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Monday, September 24, 2012

*My interview with Ivana Chubbuck

I first met Ivana Chubbuck in 1990. I had moved from New York and my N.Y. teachers could only coach me by phone. No internet. No cell phone yet. I prepared my first episode of "thirtysomething" on a payphone call to Manhattan. But I needed someone local, someone good. Ivana was my first L.A. coach and she quickly proved that she had the eye and the talent to make powerful choices with any text I brought her. In time, she developed a stable of actors that worked with her, including Halle Berry, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Jim Carrey, James Franco, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel and many others. Ivana has her own studio firmly established on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Ivana is also the author of the best selling book, "The Power of the Actor." 

This interview took place on September 22nd, 2012.

Who has inspired you most? bottom line.

My father.  He is a holocaust victim who escaped from Germany when he was a teenager -- yet he succeeded as a lawyer, here in the states.  He used his trauma, not to self-destruct like most people do, but rather to overcome and win.  Which is the basis of my technique (the Chubbuck Technique).  I saw how effective it was first hand through my growing up years.  He was also a workaholic – something I got from him too.

What are the earliest films you remember being moved by?

In film school I saw “Queen of Hearts”, “The Fixer”,  anything by Bunuel (satire at its best).   These films made me want to become a part of the process.  I not only work with actors, but I script doctor, and work with directors.

What actors and actresses from the 30s and 40s do you admire most?

Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Katherine Hepburn. Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers (except Zeppo, and Gummo),  James Stewart

What did you think/ how did it feel when you heard your name spoken by an actor in their Academy Awards speech?

Humbled.  For me the best part, for example, was when Halle Berry won the academy award and called me the next morning and said, “this is our Oscar, because it’s your ideas on the screen.”  I find it’s the more unpretentious actor who makes the craft more important than fame, that is more likely to get that fame – not as an end to itself, but just a part of the package.   I know this, as all the actors that I’ve helped to become stars (and there are over 100 of them) – their focus was on learning, they weren’t afraid to expose their innermost secrets and darkness, were willing to take the risk of making bold choices, and had an intense work ethic.

You are one of the most hard working people I know. How many hours do you spend per week teaching and coaching? 

About 80 hours a week, sometimes more, if I’m working in workshops abroad.   And I do those a lot.  Just this year, I’ve been working in Austria, Greece, Australia, Italy, Copenhagen, Dublin, and soon to go to Venezuela and Dominican Republic and Israel.  But when you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like work. 

You worked hard to make your vision of coaching actors a reality. I’m not sure everyone gets to hear that journey. Do you want to share any of that? Where you started and how you made it all happen?

I was an actor, who started to teach to “support” my acting habit.  I ultimately found that my joy of teaching the craft far exceeded actually being an actor.  So I quit acting, and became a fulltime coach and teacher.  I find great joy in being the nurturing force behind the scenes.  And when one of students either makes a break-through or lands that star-making role, I feel like a proud parent.  I know my resource and my motivating behavior is part of that actor/writers/directors success.  Again, like a parent feels when their child succeeds. 

Opening a new studio can be a challenging time. Did students flock to you immediately or did it take time to get a following that big?

Success in any business takes time to create.   It takes falling on your face, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, having epiphany moments, exploring, growing, always learning.   As I grew as a better and more substantial teacher, so did my following.  I don’t sit on my laurels either, I think if a teacher stops learning, then a teacher should stop teaching.

Actors bring a lot to their training, sometimes a lot of baggage. Their issues, vulnerability and the need to be guided to the next level in their work. What are some of the greatest obstacles you have have dealt with when teaching actors?

The best way of looking at all that “baggage” is not as obstacles,  but rather as gifts.  The more issues you have, the more colors you have in your palate to use in your work.  I truly believe it is those that are without baggage, that are the less interesting people in the world.  If you look at the most important people in history and in the present – they all have so much baggage – but they become “dynamic” individuals as they didn’t perceive it as baggage but as the substance that makes the mountain that needs to be climbed and conquered!  Great way to look at life too.

