I heard from an actress recently who was frustrated about her work on a recent TV series. She had a medium size role that was complicated by a lot of physical activity.
The main problem, she said, was the lack of rehearsal. Unfortunately that’s a dilemma we face when we’re working in film or TV. We don’t have weeks of rehearsal to iron things out. Producers simply don’t budget either the time or the money for rehearsal. Actors are expected to be fully prepared and ready to work when they report to the set.
There are a few exceptions:
Sam Mendes directed the film American Beauty, Mr. Mendes is a very talented stage director and because American Beauty was his first film he asked for and got three weeks of rehearsal. The payoff was amazing and you would think producers would pay attention. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for Best Actor, Sam Mendes won one for Best Director, Alan Ball won for Best Screenplay, Annette Bening was nominated for Best Actress and the film won for Best Picture.
However, that isn’t the norm and actors often suffer for it. What you have to do is to make sure you are as prepared as you can be. Actors, smart actors, will get private coaching before they step in front of the camera. Most directors, because they have so many other things to focus on, turn a blind eye to this. Actually they’re grateful for the help because let’s face it, not all directors are good at coaching actors.
A lot of television shows employ a “dialogue coach” whose sole purpose is to get the actors ready to shoot. Not only do they make sure the actors have learned their lines but they also make sure the actors know the intent of the scene. The dialogue coaches get notes from the director as to how he/she wants the scene(s) to go and the dialogue coach “directs” the actors.
Often times however, actors are on their own and have to get help wherever they can.
I was at a cocktail party years ago and Cloris Leachman, a wonderful actress with an incredible resume, told a story about how she prepared for her role of Anna Sage in the film Dillinger. Anna was from Romania and she was the famous woman in red, the woman who fingered John Dillinger to the F.B.I. The day before she started shooting Ms. Leachman called the Romania Embassy in Washington, D. C. She read her lines to the receptionist and asked the receptionist to say the lines back to her. That’s how she got the accent she needed.
Remember a good portion of what you are going to do on the set is what you did in the audition. That is why they hired you; they liked what you did in the audition. So take that information, add whatever else you can glean about your character from the script, make sure you know your lines and then leave yourself open for whatever last minute adjustments the director may have. If you have props to deal with, practice using them. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can get on the set before shooting starts to work out your character’s “business.”
Remember, they hired you. They could have hired any number of other people but they hired you. Everybody is on your side. They want you to do a great job, they want you to knock-it-out-of-the-park just as much as you do.