, ‘Look, my tooth has just fallen out.’ And he went, ‘Oh, my God! What are we going to do? You’re due on in five minutes!’ I said, ‘I know. Look, it’s not painful.’ And they said, ‘All right. Okay. Well, go on.’ [laughs] The show comes first – right? ‘If it’s okay, you’re all right with it. Then during/while we’re going through the show, we’ll get a dentist on standby so that if it really kicks in or whatever, they’ll get somebody to come…’
Joe: Yes. It’s amazing. You know, I don’t know why – even with filming, you know, like I will never stop my actions, my needs, my wants. I know that I may have fluffed up a line or mucked up this or done something, because invariably there is a lot of rehearsing on set nowadays in the moment and you’re just trying to find your way round the things (a case in point we’ll go through a little bit later). But you have to be able to adjust with that all the time. and, you know, the tooth falling out, it’s…
Brian: Well, you know the problem with that – a tooth falling out, or not having the perfect conditions – you know, having been up half the night rehearsing, or in my case looking after a baby; whatever the things that happen in life that get in the way, it isn’t so much the fact that it’s happened and how you feel at that moment; it’s actually the potential preoccupation with it while you’re trying to work, because if you go on stage – in my case, I have to admit, that night, I was thinking about the tooth. I was walking around trying not to think about the tooth because I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to perform here and focus on what I’ve got to do.’ But I’ll tell you, it’s pretty hard to entirely forget the fact that this has just happened.
Joe: Yes, that something’s just happened – because it’s a physical reaction as well.
Joe: But the other thing is that somehow, over time – and really, I have to be honest, at first I didn’t really understand it because, you know, you guys have listened to me and to Brian, and you know that I don’t come from a particularly theatrical or filmic background…
Brian: Do you mean that you didn’t come from a silver-spoon theatrical family, Joe?
Joe: No, I wasn’t…
Brian: That shocks me! I always thought that was the case with you, you know?
Joe: You actually thought that when I was nine months old, I was wheeled onto the stage “à la Stella Adler” and left there, and absorbed it all.
Joe: No – it didn’t happen like that.
Brian: Actually, just as an aside, I was reading about Blake Lively, and her parents were actors and they taught as well, and they said that sometimes they couldn’t get babysitters so they took Blake to the class. And so when she was a little girl, she says that she was around all of that watching the classes a lot and took it in.
Joe: You know who else was like that? Julia Roberts.
Joe: Yes; Julia Roberts’ mum and dad had a sort of theatre coaching/teaching theatre studio in some town I think outside of LA – I can’t remember right now – but yes, they had that as well.
Brian: You weren’t one of them.
Joe: I wasn’t one of those, no. I definitely wasn’t one of those. So, the essence of “it goes on” comes from the fact that I started to realise, ‘Hey, 250/2000 people/100 people – whatever – have come to see you.’ They’ve taken half of their evening, which they could have been doing something completely different, and they’ve come to see you. It might not be just you – it might be you and other people in the theatre, the play, but they’ve come to see something. And when that clicks in, something happens that you start to go, ‘Hey, these people are paying me to do what I want to do. They’re allowing me and actually supporting me by coming to see something that I’m in. and I can’t let them down. I can’t let them down.’ I mean, even like now, I’m like I can’t even – Brian, how long have we been teaching? (Touch wood. That’s me touching wood – listen quietly.) We’ve never, ever missed a session.
Brian: That’s true.
Joe: We’ve never missed a session. Now, I know that I’m tempting fate there but we’ve never, ever missed a session.
Brian: That is quite remarkable, when you think about it.
Joe: In over 10 years!
Brian: Yes. That’s quite amazing, isn’t it?
Joe: And Brian’s travelled all around the world to coach.
Brian: Yes, we go to LA and…
Joe: I’m doing gigs left, right and centre to coach. If anything, if anything we’ve bumped into each other going, ‘Isn’t this my session?’ ‘No – this is your session.’
Brian: That has happened like twice.
Joe: Twice, yes. We go, ‘This is my session.’ ‘No, this is your session.’
Brian: ‘What are you doing here?’
Joe: ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘No, this is my one – what are you doing here?’ [laughs] That’s how our mentality is.
