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Terry Knickerbocker on ‘That One Audition’

Alyshia:

This is that one audition with Alyshia Ochse. Welcome to the honest, humorous, and inspirational conversations with your favorite onscreen storytellers and Hollywood influencers who revealed their most life-changing audition tales and survival skills they’ve collected along the way. Wednesday Wisdom. We have a very special Wednesday wisdom today with Terry Knickerbocker. Yes, you’ve heard his name a thousand times all over the place, especially with Sam Rockwell, winning every single award you could possibly imagine for his creativity. Terry is the other person who helps coach, service, give a teammate to develop great outstanding characters. And I always just wanted to jump in and see how, how does he do these things? How does he teach? I say this on the podcast all the time, but specifically today on Wednesday Wisdoms, I think you must go out there, train with various people, constantly be in training so that when you are called, when you are selected to be a part of a project, you have all the tools in your toolbox. So without further ado here is Terry Knickerbocker. Enjoy. Happy Wednesday, everybody,

Terry:

For the most part — and like when people contact me, um, about an audition, because I charge a lot of money, I go, you don’t want me to coach you for that audition because you’re going to be bitter, right? Like, I mean, not really good, like, um, because you never know why you don’t get the audition, right?

Alyshia:

That’s a really good point. And I think it’s a really good thing to discuss on this, that I discuss on this a lot. You know, I’ve been auditioning and working for 17 years, and there’s a difference between having the responsibility of bringing the character and the story to life, where, where your assistance seems to be of great value to so many great actors. Like you said, so many A-List actors, and then there’s a totally different muscle of exercising or showing a glimpse into what you can build in the audition process. So because it is that one audition I’m so – I’m, I’m curious if you started as an actor and transitioned because in some of the research, I couldn’t figure out if you had started in that regard or if you more in theory of acting.

Terry:

Oh no, no, God. Um, you know, no, I mean, I, I, um, I acted in like grammar school, high school, um, and then like, that was just for fun. And I, and I enjoyed it in summer camp. And then, um, I was real underachiever, um, you know, as a kid and, um, that was what every report card said, you know.

Alyshia:

Underachiever?

Terry:

Terry would be, Terry is, uh, has a lot of potential if only he would reach for it or something like that, you know, and, and that, you know, that was just a sad kid, you know, smoking weed and stuff like that. And, and I went to, um, Boston University cause my dad taught there and he, he was able to get me in. And like, I went to one class of every one of my classes in my freshman year, like literally one session and then saw this audition notice for a really weird, um, like operetta, a French operetta called The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein. I went, oh, okay. I’ll, I’ll audition for that. And got in and like was in the chorus. And this was in Boston. Boston has a really weird Gilbert and Sullivan subculture, HMS, Pinafore, the pirates of Penzance and stuff like that. Like they’re just really hardcore about that. And so that’s who was putting this on, it was the odd non Gilbert and Sullivan show. And then I started to do a lot of musicals and a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan with no training and did not know what the F I was doing at all. And then auditioned for some, and then got kicked out of BU because I didn’t go to any classes, you know. And by the way, the BU is, has a very good acting program, but I was like a French major, you know? Um, you know?

Alyshia:

So how does that parlay into this beautiful profession of you assisting artists into telling a human experience? I’m so curious how you stepped into it because you’re so spoken about regarded it and spoken, I think at every award show in the last five to 10 years. So you’ve made a staple with certain creatives to be like a teammate and creation.

Terry:

Yeah. That’s a lot of fun.

Alyshia:

Yeah, it’s the most fun.

Terry:

So anyway, I just like fell in love with performing. That’s why I didn’t go to class and of course kept it secret from my parents. And back then there was no internet. So I’d like run home. They lived in Cambridge. So like intercept the mail from BU saying, who is this guy? Um, and just at some point finally, after several years of doing all these shows in Boston with no training, um, which meant that some of the work was pretty bad. Right? Sure. Um, but I got most of the parts I auditioned for, um, said, I better learn how to do this cause I really love it. And I don’t know what I’m doing. Um, and even then I had a sense of, oh, inconsistency is very typical for actors like hit or miss. And I didn’t like the feeling. It didn’t feel comfortable. So I auditioned for NYU, their undergrad program, which, you know, back then, NYU, this is, um, late seventies. NYU was a safety school for like people who, you know, want it to go to like Harvard or Princeton or Columbia or something like that. It was like a, not a very good school. Um, now it’s a huge big school and hard to get into, but at the time, cause my grades were crap, cause I was an underachiever, right? But I did it good audition, and so they let me in and um, that’s the only place that I auditioned for. And that’s when the turn towards real training started for me. And so yeah, I was all dialed into being an actor and then graduated from NYU and had great experiences there. Was in a lot of shows and had some amazing teachers and spent a couple of years at, um, Circle in the Square has a theater school in New York and they were part of NYU at the time. And then sort of got turned onto downtown theater, experimental theater, um, people like Anne Bogart and uh, The Wooster Group, which was called The Performing Garage at the time. And like, oh, that was really cool. And um, went to The Experimental Theater Wing and then like, oh man, this is great. And I was like doing all these shows with Anne and at La MaMa, which is a small, but significant off, off Broadway sort of incubator. That’s where Hair, the musical started.

Alyshia:

Yes, yes.

Terry:

Sam Shepard did a lot of his early shows there, um, really important small theater in the East Village. This is where like I never need to go above 14th Street, you know, but then I was also a waiter, you know, um, meaning I didn’t need to go to Broadway. I didn’t need to go and meet like Abrams or anybody like that. I didn’t need that. I was just going to be written up in like Germans height, you know, avant-garde theater magazines. But I was also waiting tables and that was kind of depressing. And I also didn’t know what the hell I was doing still – even with an NYU degree. And so that was really scary. Like one week I’d know what I was doing. And then the next week I’d work on something. And it was like, I don’t know. And around that time I saw this wonderful actor at La MaMa do this show. I was working backstage and every night he nailed it. Um, and I was like, I want to be able to do that. And I said, well, how’d you how’d you learn how to do that? And he said, well, I studied this thing called the Meisner technique, which I’d never heard of, which was weird. Cause Strasberg was alive. Meisner was alive, Stella Adler was alive. Uta Hagen was alive. And I knew everybody, but Meisner. Somehow he was a secret. And so, um, his teacher was Bill Esper who just died a few years ago. So I went to interview with Bill and Bill said, yeah, that’d be good. It’s a two-year program. And I’d just graduated from NYU. I just spent four years there and I went sign me up. And that training was, that was it. That was amazing. So I was doing work, but then I also had this itch to like tell other actors what to do.

Alyshia:

Yes.

New Speaker:

Like don’t know if you ever have that Alyshia, but like, you know, like, oh I think you should like, you know, say the line this way or maybe wear a necklace would be good. You know? And like I had all these like control ideas, which as we know is a no-no you don’t tell actors what to do. And I lucked into a directing gig, which got me this award from The Drama League for like emerging directors and got good, you know, it was at American Place Theater Wynn Handman had men who recently died, also ran the show and, um, it was a woman’s festival. And um, I directed this play and it did well and I, oh my God, I’m home. I love directing. That’s what I want to do. And so I was directing up a storm and then realized that directing – directors get paid in hugs. Like you can’t make a living as a straight theater director for the most part. If you’re Joe Montello and you have Wicked on Broadway or Julie Taymor and you have Lion King, okay, you’re set because you’re getting that weekly check, you know, but I wasn’t going to be directing musicals or like, God, I need to find a way to pay the bills. And there were several ways you could do that and one was teaching. And so I went back to Bill and said, I want to teach. And he said, oh, I, I don’t need any teachers. And I said, well, how about I just watch and sit here until you asked me to leave. And that, that started a 30 year relationship teaching at his studio and also teaching at my alma mater NYU. So I was in for teaching just to support directing, and at a certain point, teaching took over and around, you know, in, I met Sam in 1990 – Rockwell. And, um, he was studying with Bill and I would, I would often sub for Bill. Bill had to miss a lot of classes that year for various reasons. Still taught his class, um, but I was his sub for that group and, and a lot of amazing actors in that, that class. And Sam was one of the most amazing and we just hit it off and he, you know, we’d go and smoke cigarettes and which I don’t do anymore. I don’t recommend that. But at the time we did, um, and just like work on stuff and, and that’s been gosh, 30, 30 plus years of working together. And Sam was very generous and he would like give my name to other people and, um, word got around. And so this teaching and coaching parallel tracks was happening. Yeah.

