Preparing for The Beast

By Joe Marinelli

Are you prepared sign

Do your homework and prepare your character before you get to work because there are many distractions on set.


The phone rings. It's your agent! YOU GOT THE JOB!!! Yeah!!! Oh it feels great. You hang up and immediately call someone you're close to, and after that phone call, you will call the next family member, friend, or mentor, and the next, and so on.,You are a working actor, it's exciting and you want to spread the good news. Someone might even invite you out to celebrate.

Later while looking at your script, someone returns a call that you haven't talked to yet, and so you tell them. You call your agents again, make sure the money is settled, and find out who else is in the project.

You do get some good study time in, and then try to get a good night's sleep before the big day. The alarm rings, and you are ready. You get to the location, and the A.D. shows you around, gets you in make-up and wardrobe, hands you contracts to fill out, and asks what you'd like for breakfast. Wow, they treat you good.

You get to the set, rehearse once or twice, when you are starting to realize this is REALLY happening, and they are just about to film YOU, and boy is this going fast. You need a few moments to gather yourself, but you need to be there and can't just walk off, so you feel a bit trapped. Just as you're composing your thoughts, the director comes up with notes for you to adjust; you have a question, but the make-up artist needs to do their job, and starts patting your face with powder, and the director of photography comes over to check your lighting. You really haven't had a chance to talk with the other actor, and or clarify the director's notes: ACTION! Your chance was there and you weren't able to free yourself up enough to do what you know you could easily do.

Actors are actors because of our imaginations. The beauty we strive to create can also turn ugly if we don't know how to harness and focus this powerful "Beast" in our care. I have been in situations where the Beast has won the battle. There was a period of time I wasn't able to loosen up and trust myself. I love to act, and I felt like I had been robbed of a precious gift. It took a lot of work to solve the problem. I researched psychology, stage fright, meditation, mental illness, vitamins, herbs, minerals, the art of Zen, etc... They all helped I might add. The fun of acting has been back for years.

We actors have many things going on at once. When we are on the set, there is a lot going on that's outside of our relationship with the characters we create. Especially on our first day. Everybody gets nervous on the first day of a job, not just actors. It is just that actors have so many first days. We ask ourselves questions like, "Are they going to be fun? Will they like me? Will they get my work? Is anyone going to be on a power trip?" These are normal questions for any occupation, but us actors have something else to do at work. We have to open up our deepest secrets, and share them in front of a bunch of people we don't know, and have them filmed and shown all over the world. It normally takes months to create trust, and we have to do it as soon as we get there, and make it look natural.

There are so many distractions while trying to create the reality of a character that you must be extremely prepared before you get to work. Be aware of the distractions coming up, and whatever technique you use, make sure you have done your homework. In the quiet time of preparation we get in touch with our deepest feelings, and we need to understand that's where we need to be at the moment of performance. In the quiet time we are free enough to try different things, and we need this relaxation and flexibility when we are on the set when it counts.

While calling friends, family, and loved ones is fun, and relaxing in the moment, it could easily take away our true study time.

I try to make study time as quiet, relaxed and creative as possible. I make sure the light is good on my work. The space is peaceful, and no one can interrupt me. I have at hand anything that I might want to go get, such as water, fruit, more pencils or pens, and so on.

I get all my cerebral stuff out of the way during the first few reads, like figuring out the literature of the piece, the conflict, the theme, and where my character fits in. I constantly tinker with it, and never put a limit on my creativity, but I make sure I have a solid base from which to play. The more I work, the more I get into what I call the creative or subconscious level. My instincts in rehearsal take me to beautiful places, so I need to find what will trigger them the quickest on a set. This takes work.

There have been really emotional parts that I've played, where I needed to stay away from the words, because just whispering them could take me away. If something hits you that strongly, you can burn it out before you get to the set. It might change from the audition to the performance, so instead of rehearsing it over and over because it is so much fun, you need to honestly understand what shoots your heart. Let that pain drive the scene, and the control here is staying away from it. In order to learn your lines, you can try repeating them rapid fire with no emotion attached. They will be at the tip of your tongue, and at your command when the time comes.

Whenever I think I am done with creating a character, I keep going, because I know what's in store at an audition or a set. Know what you want. This is hard because you are going to want to please others. Trying to please everyone will only create anxiety. I only try to please myself (this includes doing what the director asks, and giving to my fellow actors). I am never afraid to talk with a director if we differ. I want to see it their way, for they are in charge of the big picture, but I also want my understanding to be honest. Each director is obviously different. Some may not speak to you like you prefer. Don't let this shut you down. Keep open, and keep creating. Translate what they are saying into words that you like to hear. I try never to take it personally if a director doesn't want to use my choice, for I am creating, NOT being perfect.

I have worked very hard at NOT being perfect. Perfection is so hard to achieve that one would constantly feel like a failure if they repeatedly didn't reach it. I used to go over and over why I wasn't perfect on my way home from a set, and this left me dreading going to work the next time. I realized how bad this was for my self esteem. Now, on the day of the filming, or each night in a play, I try looking for something new, like light on an actor's face, or a new image in my mind, or a new way something is said, by me or a fellow actor. These new things become a goal, and when I see them, or hear them, I know that my aesthetic eye is alive and well and in the moment. This search has become so enjoyable that I can't wait to find the unknown on the next set.

There is a creator and a critic in each of us. When it is time to perform, we must ask the critic to take the day off, because they will only get in the way; reminding us of every little thing we do wrong, keeping us in judgment of ourselves, and pushing perfection. They are good to have around during rehearsal, but not during performance. The critic takes no risks. The creator is always taking risks. Be the creator.

When you are at and audition, on stage, or on a set, make sure you know why you are there. Are you there to get another project? Are you there to meet a good friend? Are you there to be nice to others? Are you there to portray a living, breathing soul?

People will want to talk with you. That is fine, it could even loosen you up if you are prepared. I have seen great actors hit themselves on the head because right before a take they were talking to someone about a really good recipe, instead of preparing their moment before.

The phone rings. It's your agent! YOU GOT THE JOB!!! Yeah!!! Oh it feels great. You are a working actor, so it's time to get to work. Your focus is to have fun on the set, and you need to do everything you can to make that happen. You exercise, eat right, get your sleep, and make sure prepare properly. Once you are in command of the work, you will have fun on the set. Afterwards you can treat yourself to something special, and of course call your friends to tell them when and where they can see you.
Joe Marinelli is a professional actor. He's had starring roles in numerous films and has appeared in dozens of television shows including "The West Wing," "NYPD Blue," JAG" and "ER."

Copyright © Joe Marinelli. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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