Acting Coach Terry Knickerbocker & Two Unemployed Actors – Episode 101
JULY 10, 2023
Two Unemployed Actors – Episode 101
00:00:00:00 – 00:00:24:19
Welcome back to two unemployed actors, I’m MAX. And in this episode, I’ll be talking to Terry Knickerbocker, an acting coach based at his studios in New York. And also a timely chat considering one of the many actors he has coached is Boyd Holbrook, who plays Klaber in ‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny’ that’s currently in cinemas. So a great opportunity to pick up some more tips and tricks right here on two unemployed actors,
Thank you. Thank you, Max, so much. I didn’t hear the last word there?
Just between projects.
Well, that’s that’s that’s acting.
Yeah. I think no matter how successful you are, there’s always a moment where, you know, one project ends and perhaps you haven’t 100% locked in the next. It’s just that with up and coming emerging actors, the gap tends to be a bit bigger than the actual projects.
00:01:02:01 – 00:01:25:11
But even, you know, one of the guys I work with a lot, Sam Rockwell, we’ve done over 100 movies and three Broadway plays and a couple of TV shows together over the last 30 years. He hasn’t worked in over a year, and because he says no to things, just hasn’t quite found the right thing. And then things got slowed down.
So now he’s got two things that are about to start up, but he’s got a long time between.
I like that. It’s just as important to what you say no to as to what you say yes to. I mean, it’s great to be in a position where you’re getting opportunities and you can pick and choose. And certainly if you can afford to have, you know, a year off, whether it’s to prepare a character or choose the right project, that’s great. He is a fantastic actor.
00:01:50:10 – 00:01:53:02
00:01:53:04 – 00:02:11:07
He is a great actor and he’s a great soul and a great friend. And he was the best man at my wedding. And we go way, way back. And I love him dearly and he’s one of my favorite people to work with. But I don’t… There are two things in what you just said. One, artistically, it’s hard for him.
It’s not just, Oh, he’s got a little bit of money in the bank and he’s getting money from previous projects and all that so that he can He’s not worried about paying his rent. That’s not the issue. As much as like he’s hungry. He came and he’s watched a few classes that I’ve taught recently because he’s just the artist in him is hungry, you know.
And so there’s that. And then I don’t think you have to wait till you have an established career to say no, that’s the biggest power you have. It’s a good plan. And, you know, actors do get very frightened to say no because they get especially before things are moving, because they go, Well, what if they don’t knock on the door again? What if nobody wants me again? What if my agent gets pissed off at me and says, Oh, this little acting snob, not good enough? I well, I don’t have time to work with actors who say no. And it’s true. When you first start, you probably say yes to things that may be further along. You’d go, Oh, why did I say yes to that?
But it was going to lead to something. But that is your greatest power is to be able to say no and to feel good about it.
Now, in California, a therapist, his name is Gay Hendricks, Gay Hendricks and his wife, Katie Hendricks. And I’m always interested in ‘woo woo’ stuff. And like, what… What leads to maximum achievement. You know what, to high achievers, whether they’re basketball players or acting coaches or actors or surgeons or whatever, like what leads to that.
And one of the things he says is, whatever you do in life, you need a full body. Yes. Right. Which is a little bit like like it’s got to be a hell. Yes. Not just a yes. And so if you get someone offering you a project and you go, Yeah, I could see why I would do it, but like you’re not on fire to do it, then that’s a no.
00:04:16:22 – 00:04:38:08
And I think is important to as an emerging actor, you know, because there’s those opportunities where, you know, the remuneration might not be right or, you know, on the positive side or there’s that dreaded term of ‘in perpetuity’, you know, where you go and do an advertisement or something. And it might be it might even be a great character in a commercial. But you know, they want to be able to use that forever and ever and ever. So, you know, when you switch on to the business brain where everything lines up, but there’s that red flag. So that sort of in a position where sometimes the position of power is so against you that, yeah, you feel like you need to say yes for so many reasons.
00:04:59:11 – 00:05:30:22
But, but those are warning bells telling you, yeah, perhaps a no is is the best option or the script just doesn’t turn you on. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not right. It’s like I’m going to spend a month in crazy and in the makeup chair every day for this. I mean, passion is great because you just you so wherever you are in your day, you know, there’s that moment where you’re just thinking about the character and inspiration can come from anywhere.
00:05:30:22 – 00:05:51:02
And if you’re so passionate about it, you just you so you feel so connected. Everything. It’s like when you you buy a car and suddenly you see that car everywhere. You know, you you’ve you’re in the character’s head and suddenly you see all these opportunities to add layers and richness to the character.
Yeah. So are you an acting coach that started as an actor?
I did, yeah. My dad, my late father carried around a photo, I don’t even remember, of me. Like in a beard or in a long coat from some, like, church play when I was five. And then when I was in what we call middle school, which is like sixth, seventh grade, I was in some shows and then I did some in summer camp and then I did a West Side Story in high school.
Wow. Oh my God, this is a bad audition story. I’m just weaving. So I think, Oh, my God. But this is high school, right? So I wanted to play this character named Action in West Side Story is the guy goes, “Boy, boy, crazy boy, stay cool, boy”. Right? And he’s like, just under riff in the Jets. He’s like, number two, He’s like the lieutenant.
And it was between me and this guy, Andrew Friedman. And Mrs. Gagnon, who was the director, the drama director at my high school, said, okay, boys, it’s down to the two of you. It’s between you, Terry and Andrew, and here’s how I’m going to decide. You’re going to walk across the stage and based on whose walk feels better to me, that’s who is going to get the part that was the callback was a walk.
Wow. I didn’t get the part because my walk wasn’t good enough.
Oh my bloody Andrew.
So yeah. Andrew’s not an actor now. He’s on the business side. He’s a chiropractor or something like that.
Because he can manufacture a great walk.
Great walk. That’s right. So, so I instead played the part of Big Deal in West Side Story.