Alyshia:

Well, it’s such a, I was able to really scope out. I’ve actually been looking at your website for a while during this year because obviously with quarantine and, um, I teach as well, but I feel like you’re never, you’re always a student even as a teacher.

Terry:

Yeah.

Alyshia:

So I was so curious, um, cause this going to be a fun Wednesday Wisdom episode to give some wisdom on two tracks, even like what you just said. Do you feel a difference between teaching and coaching? Like would you say coaching is more like the track that you do with Sam Rockwell, somebody who’s onset, they’ve gotten something and you’re, you guys are like coaching for the Olympics versus teaching somebody how to actually act?

Terry:

I think so. Ideally, you know, um, I would say that although some agents and managers would see it differently, right? And, um, you know, studying is not in vogue right now. Like when I said Bill Esper told me two years and I went, no problem. Like our biggest, um, no or hurdle or objection when it comes to students who might want to study is the time. And they go two years? I mean, don’t, you have like maybe like a workshop I could do? And I’m just my jaw drops. Um, because you’d never learn to be a pianist in a workshop. You’d never learn to be a ballet dancer and those are performing arts. And a lot of people don’t think that acting is a craft and that it actually, you can learn it. There’s sort of like, you know, just coach me into it. And like, plus it’s all based on fear, which I think you really dial into a lot from what I can tell and, and, um, you know, that people are like, there there’s so many opportunities because of content and it’s like it’s pilot season. And I like to go, I got to get out there. And like, if they have a representation, you know, those agents want to ride that pony for their 10%. And then when you say, but I think I should study. No, no, no, no, no, no. Because the agents are short-sighted and they’re like, when you study, I don’t make money. You get a part, we’re going to coach you into it. So I frankly hate that because you can sort of be coached into a part. And I think the best way that works is with a kid, you know, like a child actor, isn’t going to do deep level studying in acting for the most part. And if they do, they’re not having enough fun, I would say, and they should like get outdoors. Um, but if they get apart, if you’re gonna like Haley Joel Osment in Sixth Sense or whoever, you know. Um, Henry Thomas in ET, Drew Barrymore obviously grew into, you know, it was sort of born into the profession. Like, yeah, get a coach and they’ll help you with this stuff. But my personal philosophy is if you want, uh, a body of work, that at the end of your life, you’ll be proud of, training is your best investment. And it means, cause look, if you want to work now, you know, blow up your Instagram account and go to a lot of parties and you’ll find some work. Marketing will get you a lot of places, you’ll meet some people, you’ll get on set. You know, if you’re pushy about that, you can, you can move your way into the work, but you’re not going to know what you’re doing. And the level of work that you, you know, acting technique is for when the acting gods don’t smile on you. There’s some parts that you can like, just pick it up and you go, I got it. I got this part. I understand it. It’s in my bones. You don’t need an acting class for that part. You don’t even need a coach, but nine times out of 10, you’re going to be like, oh, I think I know what that’s about, but I don’t know how to get there. And that’s what a process, a toolkit that comes to you from great training does for you.

Alyshia:

Well, and I, I’m glad that you’re delineating the difference between coaching and teaching or studying, studying, and coaching because exactly what the program you said for two years. Well, we don’t coach a doctor how to go in and do surgery, right? You’re there for 10 to 12 years. So in an emergency situation, your brain, your instrument aligns with all the knowledge that you’ve learned to produce or to, you know, hopefully have a really good surgery and a really good outcome. It’s really interesting to me that exactly what you said, too. The craft of acting is so, uh, not really looked at as something of, of elegance of something to study. It’s been an argument. I think that I’ve had subconsciously and consciously within my own family, within my immediate, my primal family, my nuclear family, that there is there’s time that needs to be spent for my muscle to develop so that when the opportunity comes five years from now, I’m ready to use the tools that I can to do that. So your program, when people come in and they’re actually a student of the program, they’re there for two years?

New Speaker:

Yeah.

