Golden Rule #1:
Passion is the key to everything, if you don’t have it, you will never achieve.
You must adore everything.
Life can be strange. I’m amazed by how a single thought can spark a whole chain of events. That is one of the joys of being a “creative”: the very act of creating something that wasn’t there before can truly alter who you are and where you go.
New York is an impossibly exciting city. No matter how many times I visit it I am always struck by it sheer…..well New York-ness! What made my most recent trip to New York a special one is that I’m here for my book, The Golden Rules of Acting (published by Nick Hern Books).
TCG is situated on 8th Avenue – as a Londoner simply saying a number with the word “avenue” after it feels so exciting – and they are taking care of my book in the U.S. The TCG office is full of show posters, theatre magazines and plays they have either published or are distributing; it is a theatre wonderland. As I sat there waiting to meet the team, I couldn’t help but wonder at this stage of my journey and what led me there.
What would make you happy in your life and career? Really happy?
I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since I was a boy.
That feeling was confirmed for me when my Dad took me to see Jaws at the cinema. I was 13 and the experience of that film shook me and awakened me to a couple of key facts:
- Films aren’t just for watching; when they are great they can be a visceral experience. The jolts I suffered that day shaped a taste for dark material that has stayed with me throughout my career.
- Seeing Richard Dreyfus up there on the big screen allowed me to dream in a whole new way. As a stocky, glasses-wearing, curly-haired Jewish teenager, I was looking up at a stocky, glasses-wearing, curly-haired Jewish actor playing one of the leads in the most exciting movie experience I had ever had. Could this be true? Did this mean that that if you weren’t a tall, thin, impossibly beautiful man you could still play leads in films? My world changed.
I pursued every acting opportunity I could. Amateur dramatics in my home town of Leicester, drama classes with the teacher my brilliant Mum found and then off to do Drama A-level at a local college, and finally, when I was 17, being accepted at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama to do the 3-year acting course. I graduated from Guildhall in 1987 and have been working as an actor ever since.
Drama school is a great big stupid joke…
…treat it like one and love every minute of it.
In the 30 years since doing those amateur shows my enthusiasm for acting has never waned, not once. I am blessed with a genetic make-up that means my default outlook is positive; I love what I do so much that the very pursuit of it keeps me excited. The thinking behind “find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is absolutely spot on.
My passion for acting borders on obsession. From the very earliest days I wanted to know what an actor’s life was like. I bought every book on acting I could lay my hands on. But something struck me as I read them. Whilst there was an abundance of material on how to act, how to create a character, the different schools of thought on methodology, styles of performance etc., etc, I couldn’t find anything on what I really wanted to know: What was it like to actually be an actor? How did one survive in the business? How did one sustain a career?
Imagine massive success but plan for total failure.
When I finished drama school and entered the business there was still nothing that represented a real “handbook” of advice on actually existing as an actor – and I craved one. It suddenly felt more important than ever. I was now in the business and I wanted something that would hold my hand, guide me and try to tell me some of the potential traps that lay ahead and how to avoid them.
The desire for that book never subsided, and over the ensuing years it simmered away in the back of my mind. In 2006 I jotted down a few thoughts I had on acting. I often carry a pocket-sized book of quotes with me and in a moment of inspiration, and I scribbled some bullet points down on the inside front cover of the quote book I had with me – it felt like a sensible place for them as I looked at the book so frequently. After a few days a couple more thoughts occurred to me and I noted them down in the same place.
When you get a job, work so hard that you become indispensable.
I soon found that the act of noting these thoughts down had become habitual. Within a week I had started jotting down thoughts on a regular basis. Instead of using the inside cover of the pocket book, I now carried a pad and added new ones as they popped into my head. As I noted them down I began to recognize in them some of the important lessons I had learned about surviving as an actor.
Over the ensuing 5 years I jotted, scribbled and noted thoughts as they came to me. I tried to write in the shortest, most pragmatic way I could. I didn’t want to be flowery; I wanted to cut to the heart of what I wanted to say. I kept being as honest as I could with myself – after all, why lie? It’s better to be aware of the truth and find inspiration in that than limit yourself with half-truths. This was always a personal project for me – a way of reminding myself of what mattered to me about the acting business.
I have a love of quirky design and images and realized that it would help if I could find images to accompany my ideas. I knew that the right image or design could really help me remember the point I was making, it somehow “anchored” it into my mind. I also added into the mix many of the quotes that inspire me. The feeling that someone else had been there before me and done it – or even been there and failed – was a real comfort. I began to think of each point as a “Golden Rule” for me – something to abide by, something that I needed to remember and consider.
Never think, “what a weird audience.” Instead, think, “how can I improve.” It’ll give you something active to do.
Once I had assembled my “Golden Rules,” I carried them around with me, in the way I had my books of quotes. This served several purposes: not only did I enjoy reading them as entertainment, I found them useful in different situations – be that an audition or rehearsal. Most importantly, they reminded me that I was an actor and was living the life that I had always dreamt of. This was something special, something to always protect and cherish.
When I started talking to Nick Hern about publishing the book I knew that I wanted to do something different with it. I wanted it to feel like the pieces of paper I carried around with me, full of odd images, scribbles and, hopefully, inspiring thoughts. I wanted it to be affordable and real-world, something that could act as an honest friend who has been through it, who understands and always tells it like it is.
When a director asks you to try something new, always try it at least three times.
The response to the book in the U.K. has been amazing, and the most heartening thing is that it has crossed over from simply being a book for actors, into a book that has been embraced by all creatives and many freelancers. These rules seem to apply to anyone trying to tread their own path.
I’m so excited and proud that The Golden Rules of Acting is now here in America. I hope that no matter where you are or what you do for a living, it becomes something that can live in your bag or pocket, that is always there for you. It’s the book I always wanted and could never get and now here it is. Enjoy.
Be happy, you’ll work more.