He was also a jet, but a much junior jet to Action who actually got the push around. So yeah, so I was acting in high school. Then I became a French major in college, but I saw this audition notice for a weird, obscure French operetta called the Grand Duchess of Garrard, written by Jack, often Mock Right. For an opera that’s occasionally done by big maybe at the Sydney Opera.
They might do it once every decade. And called Tales of Hoffmann. And I auditioned to be in the chorus and I got to be in the chorus, which means I was like a soldier who sang. I didn’t have any lines, but I loved it. And I stopped going to classes and all I did was become involved in college theater at Boston University and then at Harvard University.
And then they kicked me out of Boston University because I wasn’t going to classes. And so I did that in Boston for like three or four years. And then so I think I did some training because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And I auditioned for NYU and got in.
Is this when you were drawn to the Meisner gig at that time, or was that almost the whole story here.
00:09:02:05 – 00:09:23:09
No, they didn’t teach Meisner at NYU at the time, and I didn’t even know Meisner was, which is really weird because he was so well known and he was alive. But who I knew about and who we talked about was Uto Hagen. These were all alive acting gurus at the time. Uto Hagen This is like the mid eighties.
Yeah. So Hagen, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, those are the folks that everyone knew about that all the, you know, like casino study was Strasberg. And De Niro studied with Stella Adler and, you know, like, those are the people I didn’t know about Meisner, which is weird because I liked a lot of the people he trained, like Steve McQueen and Diane Keaton, you know, studied with Meisner, but I didn’t know about him, so I graduated from NYU.
Great school, hard to get into great teachers. One of the best places. And then I was working on something and it went well. And then the next project I was working on and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I got really scared. And maybe… I see you laughing. So maybe you can relate to this.
00:10:11:10 – 00:10:41:07
Like my work felt hit or miss. Yeah, and I didn’t know why, but I got scared and some smart Artemis. So I thought, Well, that’s not cool. Like, I can’t just be an actor who’s I mean, this is the analogy I always make. Can you imagine a dentist who you go to see and like, one week he knows what to do with your teeth, and then you go and see him a few months later is like, I don’t know, I don’t have it today.
Right. Well, how about how about something closer to home? How about a violinist or a ballet dancer? You don’t see that in those professions. And we’re talking about being professional. And it doesn’t mean you can be professional and have your work be in consistent. But I knew a lot of actors, and maybe that’s why you were smiling and you would say, Yeah, sometimes I could figure it out, but like, the part’s just there and I got it and other times they’re like, in my brain, I know what it’s supposed to be, but I don’t know.
I don’t have a GPS for how to access the part of me that I need to really deliver this performance. And around that time I was working backstage at a small but very important New York off off-Broadway theater called La Mama in the East Village. And my teacher at NYU was one of their resident directors. She was from Israel, really Irish on me, and this guy was in the part.
So I saw him every night and he was doing the kind of work every night consistently that I aspired to do. It was like Dustin Hoffman. It was like character and behavior and emotion and clarity and precision. I went, Man, what you’re doing is it’ll be like watching Michael Jordan. And I said, That’s exactly what I wanted to do.
How do you do that? He said, Well, I studied with this guy, Bill Esper. He does the Meisner technique. And I said, Oh, okay, I’ll go and talk to Bill. Bill had been with Meisner for 15 years and then branched off into his own studio. So it was really right from the lineage. Yeah. And I’d done four years at NYU and I thought, okay, well I’ll just like take a little side acting.
I said, No, no, no, no, no. This is a two year program. You, on top of the four years you just did. And for whatever reason, I didn’t think twice because I wanted to be good.. Yeah. And you saw that on stage every night, so I thought I wanted that. And I’ve now discovered what I think was the seminal mistake in a lot of American training that NYU did, which Meisner doesn’t do.
And that makes the big difference with his work and why I think it’s so effective is that we started at NYU with scene study. That was day one. We did A Streetcar Named Desire on day one. Wow. That would be like starting piano lessons with Beethoven, right? Or ballet lessons with Swan Lake. You’d never do that. But so many acting approaches, you see, we have an actors newspaper.
It’s now a website called Backstage, which I was like, I did this and stuff like that. And you see ads because that’s how they monetize. The whole thing is with ads from acting teachers. Because guess what, Max, you don’t need a license to teach acting.
Now, I’ve often said there’s sometimes more acting coaches in Sydney than actual actors, but that’s right.
00:13:51:18 – 00:14:11:19
And anybody can call… anyone can get a business card printed and assigned printed and rinse recent bloody basis, say I teach actors and no one’s going to check up on them, which is are we allowed to swear here?
Absolutely. It’s a podcast
… and dangerous. Fucking dangerous,
particularly when you’re meddling with the minds of vulnerable.
Sometimes their mind, the minds of souls, right? And so it makes no sense but that NYU and so many programs, good programs start with scene study and Meisner, I believe, because I never spoke with him. I didn’t ever meet him. And I wish I had. He had also been a trained pianist. In addition to being an actor. And so I believe when he is part of the Group Theater, which included Strasberg and Stella Adler and Clifford Odets and all these great American theater people, their lives were changed.
When Stanislavski, the famous Konstantin Stanislavski, came to America from Moscow at the Moscow Art Theater to do Chekhov’s The Seagull, because before then American acting was sort of like what you see in early silent films like Charlie Chaplin, you know, like you must pay the rent. I won’t pay the rent, yo. You know, it’s like, Really?
Yeah. Over the top.
00:15:07:11 – 00:15:29:05
Yeah. Nothing like Star, which is an art installation. That was an act. That was American actor. Yeah, Yeah, that was Sarah Bernhardt. That was American acting way over the top. Yeah. And their minds were blown when Stanislavski and they thought, Oh, my God, I’m watching real life on stage. And so he shared with them some of his work, which was constantly changing.
Right? So Strasberg does a different version of Stanislavski, worked in Stella Adler and Meisner, and I think Meisner is looking for what? How can I what’s the equivalent of a scale or an arpeggio? Because nobody goes to we would say, Carnegie Hall here in New York. Great, great concert hall to hear scales You don’t go to hear scales.