Do you ever suggest an actor attend therapy?

Sometimes actors confuse acting with therapy, and although there is some therapeutic aspects that emanate from working from personalizations, it is no substitute for the real thing.   A question I get asked a lot is “if I go to therapy, will I lose the elements I need for my work?”  I believe people confuse therapy with a “cure-all”.  Therapy doesn’t take the pain away, it just helps you understand how to incorporate it in life’s choices so that you can live without being self-destructive, but rather in a healthy way.  Therapy helps one to understand themselves better.  An actor who really understands him/herself has a lot more colors to pull from.  It’s a good thing, if you think you need it.

If an actor does have a successful audition and gets a callback, how should an actor approach a callback? 

Wear the same thing, and tweak what you’ve done in the previous audition to make it more high stake, and more specific.  Never go in doing exactly the same thing you did before.  Bring more to the work.  They expect that each callback you’ll be better, not precisely the same.  But don’t change it radically, just add.

I have had friends who were very talented slowly destroy themselves living in L.A.  Have you ever watched a student self destruct, and if so , what do you think a teacher can do in that situation?

Hollywood isn’t for everyone.  Often actors come here expecting the same accolades they got in their hometown.  But an actor has to realize, there’s millions of dollars resting on whether the actor can pull in an audience.  The people who produce tv and movies see it as a business.  And it is!  It’s not a popularity contest, it’s whether the powers that be can see you as someone who can take the millions they’ve invested, and make even more money by casting them.  If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, as they say.  It takes the mark of a very empowered person to deal with all the day to day bullshit that one has to deal with here.  But if you can withstand it, continue to see failure as a momentary part of life, and overcome and win in spite of those that are your naysayers – then your success is very, very, satisfying.  Because you have bounded over the highest hurdles and achieved!!  

I tell my students this, see Hollywood as a challenge, like an extreme sport.  You don’t always win, but it’s in the trying to win that creates adrenalin and then the journey to success becomes much more enjoyable.

What is a healthy way for an actor/ actress to handle oneself while on the journey of making an acting career?

Don’t have tunnelvision regarding the business.   There are other important things that you can invest your time in, as well.  Charity work, hobbies, sports, etc.  This way you integrate your life with more than acting.  It also makes you a more rounded person, and ultimately enables you to have more to draw from – because you are living life, not just performing it.

There are some actors who can communicate thought on screen. There are others who do not. Aside from talent, what do you see as this internal process?

If you read the chapter in my book, “THE POWER OF THE ACTOR” there is a chapter on INNER MONOLOGUE.   If you duplicate real human beings, when they are not speaking, they are having a massive amount of thoughts that are very specific regarding what’s going on in front of them, and who they are communicating with.  We must duplicate the true human process by thinking, responding and feeling, even when those thoughts aren’t voiced.  The truth is an audience can read the thoughts of an actor if they have a lot going on in their mind.  The audience too, can perceive when nothing is going on in the actors head and it tends to be off-putting for the viewer.  An actor can actually steal a scene without any or little dialogue by using Inner Monologue.  But, again, it is best explained in my book, in the Inner Monologue chapter.

How do you feel an actor can use your technique best in approaching the tight shot? This is where making bold choices has to be tempered to address the technical demand of being so big in the frame, hence so big on the screen. 

Do the same work, but make it a tad smaller by internalizing it.

You have an amazing ability to connect an actor who is holding their audition his or her own present life circumstance in a way that serves the piece. Can you say anything about how you approach this?

Auditions are just the opportunity for the casting/director/producers to see your abilities as an actor.  They want to see the character come to life, not to see tricks.  I just give the auditioning actor the same tools I use when they are actually doing the part. In this way you can be authentic.

You always make amazing choices, what inspires you?

