Last weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to take an acting class with actor/writer/director Eb Lottimer. He is "known for Sicario (2015), Fright Night (2011) and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)," and a previously/post-humously son-in-law to Washinton State native Bing Crosby (according to IMDb).
When I first contacted him about the class, he called me and asked me about my age range and what I would like to work on, either character or lead type of roles. I mostly have done character stuff, so I wanted to focus on lead roles to do something challenging. So he gave me two scripts I could select from. Either Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, or the lead from a screenplay he wrote called Lucky Man. I read through both and found his script to be more challenging.
Lucky Man is about Ben who is an LA music producer who grew up in an abusive family in the South, practically raised by their African American maid Mariah. It goes back and forth between the current setting in the early 80's and his childhood. The scene I chose was between Ben and an African American nurse, Toni, who he discovers has the perfect voice for a Blues album he wants to make. Problem is Toni made a promise to her father, a travelling pastor, that she would only sing for the Lord and not for profit. Ben tries to convince her, but ends up singing a sample of his song. Toni thinks Ben has what it takes, but he is full of self-doubt. He can't makes the sounds that he wants to hear. He's a white guy in a black world. But he likes Toni, a lot, and the scene involves an emotianal tug-of-war between her and himself.
With Eb's process he was confident that we knew the basics, we had our process and preperation. But the problem with "acting" is to let that go to make it seem natural -- which is what I've always had problems with as an actor coming from a theatre background. Eb provided a safe environment for us to be courageous enough to be ourself. Once we got into our heads, wanting to be in control, he would stop and pull us back. It's all about being in the present and aware of ourselves, and not inhibiting a character like a wearing a coat which could seem ill-fitting and unnatural.
Everyone said that I was good, but I still felt that I was lacking something. I reviewed the recording and I did agree. I was good, but still something missing. I called my friend and tried to get her honest feedback. She said she knew I was out and gay (I have a partner I've been with for over 10 years, and I'm not hiding that), there was my mannerisms and how I tried to connect with my female scene partner -- I didn't seem that into her. And I said, "That's exactly the kind of feedback I need!" I just need to butch it up a bit! And that is something I can work on!
It makes me realize why many gay characters are played by straight men (Heath Ledger (R.I.P.) in Brokeback Mountain), and outwardly gay actors play straight ones (Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother). It's a challenge, an interesting and strangely artistically rewarding one, to try to be in the other's shoes. As it were.
BONUS: I will be working with Eb Lottimer next year as a PAID Production Coordinator with a feature that he wrote and will direct, along with some other friends and previous co-workers on both cast and crew. I'm looking forward to seeing him in action! Because as Eb says, "Life, before Action!"