You don’t go to listen to Eric Clapton or John Mayer play scales. But those blocks do a lot of scales so that they can become musical. And I think Meisner technique, which starts with this little thing called the repetition exercise, which is not on the waterfront, it’s not The Godfather, it’s not Chekhov would be like my saying, you’re wearing headphones and you’d say back to me, I’m wearing headphones.
I say, You’re wearing headphones, you’re wearing headphones. We just sort of bounce that back and forth. You don’t know how is that going to help my acting? But it does because it starts to really get you to improvise. Clearly from unanticipated moment on, anticipated moment, it makes me pay attention to you. I see that you’re nodding your head right now.
I say, Oh, with me, it makes me start to become in touch with myself. As much as I’m in touch with you. Like you have these people on YouTube can see you are a little bit of a kind of a pleasant smile on your face that it’s a bit of a I don’t know, it’s kind of a rascally kind of smirk that you have there on your face.
And it’s like, I like it. It makes me feel friendly, but makes me wonder what else is going on with Max. So we start to be in really rich relationship, which is useful for acting, obviously, because I heard you talking about chemistry in in your wrap up number 100 thing. And I would say to you, there’s no such thing as chemistry.
Here’s what chemistry is really keying into someone that’s chemistry as opposed to the chemistry read that we do on jobs now. Like you get through the audition. You get through the callback. Yeah. Then they go, Well, you know, the network is interested, but now we want to mix and match. We’ve got a short list of six actors and it’s kind of like being on a dating show.
And we’re going to do a chemistry meet. And then the actors, they’re like, Well, geez, I hope I have chemistry, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Are you kidding? There’s everything you can do about it because if someone really feels that they’re with you and you’re with them and you see them and they feel seen, you know, endorphins are going to start to light up like a first date where you’re going, Hey, you know what?
I’m kind of nervous and I hope that’s okay. And it’s really nice to see you and that’s a great color on you. And like, you’re not trying to play them so you can get them in bed. You just like, be real and they feel seen and then they relax. And then the people in casting are going like, These people are very good together.
00:18:21:07 – 00:18:41:02
It’s a great point. I know, because also and just slightly on a tangent, but not my brief 20 year corporate career in between acting as a teenager and coming back a few years ago, you know, having to go in in the sales environment, that’s there’s a lot of pressure and you’ve got to build these effective relationships really quickly.
00:18:41:02 – 00:19:03:22
Yeah, because, you know, the dollars are there every day. And I think, you know, it was great to come in and have a bit of an actor mindset still in the corner my brain so that I’m acknowledging, I’m listening, you know, and I’m matching it to a degree and not selling used car salesmen, but just talking to the to the person rather than the role. Who would you like? How would you like to be treated exactly. It’s really interesting
00:19:03:24 – 00:19:39:22
Yeah.. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to go from being an acting coach to starting an entire studio with faculty in a comprehensive two year conservatory course. I mean, why?
That’s that’s quite a bit of work. You, you know, if I knew then what I know now, I would never have done this because, man,
so it wasn’t a great plan?
00:19:39:24 – 00:20:22:17
Well, it was a grand plan, but it emerged I mean, I’m going to be very frank and I went from being an actor to being a director by accident. Right. Okay. I might. I have a wife and two beautiful children now, but I had a different wife back then and wonderful playwright and actress. And she had a play that another now very famous director who was a good friend of ours and an amazing, inspiring colleague name and Bogart the city company was supposed to direct.
And then it turned out she got another job that she had to take. And so there was no director and my wife at the time said to me, Hey, would you would you like to direct this? And I went, Oh, okay, sure. Not not thinking it would be anything. And then I went, Oh my God, I like this even more than acting.
Why does I get to decide everything I get? That is because I was one of these actors. Yeah, power. But like, creative power, like, I would. I would I right now. Then I realized, Oh, my God, that was some. Because you never, as you know, as an actor, give acting notes to another actor, you know? No. Where did I want to?
You know, I do. They’re like, oh my God, this moment could be so much better. But that wasn’t my place. You know, my job was to tend my own garden. So when I got to be a director, I was there like, Oh, I get to decide what color to paint the walls and to collaborate. And just became such a such a richly entrepreneurial, all encompassing creativity opportunity for me to talk about costumes and sound and lights and dramaturgy and casting and blocking and all the good stuff that gave me so much more artistic food than acting that I loved it.
So when I was working at this, I went on I trained with William Esper. After learning how to act with him, I went to him because I discovered that you cannot make a living as a director. The stage director very difficult in America unless you have a show on Broadway. That’s a musical, right? So Lion King, Julie Taymor has been getting checks for 20 plus years.
Wicked Joe Mantello has been getting checks for 20 plus years. And nice checks. Yeah. So if you have that, then you can relax and you could do a stage reading and not worry about where your money’s going to come from. But I was never going to do musicals. I want I like straight plays to direct and there’s no straight play in America that’s been running forever.
We don’t have a mousetrap. There’s no residuals. There’s no, you know, so so you have to find a way to make a living between projects and for a lots of directors, that either meant being on staff at a theater. They didn’t need anybody. Some people, weirdly, would direct soap operas. I tried that and it just it was like pouring acid on my soul.
00:22:52:22 – 00:23:23:16
Is that because there was so many decisions that are already made for you and it was difficult to be that creative person that, you know, unlocked, you know, in a soap opera.
Yeah. Oh, it’s like I mean, it’s not so creative. I mean, there’s some creativity, but, you know, and some great people direct those things. And there were a few being filmed in New York, many in L.A. It just the writing didn’t inspire me in the act I saw there, a lot of it was really just not it was like nails on a chalkboard.
And there are some great people write, you know, I don’t want to let go. I’m better than soap operas. There’s yeah, it’s a wonderful living for some actors, and there’s some people who’ve done incredible work for four years on soap operas and who got their start in soap operas and did legitimate work. And you watch them and you go like, What’s your deal, man?
