Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Name is Mark... and I'm an Actor

When I first started acting, I felt like I did when I first got sober, I was ashamed and embarrassed to say that I was an ac... act... actor. Like the Fonz in Happy Days trying to say he was wr... wr... WRONG. God forbid someone would ask me what I'd been in or why I wasn't on TV like the other guy that looks just like me. Several years in acting class did not fix it. Doing plays, short films, even a scene in Ocean's 11 opposite Brad Pitt didn't fix it either. I still could not help but feel uncomfortable about saying I was an actor. What I've come to see now is, I'd been focusing on what I thought it meant to be an actor. I thought, to be able to say you're an actor, you had to be a "Successful Actor" -- meaning someone who made a living from their acting. My mentor, Milton Katselas, didn't bother with the psychology of the whole  thing when I wanted to quit acting and just direct. He said to me, "You haven't given the acting thing a hundred percent. What you're not confronting in your acting will block you as a director. Do twenty scenes for me, I'll pick them out, and then you decide if you're done with acting." (You can read more on this in a previous blog, TO ACT... OR TO DIRECT... THAT WAS THE QUESTION)   He knew that I couldn't think my way into confidence as an actor, I had to actually push past my shit and build the confidence.

I started out in the film business behind the camera. I've done everything professionally, except make-up, hair and wardrobe, but feel I could probably do pretty good in a pinch. What I ended up doing the most, was art department and props. When I first started acting, I would take six months off work and do acting classes, plays and short films. Then I'd run out of money and jump on a movie doing props for six months. That was hard to keep the momentum going and wasn't helping me to own the 'Actor' title. Because, at the time, I believed, to be able to say that I was an actor, I had to be, well, acting, full time, and not doing anything else. When I finally found the Beverly Hills Playhouse and started working with Milton, it was hard to justify taking off for six months to do props on a movie. Fortunately, a lot of the art directors and prop masters I had been working for, transitioned from movies into commercials. Commercials are sweet gigs, they're not as big a time commitment, from six months down to a week to two weeks. And as I look back at it, it was totally doable to do both BUT... I was still thinking, that to be an actor, I just needed to act and be willing to NOT do props anymore.

Somewhere around 2005, I stopped doing props on commercials or movies and tv and was going to just make money as an actor. I'd supplement my income with headshot photography and graphic design. Things that I could control schedule-wise. Key word here is 'supplement' which means I'd be making money as an actor. Well I didn't at first, or even second or later for that matter. Which is why I ended up doing The Bannen Way. But before I did Bannen, I was doing those freakin' scenes in class for Milton. He did a small workshop with some of the advance class students, I think there were a dozen from the two classes. He took people that had been in class for a long time, veterans, veterans who'd done good work, made progress, but still had not broken out or broken through. I was one of those students. On the first class he sat at the end of the stage and said that if he wanted to, he could go around the room and just point to a student and tell them what their issue was. And then he proceeded to do it to a couple people. Then he started to ask us what we thought was holding us back. He got to me and I just blurted out that I didn't feel like I was an actor. That I still didn't have the confidence. I'm sure there were tears that followed, it was a very intense day. He said that doing props, or being a stage manager for him, allowed me to hide, to be the 'second banana' he called it. He told me that I was a leading man, that I needed to own that. I thought "No shit, Sherlock... but what do I do?" Every scene I did for him, he demanded that I speak up, don't back down from my choices, to trust myself and encouraged me to be the fool. It was so fucking uncomfortable, but the REWARD was so worth it. I can now look someone in the eyes and say that I am in fact, an ACTOR.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I was trying to describe to him that my 'discomfort' level, when I'm doing something towards my dream, goal or vision, is so much higher than when I'm not doing them, and instead, thinking small, living in fear and scarcity. I've always had the misconception that if I was doing what it was that I wanted to do in my life, like acting, writing or directing, that it would come easy and feel great all the time. But the irony is, it's the opposite. Since I'm a guy, who by my nature wants to AVOID any kind of discomfort or pain in my life (ie: addict) I'd rather not do things that make me feel uncomfortable. So what happens when I'm not following my dream or earning the necessary money I need to have a roof over my head and food on the table is, I am really uncomfortable. I'm so used to it, that now, that level of 'discomfort' is on, I'd say, a level 2, on a scale from 1 to 10. Most people that have more traditional careers and who aren't freelance like me, would, for sure, be at a level 10. But I'm used to it, and I can just chalk it up to the 'fate of my life' and feel sorry for myself. Where as, if I'm actually putting myself out there creatively, my discomfort is at a level 15. I'm more uncomfortable getting a call for an audition, working on the audition, auditioning, getting the callback, booking the job and then finally shooting the scenes. I'm more uncomfortable because I'm facing head-on, my own shit, my old tapes that have been keeping track of every effort I've made towards my dreams and clocked every single failure, negative comment or imperfect thing I've ever done, and tells me that I'm wasting my time and they're all going to find out that I'm a fraud. I read that every time Sean Penn finishes a movie he thinks it'll be his last one. That we'll finally figure out he doesn't know what he's doing. Sean Freakin' Penn... WTF???

So one day at a time, I try to be as uncomfortable as possible. I think this is where my true potential lies. I'm not talking about being a 'tortured artist' for tortured artist sake. I'm talking about pushing past my crap and creating great art and entertainment and being able to sleep at night by knowing I left it all on the table. That's the goal today, instead making success an academy award winning film or even my face on a billboard (how could I not link that?). Today I shoot for being successful if I'm doing something towards my vision, a call, an email, my diet, or creating another project... even if it's uncomfortable. That's what I strive to do.

My name's Mark... and I'm a grateful ACTOR.

I'm always curious to know how people conquer their fears and succeed. Let me know what you do.

I've forgot to mention that eight months ago I started doing props on commercials again with my very talented art director and good friend Loren Lyons. We have a blast working together and I'm giving it a hundred percent when I'm there (most of the time...). The major shift for me was the willingness to earn income doing something other than my 'dream job' and trust that if I kept moving towards my goals, little by little, they'd actually come to be. The result has been amazing. Opportunities went away and others appeared. In the last eight months, I've booked six acting gigs (two national commercials), three directing gigs. taught three web series workshops, spoke on twelve panels, been nominated for two Rockie Awards, had a project optioned and have had more auditions for lead roles in pilots than I've ever had. So there you go... my best thinking was to not work so I could be available for auditions and meetings - then I was broke and stuck. It's amazing, a little faith and small doable goals have made my life much more fulfilled.