Weirdly enough, I get those ideas from the actor themselves.  I feel from the actor, a subconscious need to “do” something, yet the actor doesn’t “do” it for fear that it will be perceived as “too much”.   Censorship in any form is antithetical to the artistic process.  I just intuit that particular actor’s inner instincts, make them do what they instinctually wanted to do, maybe add a bit more for flourish (which comes from me) – but basically its an ensemble creation.  A good teacher doesn’t direct, a good teacher helps to exorcise an actors gifts, make them aware of it, help to bring it out, then let the actor “fly” from there.   I don’t want to control talent, I want to inspire greatness!

With all the energy you encounter in class, how do you take care of yourself as a teacher? 

I feed off the creative spirit of my students -- it energizes me.  I truly miss all that “energy” when I have my 3 week down time at Christmas.  All that energy keeps me young in spirit. 

You set up circumstance so very clearly, do you ever use improv as a learning tool in class?

Yes.  I also think it’s okay to ad-lib when you are doing comedy.  In the audition, or work situation – with comedy, they look to see if you can roll with the big boys.  Most comedy movies (and often tv) have a good deal of improvisation involved.  You should be up to task.

Do you ever kick an actor out of class? Once you realize there is such a conflict building, how do you handle this situation?

NO, for me its about the craft, not a clash of egos.  If the actor doesn’t feel that they are being well-taught, they have the option to leave.  I don’t feel that I should in any way see myself as a guru, or have that “God complex” where I should in any way dash someone’s dreams and aspirations.  I leave it to the student to decide they might be better served elsewhere.  And I wish them much luck wherever their journey takes them.

How has the expectation of the actor (and teacher) changed since the 70s?

Back then, “less was more”, they were just discovering Stanislavski and truth in acting, So, being still, and letting it happen in the eyes was the desired result.

In present day, “more is more”, -- acting is more about making bold choices, of course based in absolute truth – but bolder nevertheless.  And bringing more physicalization to the work because behavior is key.  We should be able to turn down the sound and still laugh and cry in the right places.  That can’t be done with just standing there and emoting.   Duplicating real human behavior, is creating a set of behaviors that are applicable to the character’s reality, thereby making the character unique.  This has to be done organically...The Power of the Actor gives you the tools to do this.

Some actors on screen look as if they have chosen a character secret. That there is a secret that they have operating and no one will know it. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Having a secret, that makes sense to the character, and your personal life is a great way to up the ante of the character’s journey.  I talk about this all the time.  However, you must do this last, it’s not the only piece to the puzzle, but a great addition to all the details and choices that you’ve made regarding putting some weight to the character that you are creating.   

Brando has said that we are all actors, and that we are acting everyday in our lives. While this may be true, why do you think he refused to speak about the internal processes of professional acting?

What actors are supposed to use in their work are their secrets, their vulnerable underbelly, their insecurities, their fears, etc.  Brando, like many actors, want to keep the mystery in their work.  Let people fantasize about the glamour of an actor – the truth is it’s hard work.   It takes a lot of courage to use what most people consider too difficult to deal with.  I agree with Brando, let the actor create a character that people can believe is real.  By revealing the process, it takes away the audiences ability to believe that the character portrayed is genuine and not of the actors making. 

What is the task of the beginner? Where does the beginner start technically?

A beginner should study, study, study.  If you go on auditions before you are ready, you have effectively burned a bridge.  It’s hard to get back into a room when you screwed up the first time.   Give yourself at least 6 months to a year of concentrated study time.  Then, and only then, should you put yourself in front of the people that can hire you.  

Can you say anything about the approach to coaching teen actors?

I find that many schools have been using my book as a text book in the upper classroom levels in Highschool (as well as colleges and universities around the world).  The  Chubbuck technique is based in the science of behavior, and psychology, and cultural anthropology.  Science. Thus, like any social science course, should be applicable to teens 15 and up.

After working with a coach,  actors leave to go to their auditions with  a wonderful sense of the work but many never let you know how it went. How do you learn to accept that as a teacher?

It’s really not about my ego, and how I got someone a job.  I’m elated when someone books something, whether informed or not by the actor themselves.  It means what I’m teaching works, and that is most important to me.  It’s my job to be inspired to inspire other’s to greatness.   If that happens, I’ve done what I set out to do.