Brian: Actually that’s interesting: that we are more likely to turn up rather than not turn up – as in, you know [laughs], we’re more likely to turn up to sessions the minute that we – to be fair, it’s pretty organised but that’s happened a few times over the years, the last decade or whatever.
Brian: But that’s interesting, that it’s that way around.
Joe: And I think that if the listeners – young actors, older actors, new actors, actors who are listening to this for inspiration, if you’re working as well – it seeps out into everything, this kind of mentality. My agent always knows where I’m at. She knows that I’ll be there. She knows that, give or take, if there’s a problem I’ll let her know. You know, I’m so kind of organised in that side of things to do this work, because it’s just ingrained into myself.
And when we did talk at the reception of the Studio, and I was like thinking – the minute I sort of said it, I thought, ‘No, Brian’s not going to cancel this. Let’s get on with it’ – right? By the time we’re in here, we’ll have forgotten everything. And in a weird way, because you are not so – you don’t have the energy to act, to push more; you’ve only got the energy that you’ve got, you’ll start to find that you’ll give really, really good performances.
Brian: Yes. That’s interesting.
Joe: Because you just can’t – there is just nothing else left to give. You can only give what you’ve got in you. So there’s no acting when it starts to…
Brian: That is true actually, that you don’t have extra energy.
Joe: No extra energy to push for things.
Brian: And that’s quite interesting, actually, because sometimes you do your best work – especially when you’re learning I think, when you’re in situations where you’re quite tired.
Brian: Because, you’re right; there’s no extra energy to expend.
Joe: To resist. There’s no energy to resist to the impulses. There’s no energy to resist to maybe what we’re directing you with or asking of you. You know, you’re just in a flow, really.
Brian: It’s interesting, that, because actually last night Natalie and I watched a film called The Tenant with Roman Polanski. He acts in it, which is unusual – he directs and he acts in it. And what was really interesting about his performance – and Natalie observed this – she says, ‘He’s really good actually as an actor. It’s not about what he’s doing – it’s about what he’s not doing.’ And I thought, ‘That’s interesting,’ because when you’re tired, you tend to do less; you’re not trying to push as much.
Brian: And I think she’s right; it wasn’t about what he was doing – it was about what he wasn’t doing. And I think that can happen when you’re really tired. Anyway, we digress slightly off the subject – but it’s true; it’s like you don’t have that resistance…
Brian: And so tend to kind of just go, ‘Oh, Christ. Okay, let’s just do it.’
Joe: You give in to the moment. You surrender yourself to the moment, as is. You know, Brian – you know, you’re not sitting across from him. I am – Brian looks tired, you know?
Joe: There’s no – long gone are the days where we can say, you know, we’ve been up all night because we were partying and…
Brian: [laughs] We were having some great fun!
Brian: Well, it’s different.
Joe: It’s different. But the essence of our being is the same – it’s that the show must go on. You must go on. The performance must happen. And you’ll never have the perfect scenario. There will always be a challenge. And I believe – sorry, Brian, I’m ranting; I’ve just come off the back of this. I believe that you are at your best when there’s an obstacle in the way. If it’s too perfect – it’s back to Stanislavski in the beginning: he made everything perfect. He took care of their bills; he took care of this; he took care of that. And they still performed badly, some actors. And others preformed well that weren’t so good.
So it’s really about you setting your intention and being able to say, ‘Right, okay, this is where I’m at. This is the problem. How do I fix it? How do I become it? What do I need to do?’ and getting on with it – and actually getting on with it.
Sorry, just one more little thing, Brian: it’s also then about trust.
Joe: Trust. Because you then have to let go of all the preconceptions of what you had, because you just have no energy left to hold on to things, and you can just trust that your work is going to be there.
Brian: In a way, you know, there’s a real sort of resistance around, when you’re trying to get things perfect – you know, we’ve talked about this before…
Brian: …but that is one of the biggest obstacles, because there’s a tension around trying to be perfect. There’s a tension, an energy that starts to be exerted by trying to control, and when that is released, then actually better work can occur.