This is great. But there was so much other stuff around it that it was just going to be hard for me to do work every day and do that. And so the third option was teaching. And so I originally taught a requested Glasper to train me to teach, which he did, and took me on, which I’m forever grateful for because it changed my life and everything.
00:24:04:22 – 00:24:19:16
How long did you spend learning to teach?
In a way, well, I’m still here. I’m still learning right? But I would say that the process back then was to sit behind Bill and take notes like an apprentice.
I did that for two years and he gave me four students to start with. So it was not how I was making a living.
And they were students who had taken on as extra students waiting for someone to leave the class. And then he gave me like a very small summer section for six weeks with like ten students. So it was a really tiny garden that started to grow and simultaneous. Honestly, where I went to NYU, which is the experimental theater wing, also needed a teacher at some point.
And so I started to teach there a little bit, so I got lots of time to practice it. But again, it was all originally to support my directing. I did not see myself as running a studio. I did not see myself as teaching as my calling. It was really just to give me support. And in fact I directed while I was doing that and had to find replacements at times to teach my classes so I could go and direct a play.
And at some point something shifted. Maybe it was because of some of the compromises I was making even in the theater world, like being forced to cast someone who was part of a company because they came with the package who I would never want to cast, didn’t believe was right for the part. But if I was going to work with this company, I had to take them.
So I was having to make artistic compromises as we all do. So that didn’t feel right to me. And meanwhile the teaching was feeling somewhat. I don’t mean to be arrogant here or whatever, but pure. Somehow the the teaching felt like I didn’t have to compromise as much. And so that eventually took over. And that was nice. And I and I realized it.
Now, getting to the how did I go to starting a studio with all those moving parts? Because it was at night, you know, I taught at NYU. So I had benefits. I had I had I had a pension fund. I had I had a health plan. I had a guaranteed living. I was full time faculty in Hawaii, which is a plum job for anyone who wants to teach in the arts.
And I was also teaching a lot at the Esper Studio and started to have somewhat of a reputation that people were, you know, instead of going to my going to study with the guy, Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of him. He’s okay. I mean, Bill was still the main of that, as he should have, right, Because he was tacular, but I was doing well enough.
I could have done that for life. I could be doing that now and be so taken care of. But around that time in 2013 and my son was born and there was a little bit of restlessness in me that wanted to, like in directing, decide what color to paint the walls or really to decide some curricular things. You know, like I really wanted to have Afro Haitian dance as part of the curriculum because we had that at NYU with this incredible teacher named Pat Hall.
And you go like, What the hell does Afro Haitian dance have to do with acting? But there was something about the way she led students through these dances from Ghana and Nigeria that made them better actors, weirdly right, and got them to really get into their pelvises, which is where a lot of stuff lives for human beings that is taboo and that the other movement training wasn’t really accessing.
So there’s power in sexuality and primitive. It was all starting to come out in that class. So I wanted that. But it was Bill Studio. His name was on the door. He wasn’t going to it wasn’t just going to go, Sure, let’s have Afro-Asian dance. It wasn’t his thing. So I started to realize that these restless wishes on my part, coupled with the birth of my son and my I didn’t want to I didn’t want to model for him settling.
So it kind of goes back to what we started with about saying no or is it a hell yes? Is it a full body? Yes. Like it was a yes, but not a full body. Yes. And so that’s when I started to fantasize and plan and think about and assess what would be involved. Because there are a lot of moving parts, because when you work for someone else, you don’t have to worry about paying the rent.
You don’t have to worry about payroll, you don’t have to worry about negotiating contracts and all the other stuff that goes with this. And there’s so many moving parts, hiring faculty, worrying about whether a student pays their bills or not, etc., like you get taken care of. And I realized I was going to be taken care of and neither was going to work or it wasn’t going to work.
And, you know, so far it’s doing okay. And that’s nice. That’s great. That’s great. And I love the way your passion sort of led you on that path. And I think how how fantastic for the actors walking into the studio to know that, you know, you’ve been able to see it all, experience it as an actor from an NYU perspective, from Meisner and see actors from a director perspective.
And then, of course, you know, in your experience teaching for NYU and at Meisner, I mean, you know, who’s who in the in the business and who you’d like to trust to work with or to be helping you with your studio. I think that’s a great resource.
Yeah. Yeah, I lucked out. There’s so many teachers who I asked and you recommend, like people or colleagues at NYU top of their game.
I never would imagine that they would want to teach with me. But can you recommend someone who can teach your work? And so many of them said, Well, how about me? And it’s not like they needed a job. Yeah,
I mean, I have, I think, the best Alexander teacher in New York had the best stage combat teacher in New York. I have the best movement teacher in New York. And the people that he I mean, I’m just I have got the most amazing voice. Teacher. Linkletter Voice teacher. I mean, it’s I am so, so lucky.
Well, I think also it’s the work you’ve done.
I mean, you can’t unlock those relationships, those connections, without having been in the trenches. So to speak, at NYU and all these other places. So and I’ll take some credit for that. But that the students I just think I mean, I you know, I try to position the studio as an affordable, legitimate alternative to a top quality MFA program.
Yeah. And we’ve got teachers who teach in both. So there are some differences. You’re not going to get a degree, which I think of as a backup plan. Right. Like, I meet students, they go, I want a degree. So why do you think Scorsese is? He cares if you have a degree. Do you think an agent cares?
You know, then I could teach. And as I said, obviously you have a backup plan, which is a fear based plan. And, you know, so that that’s not necessary. It’s a credential hanging on the wall.
The other thing is that they do productions that we don’t do, productions.
We have the shares of things that we put together to share with family and friends in the public. But it’s not like a full blown production, which could be great. I did shows at NYU and I directed shows at NYU as well. But when I was also in them as a student, some of them fantastic. You meet amazing directors you work with, but sometimes you don’t get the right part and you don’t have a great director.
And that’s not necessarily an amazing experience. So just because you have productions doesn’t mean you’re having a better experience. So that’s really interesting, I think.