Do you remember anything about how we first met in 1990 when I was shooting thirtysomething? 

I remember our work together and all the trials and tribulations that you were going through in your then present relationship and how we infused it into the work as a way to better deal with your circumstances.  I find if you use what is presently hurting you in one’s work, it’s a very effective way to find catharsis – both for you, and the audience who might very well be going through the same thing.  Better to “paint” with one’s emotional pains, and therefore create a beautiful “canvas”, then to sit and let it fester becoming a metaphoric malignancy within the actor’s system.   I also remember you being very special.  At the time I was writing for TV Guide, and they asked me to pick out 10 stars of the future.  I picked you!

You and I have worked together many times. You are amazing at your ability to make choices that move the actor. Your eye is truly one of the best. Thank you for all your work and for taking the time to answer these questions. 

You are welcome...!

                    click for Ivana's website


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

*My interview with director/ casting director Risa Bramon Garcia

I first worked with Risa Bramon Garcia many years ago in New York at the Ensemble Studio Theater. The play was Bill Bozzone's "Rose Cottages," with Bill Cobbs, Grace Zabriskie and Bill Cwikowski.

Since then, Risa has served as the casting director on 65 films, including "Born on the Fourth of July," "Wall Street," "Speed," "Benny and Joon," "Fatal Attraction," "True Romance," "The Joy Luck Club," "How to Make an American Quilt," "JFK," "Heaven and Earth," "The Doors," "Flirting with Disaster," "At Close Range," "Natural Born Killers,"  "Masters of Sex," and many others. She has been teaching actors in workshops since 1989, she has produced numerous productions and has opened her L.A. acting studio "BGB: BramonGarciaBraun Studio." with teacher Steve Braun. Risa has also directed two films "200 Cigarettes" and "The Con Artist." 

This interview took place in a series of emails in mid September, 2012.

Corey: A day in the life of a casting director who is bringing actors in? What’s that like? 

Risa: It’s grueling, intense, non-stop, exhausting, stressful, sedentary, endless, eye-soring (computer), and sometimes exhilarating – when actors do great work!
Corey: Have actors ever shown up uninvited because they want you to see them? How do you handle the incessant drive of actors to be seen?

Risa: I honestly don’t know how I handle actors. I love the commitment, the passion, the drive. But I have a very hard time with neediness, child-like behavior, self-centeredness. I wish that actors would realize that while they MUST focus on their own experience, it’s NOT ABOUT THEM. In the work or in the industry.
Once an actor showed up for an audition uninvited and when I turned him away he took a dump on the doorstep. True.

Corey: What do you need from an actor?

Risa: I need hard work, commitment, relentless energy and enthusiasm, imagination, an eagerness to collaborate, heart, soul, and some fun. A sense of humor. And a healthy life in the world – friends, family, hobbies, sports, interests outside the work, these also feed the work.

Corey: When did you give your first actor workshop? What was that experience like?

Risa: I did my first workshop with Ensemble Studio Theater in LA in 1989, at the outdoor Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, and it was glorious. I knew then that this was something I could do and would do again.

Corey: What are the inner enemies of the actor?

Risa: Self-doubt, self-obsession, being a victim and not taking responsibility, laziness, listening to the demons, needing validation from everyone, lack of trust, not really wanting it enough and not admitting that, lack of spirit and imagination, excuses…

Corey: Are there any things you recommend for an actor to do that are healthy for their mind and heart?

Risa: Do things for yourself. Keep yourself active, mind, body, spirit. This is for you as an actor. And as a human being. Live a full and active and passionate life.

First… Get off the computer…

Take a physical workshop like Alexander Technique, Tai Chi, Kickboxing, Pilates, Karate. Feel and know your body, strengthen it. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better.

Go to acting class. As a workout. (Don’t be a class rat, but find a class or 2 that suit you and work out!)