Alyshia:

Taking the classes and —

Terry:

Yeah. That’s Meisner’s – That’s kind of Orthodox. Meisner is a two year sequence. And then we have another sort of half year, third year program, which kind of gets you ready for the industry by talking about branding and then really doing like, um, film and TV script analysis and how to work on camera. Um, because we don’t deal with any of that in the two years. And there are some adjustments, as you know, to, um, understanding the material and understanding how the camera comes to you. And, uh, rather than you kind of going out to it. And so I have a wonderful teacher who does that. And, and then, then I feel like you’re ready to go hit the road. And now that you know how to act, then you have this whole other learning curve, which is how to be a working actor, which is really, you know, you need to be a CEO, you need to be strategic. You need to understand what you, how you want to be seen and align with that. You know, I mean, if you want to be in Marvel movies and you look kinda silly, then you have to kind of adjust everything for that. Yeah.

Alyshia:

So as far as privately coaching with you. So let’s say I’ve gone through the program because I think foundationally, we need, we would need more craftsman of actors. So you go through a foundation of three years of studying and then people, you know, you’re out in the world and people ask me all the time if I still coach, I coach all the time, um, depending on the project, exactly what you said, depending on, if I can look at the material, do a script analysis and be like, oh, I have this in my toolkit. Or I need somebody to help me use the tool that I want to use to kind of develop this. When you work with Sam, when you work with anybody, I know it’s not an audition process. It’s already a character that he has been given the responsibility to bring to life. Outside of script analysis, how do you approach developing the character? What’s and I know every script is different. Every character is different and sometimes it’s even hard to pinpoint that, but I’d really love to give some wisdom around your specialty in helping. So people know when to come to Terry to get, to help bring sharpen more tools and exactly what the tools might be.

Terry:

I mean, I think, I think it’s really great, you know, get another eye on it, even if it’s your buddy, because there’s no, for the most part, um, rehearsal time in film and TV. It’s not – it used to be part of budget, you know, and if you’re lucky for like a series, if you’re a series regular, there might be a table read. Um, or if you have an arc. Um, but usually it’s just like, you know, if you’re a day player, if you’re a co-star, you know, you’re gonna show up on the day with probably some script adjustments that you got the night before and then like hair and makeup, camera blocking and go. And so if you don’t show up loaded – at the mercy of a director who probably doesn’t know much about acting, who’s going to go, I know something’s wrong here. And then they’re going to say something that’s frankly, not necessarily – kind of ignorant, you know, like, can you do this more? Like, I don’t know, um, more like Zac Efron? And then you’re like what does that mean? You know, and so it’s really important, I think, to show up, having made a very clear set of choices. That’s a big word that artists use. But like, what am I doing in every moment? I think, you know, you got to kind of ask yourself, what am I doing in every moment? Uh, who’s the character? What are my relationships? Who am I talking to? And what does that mean? Right. Like to say that she’s, my wife is meaningless. She’s my slutty wife, right. She’s my best friend. That’s something that starts to get my juices flowing and activates me. And what is everything that the other person is saying mean as well? Preloaded, so that I do homework on that. And then I can improvise with them in the moment, but at least they’re coming into a template that I’ve already established and actors should know how to do that. And then I think the coach is just there to make it better, right?

Alyshia:

Yes. Yeah. It’s like taking the tool and sharpening in it. It’s like, okay, you’re swinging the bat this way. What if you moved it four degrees here? You might hit the home run. Or, but do you have, do you have theories on right or wrong ways or do you go more strong choice, stronger choices? Because some of this stuff that Sam’s put out and some of the things that you’ve guys been able to collaborate on, like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – that I don’t even like to call it a performance. That inhabit – him inhabiting that role, every time he’s on screen now he is showing a different essence, a different character than before. So is there something very calculated in how he, you guys are developing characters to set it apart every time? Or is it him becoming more comfortable in you guys coaching? And he’s just becoming, you know, the, a, the Michael Jordan of certain things. Where you’re just hitting every single shot time and time again.