And I think moving into the detail of the studio from an I from an actor’s perspective, I mean, certainly as an actor who survived several acting coaches and workshops and all that, I know how important it is to create a safe space for us as artists to explore and really push ourselves.
And I know for myself, having experienced a great moment coming out of corporate, having to blow those cobwebs away, working with a local teacher who is busy working on screen and on stage, I’ve seen many times and and using a technique like the Chubbuck technique where, you know, there’s lots of processes and things are coming out of corporate.
I just, I got it. And it worked well, but primarily because, you know, it was a nice, safe space where I could just fall over on my face and not, you know, worry about anything other than how do I get myself up and try again, I guess. Yeah. Because you just you or it’s you just kind of rolled through.
00:33:20:24 – 00:33:47:20
The words survived. Mm hmm. And I have kind of soul and like, I bet there’s some stories there because, as you said, you know, we are it’s an incredibly huge and awesome. By awesome, I mean fierce, not like amazing responsibility and trust for an actor to say, I’m going to open myself off. You’re not going to harm me, are you?
You’re not going to take advantage. And that’s why I said acting teachers don’t need licenses. And I had a teacher at NYU who was an extraordinary teacher, but very cruel. And and you don’t need that. And so it’s and it’s a it’s a huge responsibility to teach. And it’s a big generosity of trust for an actor to say, I’m going to let down my walls and and soften myself in the work and allow you to guide me and to earn that trust.
And I think you have to earn I don’t think you just get it automatically. And I guess there’s no accident then that the first value on your studio’s website is trustworthiness. So, I mean, even before you get in there and start talking about what techniques and you know it’s it’s will this basis is is safe and whatever happens in this space is is for us and yeah space enough there’s nobody who can guarantee you a safe space because I know if at NYU my my boss there who then said let’s think about a brave space instead of a safe space where we can take risks, healthy risks.
Yeah, but it’s only safe enough because you might inadvertently be triggered and some I said to one, I said to a student once because I said, Courage, You know where the work is going on. Sometimes I courage. So that means don’t stop, keep going. And I’m like a spotter at the gym. And the Meisner exercise happens in duets.
And I said to one person about their partner, I said, Are they making it all about themselves? Which was a rhetorical question because they were, Wow. This student became apoplectic. Why? Because that’s something their father used to say to them. And of course, inadvertent on my part, I had no intention of. Right. Sticking the needle in their acupuncture point.
I’m acting. Teachers would like to do that. They go, Oh, your cat died. How how’s your cat? You know, stuff like that. That’s just meant to be provocative and sure you’ll come to life. But then when the scenes over, you’re, like, still bleeding. So no one can promise a safe space. And anyone who says they can, I would run because it’s not possible, but it’s safe enough space.
Yeah. And that if something comes up inadvertently and we find a way to regroup and to say, Oops, I’m sorry, and how do we get back? And I think that’s that’s certainly really valuable. And, and as an actor, it’s it energizes you in a way to know that, yeah, I’m going to take some risks. I’m going to try something I haven’t tried before or I’m going to explore something that is difficult to me, but I feel like that’s something I can do here.
So that’s fantastic. And I look, I know some actors who are just amazing to work with, but when it comes to auditions, they put so much pressure on themselves and and find it really hard to bring out their best work in that situation. On cue, do you have any advice for those emerging actors who perhaps are trying to build up that that level of experience where they feel more confident in that space?
And, you know, would it be different for film, TV or theater? Yeah, well, it’s interesting because you said on cue and now thanks to COVID, there’s almost no such thing as live auditioning anymore, which everyone’s self taped. So to have the opportunity to to do 100 takes until you feel good and that’s that’s a nice that could be on the one hand comforting like I don’t have to get pressured to go meet a bunch of people who don’t know me and feel like I’m the Christian being said to the lions, you know?
But the downside of that is that you don’t get that opportunity for an adjustment room that you would in the old days, because maybe what you’re doing is great, but you thought it was you misread the script or the sides weren’t quite clear and you went in the wrong direction. And because time is money in this business and they need to move on, they will hopefully remember that your work was interesting, so they’ll keep you for next time because that’s the best you can do as a not, you know, the odds of you getting the part are infinite, you know one out of.
However. Exactly. Hopefully they’ll remember you because they need good actors to think about. So that’s one thing. But I would say, first of all, it’s a skill to audition and it’s a different skill than acting. It’s it’s adjacent, it’s related. But there’s some people who are really good auditioners, and then when they get the part, they don’t deliver.
And there’s some people who are really bad auditioners because it’s just a weird artificial process. Talking to someone who’s a reader or talking to your voice as the reader or your girlfriend’s voice as the reader with your dog barking in the background or whatever, and wondering how to handle certain weird things in scripts. Like what do I do if I’m supposed to be drinking?
Some people say use props and people don’t. How do I handle physical violence in a in an audition? How do I handle sex scenes in an audition or kissing or dancing? It’s like there’s all this weird stuff that people get anxious about. So I think you just need to practice it a lot. And hopefully if you have an agent submitting you, they’ll get some feedback.
So it’s not just you throwing it into the ether and you don’t know what happen, which is often what happens. But I would think that the best thing you can do has to do with the mindset and the mindset is I love moments and acting is about moments. And so this is my chance rather than my test to do something I love doing.
If I get the part that’s a bonus, chances are I won’t. But I’m not worried about that. I’m not focused on that. My business is one of my business. Favorite books is a book called Zen and The Art of Archery. So obviously if you’re auditioning, there’s a result that you have to kind of forget about, which is, I want the part, especially if it’s a part really a project you want to be part of that you’d love to be part of that would mean everything.
But because it has great writing or it has some of your heroes in it, it’s like your dream part, your favorite novel, whatever, you know, like I have to play this part. That’s a tricky place to be in because it could make you press, you know? So you kind of have to forget about that. Forget about the bullseye that’s in the Art of archery.