Do some teaching, coaching. Acting or otherwise. Find what you’re great at and share that. We are all teachers.

Write a script. A movie, a tv pilot, a play, a novel, a short story. Write something. Write every day.

Make a movie, a short, a web series. Find peers and put it together.

Direct something. Produce something.

Get together with colleagues and work on material. For fun. In your living rooms.

Be the “reader” for fellow actors as they prepare their auditions.

Be a reader for casting directors, theatre companies, whatever you can find.

Join a theatre company. Create a theatre company. Find your tribe.

Submit yourself through backstage, actors access… find a way to get the breakdowns. Ask your fellow actors how.

Talk to your agents and managers frankly about where you are. And even if you’re frustrated let them see your passion and commitment w/o complaining.

Take a class in improv, Shakespeare, singing, tap, circus arts -- something different for you.

Learn a new skill. An instrument, a sport, a creative endeavor. Knit, dance, make pottery, cook, write poetry, surf, take photographs… learn new technology…

Develop your voice. Do something to strengthen your voice; it’s one of your greatest instruments.

Take a spirituality or creativity course or go to a retreat. Raise your consciousness and spirituality.

Work with someone on your career plan. A mentor, life coach, teacher, friend. Make plans. Have an agenda. Stimulate your dreams.

Read. Everything. Acting books, novels, biographies, the newspaper.

Write a blog.


Be in nature and just be.

Do yoga, meditate… find the peace and centeredness.

Work on your acting. Every day.

Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Fill your life with things you love. Develop new passions. Expand. Your days will be full and your life will be richer. Your acting will soar. As will your career. And you’ll surprise yourself. Anything is possible.

Corey: What do you NOT want to see when an actor comes in the room? 

Risa: I don’t want to see fear, anger, and exhaustion. I don’t want excuses. I don’t want generality. I don’t want you to hide. I want you to show up, commit, bring yourself in a deep, personal and authentic way. I want you to get ‘off yourself’ and actively engage the other characters in the scene. I want to see high stakes – for the character and not you. I want to feel you living inside the character’s circumstances. I want you to take me on your adventure. I want it to be exuberant. And I want you to be prepared!

Corey: What blows you away in the casting room?

Risa: What blows me away is when an actor is fully invested in the work and not the job!

Corey: You started casting in the early 1980s. Since you began, how has the industry changed what the process of casting is? How have you changed what you do?

Risa: It’s changed a great deal since I started back in the 80s. It used to be a really autonomous filmmaker’s experience. A director/filmmaker would have a vision and casting would purely honor that. At least somewhat purely. Over time the marketing of films, TV shows, and plays has become a bigger focus; marketing departments have started to become more significant in the casting strategies of films and shows. 

In addition, with technology, there are more and more executives watching auditions, weighing in, so the process has lost its autocracy and become, frankly, a free for all. Everyone has an opinion about casting, music and wardrobe. Everyone’s an expert. It’s diluted the kind of creativity that we had even 10 years ago.
And technology has changed the way everyone watches auditions. Mostly they’re viewed on one’s computer screen, or iPad, or smartphone. It’s less personal, but it will ultimately allow for more of the actor’s control in self-taping and getting to play in the room with casting directors. 

Corey: This fall you and Steve Braun are opening your own acting studio in Los Angeles "BGB-BramonGarciaBraun Studio," what’s your vision?

Risa: Our vision is that: We're committed to exploring the work of an actor in a unique way. We're providing a community of classes where actors will be challenged and supported in ways they’ve likely not experienced before. Where they can do the work that matters. To them and to us – Steve and myself. Where the exploration is purely about being truthful, authentic, specific, tuned, courageous, free, and alive. We're passionate and extremely excited about this work, and we can't wait to share it. We invite actors to be a part of this profound, personal, transformational (life and career changing), joyous work.
We’re starting with acting fundamentals, auditioning the right way, on-camera classes, teen classes, workshops, events, and more… Very exciting.

And Corey, come teach with us when you’re in LA! It’s just right.