Terry:

I mean, Sam’s, Sam’s very experienced, so he he’s comfortable on a set. Um, you know he’s been doing this a long time, so, so, so that’s not a problem. I think we’re always just, you know, looking to A: not repeat ourselves, right? And, you know, the business doesn’t always have a lot of imagination. And so it’s, you know, as soon as he did Three Billboards, he got like, you know, 10 offers to play, uh, racist hillbillies, you know? And like probably that’s, you know, same with when Gandolfini finished the Sopranos, most of the offers were for like gangsters. And so I think it’s really important not to get stuck in how the industry wants to see you cause the industry doesn’t always see you. I heard you talking in one of your wisdom things about like, you know, if, how do you call, how do you take charge and call your representation and say, can you get me in on this picture? I know that’s a thing that they don’t always see me as. Can I show them? I mean, that’s really, that’s a useful thing – that really you’re in charge and those people are your team and they’re working for you. Um, and I think that’s an – you know, actors get really frightened and they sometimes have a beggar’s mindset and like they’re frightened to say no. And, and really, you know, Sam has said for a long time that the biggest power you have as an actor is saying no. And if you don’t think that project’s right for you, if you don’t think, you know, cause we get afraid. Well, if I say no to this, what if another one doesn’t come? In this sort of terrified mindset as opposed to, I’m doing good work. I know what I’m doing. I’m here for the long haul and I’m not going to be, you know, if I’m just starting out, I’ll probably say yes to a lot of things just to like get the experience and get on some sets and meet some directors and have some work. And maybe some of it’s not that good, but at least I’m trying. But at a certain point you don’t have to say yes to stuff and say, I don’t think I’m the right guy for that part. Or I don’t like this project. I don’t, I don’t think it has any redeeming value. Like why did someone write this project? It’s kind of gross. You know? Or whatever it is. Right? Um, so that, I mean, I, you know, the process with Sam at this point is so flowing and it, it always feels to me like we’re sort of two jazz musicians, just riffing and he’ll interrupt me and I’ll interrupt him. And he accepts a lot of what I offer, most of it. And, and he also teaches me things. Cause he’s, he’s thinking about it too. And he gets really good insights that like projects and parts remind him of like, it’s a mix. We’ll say, well, it’s a little bit like a Gene Hackman and Superman mixed with, um, uh, Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, uh, with a little bit of Bill Murray in Stripes. And like, that’s a really weird cocktail, but to him it makes sense. And then we start to play with those colors on our palette. Right. Um, I think Sam likes to be a dangerous actor, meaning, um, really impulsive and lively and, um, open-hearted and a lot of weird mistakes happen in our sessions that sometimes end up on screen. Like he’s got this stutter in Three Billboards where, when Frances McDormand, when he’s talking, it goes to her, he’s talking about his mother and, and she’s trying to intimidate him. And, and he started to go mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, momma. Now that was just an idea I had. And I said, well, what if he did that? And then like, it’s, it’s on screen. Or, um, he did a movie where I said, um, why don’t you try singing that line? He said like, you mean just now? It was called The Way Way Back.

Alyshia:

Yes.

Terry:

And um, I said, no, like, like on the day. And um, so he did and it, it, that made it. And it’s just, you get into, you know, it’s really, for me, it’s sometimes more directorial, which you know, is weird. And, and that’s why, you know, directors sometimes, I mean, I’m, I’m working with this person now on a project and the show runner came up to her and said, are you working with your acting coach? She’s a series regular on this project. And she said, yeah, I don’t want you to do that anymore. I mean, first of all, that’s not – none of his business. Um, but I think he was just a little unhappy with what she’d created in some moments or had some anxiety or who knows what was going on and I guess was blaming me for it. Um, but then the next day he said, oh, that was great. That was great. What you did. And like, we’re just working. So, you know, usually my advice to actors is don’t tell the director, don’t pre-tell the director an idea because often directors go, oh, I don’t know about singing that line. You know? So just like, you know, do it –

Alyshia:

Do your work.

Terry:

And then like, they’ll be happy most of the time because they have so many other things to worry about.

Alyshia:

Yes. Do you ever go on set, speaking of you coming from more of a direction, directional standpoint, do you like collaborating on set? Do you like doing all the work offset and allowing the actor then to take –

Terry:

Yeah. I know some coaches like do that a lot, and I’ve got some friends who are coaches and like, they’re just on set all the time. And for some of their actors, they’re like security blankets, and they, they get paid a lot of money to just hang out and, um, they have sign language because they know the first thing they do is they go to the director and say, hi, I’m working with so-and-so. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with, even though the actor’s paying them just so the director doesn’t feel threatened. And then they have like sign language. So if they like two fingers after a take, that means I have to go to the bathroom and meet me there because they don’t want the director to speak, you know, because people get territorial. Um, but I prefer not to go on set. I don’t think you could pay me enough to do that. And, um,

Alyshia:

(laughing) I understand that.