It just focus on the process. And the process involves breathing, doing your homework, know your lines, make some broad stroke choices about, well, here’s a key moment or this is basically what’s going on. And this is essentially how I understand the relationship and the character and key moments and have the whole thing worked out. But you have a good rough draft that you feel good about and stay loose and have fun because I hope you’re acting because you enjoy it.
So if you can make that a pleasurable experience and then I kind of like it is people who like once they’ve done the audition, they rip up the sides as a symbolic act to say, okay, that’s done. Yeah, if they call me, that’s a bonus. But I had some moments and I had fun and I put my work out there.
It’s like throwing bread upon the waters. Yeah. You don’t know what’s going to happen of it. And there’s a great story about Sam Rockwell, which I tell a lot. He auditioned and he doesn’t audition that much. It was semi early in his career, but he was still getting offers. But he had to audition for Duncan Jones, who is David Bowie’s son, and he didn’t get the part, so he moved on.
Two years later, Duncan Jones reaches out to Sam’s team, his agents, this amazing agent named Rhonda Price Gersh here and said, I’ve written a movie for Sam Sam’s, the lead movie called Moon, which for The Aficionado is a brilliant movie where Sam plays about 18 parts because he’s a clone of a clone of a clone. Fantastic. Basically, Yeah.
So two years go by. Sam doesn’t know that Duncan is going, Wow, Sam Rockwell is amazing. I can’t use him in this project, but I got to write for him and write a whole movie for him. So you never know when the stuff you put out there is going to come back. You don’t. You just have to keep putting it out and enjoy putting it out.
Enjoy it. Yeah. And I think it’s, you know, it’s an opportunity to work and start work fit and and put your best foot forward in front of the industry.
And I think interviewing a casting director in Australia an award winning casting director and you know, there’s a moment where she said, Yeah, look, I mean, you know, even for television commercials when I’m not casting for features or television series, I might see an actor that’s not right. Like, I wouldn’t even put them in front of the client. But just amazing. Just absolutely, Yeah. And I’ll keep them in the back of my mind for this role that I’m casting, you know, on, on a feature. I think it’s because they need you.
Exactly. I had this student, she was a she’s a beginner, but she was so interesting and so fresh.
And so she was like, she wasn’t sexy like Marilyn Monroe, but she was disarming like Marilyn Monroe. She had this innocence and she saw an audition notice after she graduated for Waiting for Godot. Oh, and that’s a play that’s written for men. There’s no female parts written in that play. Beckett would not did not have it, and she just went.
They didn’t say men. They assumed people knew. So she went to the audition and they said, Hi, what are you doing here? She said, I don’t know. It looked like such an interesting project. I just thought I’d show up. And they looked at each other and there was something so interesting about her that they let her audition and they gave her the part of Lucky and they were not even thinking like that because she just showed up.
00:44:02:04 – 00:44:35:00
Fantastic. Yeah. What are some of the more common problems? Resources? Is there a set of problems that you find emerging actors have at the moment or come to you needing compared to more experienced actors that you that you work with, that the key difference is there.
I want to make sure I understand your question, Max. So when actors are talking about actors who’ve already trained and are now trying to work, yeah, yeah, they’re not as loose, right?
And they don’t always have as many ideas, although there’s still some established actors with names that you would have heard of that I’m not going to mention because I don’t want to get in trouble or annoying because they want me to do all the work and the best, you know, they want me to come up with their entire performance and and, and fast.
And I’m they’re like, How do you have a fucking career? So. So, you know, but they do. You’re the magic pill that they take the day before a set. Yeah. It’s not I mean, that’s nice, but not so nice. So I think that they get nervous. They’re not so loose. Right. And you know, my teacher, Bill Esprits, always say you’re only as good as your ideas.
And and so, you know, like, it’s like, why? Why did Philip Seymour Hoffman agree and have a passion for wanting to play Death of a Salesman on Broadway? It certainly was not for the money. Broadway pay is okay, but it’s nothing compared to what he’d make if he was doing a film. And why did he want to do a part that had already been played by giants like Jacob and Dustin Hoffman and Brian Dennehy?
Right. Like why? And the only reason is because he felt like he had something to say about that role that came from him, uniquely from him. Just like why would someone I mean, if you go to like the Apple Music, iTunes store and look up how many recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth there are, probably find a hundred, maybe 500 legitimate conductors.
Now, why is Leonard Bernstein going to decide to conduct Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or whatever? It’s because because he has something to say about that. He’s going to play Beethoven’s notes. He’s not going to turn it into something else but the different tempos or, you know, maybe it’s more staccato, maybe it’s more legato. Maybe he’s going to bring out the clarinet more.
He has an idea about what he wants to say. So I think that’s the key thing as an actor is like, what’s your contribution? You know, because we’re hired to create behavior. You know, you look at Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, I think that’s an amazing version of a superhero. Yeah. Isn’t it?
Because it’s it’s like it’s I liken it to, you know, when you get characters like police officers, you know, and you and you’ve got the stereotypes right that you can comfortably go to. But but, but you could play the person whose job happens to be is a police officer.
Totally. And what’s it And here’s here’s the thing. I think your job is to make your work interesting. Yeah. To hook to you, not to the audience. To you. Yeah. We talk about that passion again, that that energy. Like if you’re a cook, I hope you like your food, man.
I hope you’re not just making a burrito. I can get it in your burrito shop. Like, what’s interesting? Oh, I put some pineapple in it or I put some chocolate in a chocolate in a burrito. Who would do that? I did. How is it? Right. So I think that’s what inexperienced actors start to get, is like, oh, I get to play, I get to paint, I get to do stuff I get to instead of, Oh, they want to do it for me.
I got to, you know, And then they do the thing that every other person’s doing. The casting person has already seen it and they’re bored and annoyed. And then you walk in and they go, Oh, Iron Man, because it’s not even in the comics. He’s sassy. He’s doing it with You’ve got 70 superhero movies now and it still stands out, you know, because he just made the character Tony Stark, so interesting rather than the stereotypical, you know, go to running, running gun superhero.