Joe: Yes. We’ve seen it over a lifetime. You know, you’ve seen it over a lifetime. I’ve seen it with other actors. You know, we’re not saying that you don’t aim for excellence – you aim for excellence. But perfect is different. Perfect is kind of a fantasy. Excellence is like a dream, like, you know, ‘I want to dream to be great.’ If you take these Olympic stars at the moment – because it’s 2016 in case you didn’t know and the Rio Olympics are on and we live in the real world – and me and Brian study athletes as well because they have a performance-related environment. An example is yesterday this one guy was in a track on the cycling velodrome and there were two false starts, and you could see like the tension was so intense – it was amazing! And then the third time they got off to the proper start and the guy won. It’s the ones that just – Kenny I think his name is, something Kenny. And, you know, it wasn’t perfect – but his body and his ability to roll with it, to not resist, to just allow things to be as they are – and this comes down to practice as well.
Brian: It does because if the instrument is – when I’m saying the instrument, I mean you, your body, the actor – is ready, then it can perform under any circumstances. Athletes are a good example because sometimes the race or whatever does not go according to plan, but it doesn’t matter because their bodies are able to respond in the moment because they’ve been trained to do that. And it’s the same thing, I believe, for actors in that way. And also there is a correlation because you, the same as an athlete, an actor has to perform in the moment. They’re performing for a very specific moment – for athletes when the gun goes off or whatever, they have to…
Joe: Yes – when the curtain is open, when action is called, it’s the same thing, you know?
Brian: Yes. They’re all training – we’re all training for that moment. And, yes, it would be nice to have the perfect conditions but they very rarely are. And, you know, the other thing is that this idea of perfection, I agree with you, is actually the lowest standard. Let me tell you why: because in order for something to be perfect, you have to create it and then keep it that way. And the fact is that when you start to kind of make something rigidly the same, it becomes dull.
Brian: There’s nothing. There’s no life about it.
Joe: There’s no space. There’s no life.
Brian: Because life isn’t perfect. People are not perfect. Characters are not perfect. Situations are not perfect. Never, never are they perfect – right? There’s always something. So we have to, as an actor – and I’m watching actors, obviously, a lot, and seeing them work – and one of the biggest things I think that holds a lot of actors back is this search for perfection. You know, they want to get it right. And I understand that – you know, I experienced that, especially when I was starting out. But as soon as you get to the stage where you just think, ‘Screw it. I don’t really care anymore…’ I know that sounds counterintuitive, because you do care, but psychologically, when you get to the point you can let go of trying to get it right, that’s when amazing stuff can really start to happen.
Joe: Really, yes. And it opens the door – not like a little bit; it opens floodgates of like possibilities. And the one thing that I forget to mention is that acting is probably the only performance-related art form that your age doesn’t matter. It’s like with athletes – I can’t go in there, even if I trained and did my max, I couldn’t compete with those guys.
Brian: Oh, come on, Joe, let’s do it.
Brian: Next Olympics – when is it? 2020?
Joe: 2020 – I’ll see you in Japan.
Brian: Let’s do it. What do you fancy doing?
Joe: I fancy the velodrome actually, because I like something where you can sit down. So even like a horse – actually a horse; I could probably get into that as well because the horse does all the work really.
Brian: Yes – you get to sit down.
Joe: Yes. Or a bike. But the essence of it – we’re joking but acting, if you’re an older person and you’re coming into acting now, your experience is what takes you somewhere else, you know, and you start to see really great actors become absolutely amazing after about 20 years because they’ve really let go of everything, and they’re still in the business. And, you know, I know that my acting has changed tremendously since – you know, I was a good actor, I feel; I always worked hard. But now it’s a different work; it’s like it flows in a different way. I can tell you that, from being in this art form for a long time now. It flows differently. I have a different way of understanding things. And acting can allow you to be any age to do that. And if you can start young and be able to put that – or you can start at whatever age you start, but have that implemented in you, the world’s your oyster.
Brian: Well, on that note…
Brian: …I think we’ve rounded that up, Joe.
Joe: I think so.
Brian: Yes. So, a quick recap: Don’t wait for the perfect conditions. They will never happen. And you just need to roll with it. Just go with what you’ve got.
Brian: Okay, that’s it for today – and I look forward to speaking to you on the next one.
Joe: Thanks for listening.