Corey: You are coming to Memphis, TN to give your Master workshop. The state of Tennessee is not giving tax breaks to outside film production companies; as a result, the actors in Memphis are in a no man’s land. My goal in bringing you to Memphis is for these actors to have access to an experience that they would not otherwise have. What is your goal for these actors?

Risa: My goals for the Memphis actors are to a) do the work in a real and powerful way, b) to get a sense of what’s necessary in order to be able to compete in any marketplace, c) to figure out how to self-tape successfully, d) and to inspire them to create, to generate their own content! And also to play – this is supposed to be fun!

Corey: Are there any casting directors who have inspired you?

Risa: Gretchen Rennell (Flashdance, The Cotton Club, Reds) and Juliet Taylor (Woody Allen movies) have inspired me. And the great Marion Dougherty. They both worked for Marion.
(see links below on the Casting By movie about Marion.)

Corey: All casting directors are not alike. Do you agree or disagree? 

Risa: All casting directors are alike in that they want great actors to show up and do great work. They all do advocate for the actor, some more enthusiastically than others, but they/we all want actors to be great. We’re all very different in styles and approaches. It’s funny – people seem to think that we’d all be the same. But we’re as different as directors, writers, composers… are from each other. Check out the new documentary: CASTING BY. It’s coming out on HBO soon and here’s the trailer/website. It sheds new light into the casting director.

Corey: When an actor wants to take class, what criteria should they use in selecting a teacher?

Risa: Your teacher must inspire you. And challenge you without bullying. Your teacher must be about your truthfulness. Your teacher must be about you, not him or her. Your teacher must take you someplace where you feel free, alive, and honest in your work, and the focus is on the work, not the career.

Elia Kazan said it well:

“A good teacher never lies, and a good teacher never tells you what you should be or do. A good teacher tells you what you’ve done, what worked, and leads you toward the full realization of a character written and waiting for full expansion. The gifts do not come from a teacher or a prayer or a regime: the gifts are within you. Always have been, always will be. The hazardous and tricky process is teasing them out, finding comfort in having them exposed, keeping them ready for use. There is magnificence in every artist. I believe this. I do not say this to flatter, and I do not say to this to many people, but when you find an artist–and there are many and of many degrees–you husband the artist and the talent within. You walk with them. You lead them to a place they can furnish with their gifts. A good teacher does not supply these gifts, but he can and should walk the artist toward the place where they are wanted, needed, and can be used. Fewer things are more gratifying than the deliverance of an artist to a consummation his gifts deserve.”

Corey: When an actor from Memphis (or anywhere) moves to L.A. to build a career, what must they do to set themselves up right?

Risa: This is a big question. Classes – audit a lot of them to find the right fit, theatre theatre theatre, find a community of like-minded artists, patience, a life outside of the work, and enough money to find some comfort in the time it’s going to take.

Corey: How does an amateur become a pro?

Risa: Keep training, doing theatre, creating, all the time. Serious about the work, working harder and with more commitment and energy than anyone else. Still finding the ease, joy and love of it.

Corey: If an actor moves to L.A, can they take your class? How should they contact you? Is there anything else you want to add?
Risa: They should come to LA and take my classes. I’m starting a Studio right now. 

The BramonGarciaBraun Studio-BGB. Email me, check out our website: 

Come on over; we’re doing amazing work.

Corey: What words come to mind for each of these director’s with whom you've worked?

Oliver Stone – opinionated, brilliant, tormented, bully, challenging, respectful (in terms of the creative process), aggressive, passionate, daring, bullheaded, driven.

Jonathan Demme – complicated, sensitive, dark, odd, unconventional, musical, peculiar, egocentric, alternative, intelligent.

Tony Scott – (this makes me sad), driven, tortured, testosterone, sweet, craggy, funny, lovable.

Corey: Risa, you are always so generous. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me in this setting, and for coming to Memphis. I know it is out of your way. You’re awesome!

Risa: My great pleasure. I’m excited to come back to Memphis. Thanks for having me back.