Yeah, I’ll be strong and powerful and flex our muscle like sassy and cool. I love that you’ve you’ve coached the likes of Daniel Craig as Ben Warren Glass on Nina and Michelle Williams as Mitzi in The Fablemans. And obviously Sam Rockwell’s a favorite actor of mine. So would they come to you or I guess without talking about specific actors, obviously does a more experienced actor when they come to you for or should they come to you having been off book and and having their own ideas, having four or five really big scenes that they really want to workshop with you and and have their own sort of choices already made or what?
It’s really the gamut, but well, that’s weird because when when Daniel came to me and we we’ve been in conversation he’s a friend of Sam. So Sam kept saying, Hey, man, you got to work with Terry. And, you know, Daniel is doing quite well without me, but he decided to come to me for that and then for the Scottish play and then for the new play, the new new movie he’s working on with Luca and from the book Queer Right, plays a gay man.
It’s really William Burroughs mind blowing script. And he’s going to no one’s ever seen him do what he’s going to do in this movie. IVORY But when he came to me for Glass Onion, I said, the first time we met, I said, I mean, maybe I’m talking myself out of a job here, Daniel But you already I mean, you know, Knives Out was one of my favorite films.
I mean, my whole family, my son loves that film. It’s just like, so perfect. It’s a perfect film and his performance is so perfect and the characters so clear. What could I possibly add to something you’ve already figured out? I don’t know that you need means that. Oh, no, no, I don’t want to repeat myself. I mean, yes, the character’s there, but I want.
I want to make it even better. And so let’s try. And I love working with Daniel because he is an actor’s actor and he truly cares. And he’s got more money than God. I mean, you know, he’s like, Yeah, he’s made one of the biggest franchises in the world because of this. But then when when Ryan did the deal with Netflix and decided to take it out of theaters, he got a two picture deal for $500 million.
Right. Like there’s another one coming. Yeah, right. And it’s a gorgeous script. And the performance I think is great that he does. And we had a lot of fun and it’s not about you know so every actor is different sometimes but usually and all I say is I’m just going to try and make it. My goal is to serve the material and to serve you as an artist and find the marriage between those two and take whatever you’re offering and see if I can make it better.
Better will agree Better means is clearer, clearer, more precise, more alive and more pleasing to the actor, to the actors so that they feel good and that they feel confident. Because as you know, these days there’s no rehearsal for film and TV. If you’re lucky, you might get some table read, maybe, but usually you’re going to walk in and like do a camera blocker rehearsal, hair and makeup and, you know, start going.
So the acting coach is there to substitute for the rehearsal that they might have had. And and what’s interesting, too, when we talk about that, that just touch on the business of acting for a moment where your budgets are so, so tight or you know, the dollars you know, have to go to screen so much that there isn’t room to sit down and have these four week rehearsals or, you know, the luxury of all.
But other times. Where or do you work on set as a as someone tapped you to come into a production that’s running to try and work with actors?
because I know some acting coach Oh there are people who do that. Yeah. And know some. It’s I think it’s very threatening for a director and I think it would be prohibitively expensive based on my hourly rate because so much of this hurry up and wait.
So I like to be efficient and my, my idea of a nightmare would be to spend a 12 hour day on set to do four pages. Yeah, Yeah. Like how many pages a day they get cooking, you know? I mean, like that. That would just be torture for me and very expensive for the studio or for the actor.
00:53:18:06 – 00:53:35:21
And I think it’s interesting that you mentioned it could be, you know, threatening to the director. And I guess certainly it does seem like that more often than not could be a studio decision rather than, you know, a creative opportunity for the director to decide. I do have a friend who’s an acting coach who does work on set, and some people do.
00:53:35:21 – 00:53:59:01
I you know, I don’t do that. If someone said, here’s a zillion dollars, can you come and be with me? Because I know people would do that if I could organize it, I would maybe try and see whether we could make something useful. But this this coach works with a star. First thing she does is she goes to the director on day one and say, I am here to support you.
I’m here to make you look good. Anything you need, you tell me anything I’m doing that you object to, you tell me. So she makes a very smart alliance with the director right off the bat says, I’m here for you. I’m here to support your project. I’m not here to get in the way. And most film directors are super grateful if the actor knows what they’re doing with or without a coach on set because then there’s other things to worry about.
Yeah, right. Especially pressure from the money people. Yeah. Then if something’s not going right, she has a signal with the actor like she touches your ear or something like that. And that means that the actor go to the bathroom. I’ll meet you there. Gotcha. Then she’ll give notes out of the earshot of the directors of the directors. Not threatened because the director’s supposed to be the king or the queen and be in charge of things.
And the last thing they need is one second, and then they go back and like, Wait, I’m the director. So she’s very smart in terms of protecting the director’s ego and still helping the actor at the same time. And then back to, you know, up and coming actors who in the realm of like 50 words and guest spots, you know, is that 50 words is how would you call it?
00:55:14:09 – 00:55:33:10
Yeah. Is that no other times. And that means you have under five lines or something like that. Well that’s cool. 50 worders and then yeah, I mean, you know, it could be that you’re doing quite a lot on camera and you have two lines. It could be that you got a monologue out of nowhere, you know, the door opens and there you are.
00:55:33:12 – 00:55:56:12
It’s, it’s so different. But but for me, the point is, you know, you don’t always get the same monologues as DeNiro right now. And, you know, you’ve only got a few moments to really make an impact on on screen. Yeah. And you know what advice would you give actors in those moments? You don’t you know, you don’t get ages to prepare.
00:55:56:12 – 00:56:24:21
You might get the script a few days before. Yeah. Some tips to bring that to life in that moment. Well, really serve the story. So hopefully you had a chance to look at the whole script so you can know what your role is in the story, not just what your part is, but how your part is affecting. Like here we have this show called Law and Order, and it’s been on forever or year.
I’ve always loved on Going Order SVU, Special Victims Unit with Mariska Hargitay, who’s been playing Olivia Benson for 23 years. Yeah, amazing. You know, and it’s a long standing New York actors rite of passage to playing a costar, a guest star on that show, which usually means you’re either the victim or the bad guy. Yeah. So if you’re the bad guy, your role is to be Mariska Hargitay’s problem.
So then do that. Like really do your script analysis and figure out what your job is to be right. Why are you there? What does the writer have in mind for you to do? And then that’s your lane. And so you don’t have to be in the other person’s lane. You know, in The Godfather, John Cazale playing Fredo, so his job was be the scaredy cat, even though he was an amazing actor.
Yeah, an extraordinary actor and a great loss. You only made five movies and each one of them was a gem, but and he was Meryl Streep’s boyfriend. He played Angelo in measure for Measure in Central Park. I mean, this is a guy you could throw down. He’s not a scaredy cat, but he played a scaredy cat gorgeously because he understood that’s what that project needed and he stayed in that lane and no one else is in that lane.
Yeah, but he knows that lane. James Caan is not in that lane. Diane Keaton is not in that lane. Brando’s not in that lane. Robert Duvall is not in that line. They have their own lanes. Yeah. So that’s your lane. Yeah. Do that. Is it correct? It was a great point because sometimes you feel like, Oh my God, this is my moment, you know?
And then you start to veer out of your lane to make a make your impact and you’re making the wrong impact. The drummer doesn’t have the guitar solo, so don’t do a guitar solo, do the drums. What’s interesting, because you’ve been teaching for a while now, have you seen the demand for certain courses change over the years or, you know, these trends come and go and for example, is it more people are asking to explore voiceover work, you know, to try and help unlock another dimension as an actor, or is it I’ve got to do stage combat, You know, there’s all these superheroes flying around, adds Shakespeare.
You know what? What are you feeling at the moment? Well, I hope that the goal is to be the best actor you can be. I think any actor would be well-served by Shakespeare because no one writes better. No one gives you more gorgeous language. The chances that you’re going to actually have a job in America doing Shakespeare if you don’t want to do the theater because the theater pays you and hugs, even though it makes you a better actor.
Yeah, you’re better actor to do that. That would be great. Stage combat. God, would you be served? Because true stage combat is really about storytelling, not just about skill. How do I tell the story and how do I tell it in an interesting way and not just like another fight scene that we’ve literally seen a thousand times, right?
Great fight choreographer is going to tell that story in an interesting way and in a way that, you know, if you’re good at that, you put that on your resume, you’re opening up so many opportunities to work that they don’t have to worry about, you know, whether it’s Game of Thrones or, you know, Yellowstone or whatever project that is.
Not every project calls for that. But to have that in your arsenal couldn’t be better. Same with intimacy training, you know, because now, you know, that’s a big difference now is that they’re not going to have a sex scene to say, okay, you wing it. It’s like, oh, bring on the intimacy coordinator. How are we going to create the illusion of this?
How are we going to tell that story? So are they any Because most actors nowadays think that what they really want is a sustainable career, playing good parts in film and television. Great. Do that. But that’s a legitimate life. But God, I hope you do theater because even if you bounce back and forth because you know Sam Rockwell, Daniel Craig did the Scottish play on Broadway.
Sam has done three Broadway plays and a couple other plays. Denzel did Fences, Denzel did Iceman. Come on. Right. Those that Frances McDormand played, Lady Macbeth out in California before making the film with Denzel that then she went from that into Yeah, then she went into three billboards. Well, you do Fences on Broadway. You’re set up for The Equalizer.
You know, it makes you a better actor because that’s Mount Everest. So I really hope that actors do theater, you know, for the money. But for like.
A workout. Yeah. Yeah, that’s that’s a fantastic point, I think, because it’s no, it’s a timely reminder that there are no shortcuts. And when you do get that 50 word or the small part, you know, you’re able to make the most of it because you’ve done so much in terms of saving your training and your. And check it out.
It’s going to serve you. I coached Austin Butler, who played Elvis, and I’ve coached on a few things and I coached him on Iceman Cometh on Broadway. Right now. He was coming out of sort of kids TV, Right. And and, you know, he’s a born actor. He’s wanted to be an actor his whole life. But he you know, and he’s hungry for the work.
But he got a chance to audition, put something on tape, flew to New York, auditioned, got the part. It’s a small part. And Denzel was was in the play. A lot of other good actors. So now Baz Luhrmann is doing Elvis. Everyone wants to play that part. Everybody is making tapes. Denzel writes or calls bars and says, You have to see Austin.
I did Months of Iceman Cometh with him. I’ve never seen a harder working actor. He’s special. See him? That opened the door there. We’re going to look at him. Wow. Right. That’s that’s a that’s a that’s amazing And absolutely. Yeah. You just keep doing the work. Just keep keep learning. I think every every script, every job, you know, that you go to, it’s it’s an opportunity to learn.
And working with those great actors, that would be fantastic. You create relationships. Yeah. Boyd Boyd did Logan with James Mangold that led to Indiana Jones that has now led to he’s going to play Johnny Cash with Timothy. Timothy Chalamet playing Bob Dylan in a Bob Dylan biopic about the moment when Bob Dylan went electric, which was famous at the New York Newport Folk Festival, and someone in the crowd yells out Judas because he betrayed them.
Well, that’s a relationship. That’s why, you know, DiCaprio is always working with Scorsese. That’s the kind of relationship you want to create, even if it starts with a small part, because, you know, Boyd’s part in Logan was a good part, but he wasn’t it wasn’t he wasn’t the star of the movie. And that was that other Australian guy, Wolverine guy.
01:04:10:14 – 01:04:33:15
Wolverine guy! Well, Terry Knickerbocker, fantastic talking with you. Thank you so much. And I’d love to some time. Get back to New York again. I love the city and fantastic to I feel energized having spoken to you about so many things today. So so hopefully everyone else does, too.
I’m glad you came to acting again from the corporate world.
That’s a big risk and thank you for this conversation. And God, you did your homework. You looked me up and did your research and talked about Michelle Williams and all these people I work with. She’s a wonderful actor, too. She’s gorgeous.