Terry:

Yeah, I mean, I think we get it all done. I, I get calls from set.

Alyshia:

Oh yeah. Yes.

Terry:

Like, uh, God, they just changed it. And we got new sides and they’ll send me a text with a, you know, photo of the new sides and we’ll be like, you know, figuring some stuff out on the fly. But most of it can get done ahead of time, yeah.

Alyshia:

So I have to ask this because a lot of people that are listening are in various stages of their careers. And this is something that in the last few years has been percolating in my mind. You know, I’ve had various different projects where I’ve had six weeks to prepare. That’s the most I’ve ever had as an actor, you know, recurring. I know people, you know, working with Sam, he’ll sometimes, you know, get 3, 4, 5, 6 months who knows how much time. So you guys have a lot of time to really build out the relationships, the history, the character development. What do you, which is always ironic to me. The younger actor gets less time. The more established actor gets more time and that’s just the way our business works.

Terry:

Yeah.

Alyshia:

So as a person who is making a name for themselves and starting to learn their artistry, when you get an audition or you do get a part and you have a short time, short amount of time to prepare, let’s say 24 hours. And I know you don’t coach a lot on auditions, but I’m curious what your, your insight is into approaching character really quickly to be able to turn around and hopefully deliver something that may or may not be selected for the project. Doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I’m just talking, you know what I’m saying?

Terry:

Yeah, yeah, I do. Well, I do think it’s helpful to memorize if you can. And so being a quick memorizer is useful because it just makes a better impression most of the time. Um, at the very least, I would say I’m always looking for a shape to a scene. So any scene, let’s just say the average TV or film scene is three pages. Um, um, should have a beginning, middle and end. And there should be some kind of journey that you go on and don’t keep repeating yourself, even though the script might suggest it. I would venture to say that TV and film writing for the most part is not as good as playwriting, right? It’s very plot.

Alyshia:

One hundred percent. Yes, yep.

Terry:

And so you’re not going to see a lot of poetry there and you’re going to see writers repeat themselves. And so I’d say be willing, even though it seems like the script says I keep explaining, and then I explained, and then I explained, and then I explain again. To me, that’s uninteresting and that’s not going to make a really good impression. And probably nine, nine of the other people who are auditioning out of 10 or 90 out of a hundred are going to do it that way because that’s, what’s on the page. So how can I make the, how can I put my stamp on this, honor the writing, but also have some kind of an idea. So I think a beginning, middle and end is very useful. Um, I’d say, make sure you’re not pushing. That’s just a process thing because the camera picks up effort and, and it picks up everything and, and effort – the audience is going to feel, and in this case, the audience is the casting director or the producers, um, the audi- or the showrunner, the audience is going to feel in their body what’s going on in your body, right?

Alyshia:

Yes.

Terry:

You’re tense. Um, that’s going to show up. So you gotta be, I’d say not, you know, I love what Anthony Hopkins does in just about everything he does, not just The Father, but all his stuff, because it’s so, there’s an ease to it that, um, I find inviting.

Alyshia:

Yeah.

Terry:

And so, um, yeah, I’d get off book. I’d find a beginning, middle and end. I’d make sure I’m not pushing. Right? Even though it has like all caps and exclamation points, I usually cross all that crap out, frankly, because –

Alyshia:

You do?

Terry:

Yeah, because either most of the time that’s for producers or money people to get excited, like, oh, something happens here. Oh, you know, the, you know, and – or it’s about not trusting actors. Right? So I just cross that out because I don’t want to feel obligated. She said with tears in her eyes, cross that crap out, you know? Um, that doesn’t mean you might not get some tears in your eyes, but don’t feel wedded to that. If your sense of truth says that this isn’t what’s happening. Um, and then make a couple – because you’re not gonna be able to carve out every moment. This is an audition. This is to say, here’s my first draft of this part. And I know I’m probably not going to get the part. Because the odds are, I won’t, but I want to show you what I would do with this. This is my performance or a version of it. And that I can function. That I’m a guy, you know, I just did – and I did do a coaching for an audition recently for a new show on Epix with something.

Alyshia:

Yes, I know that. Mmhmm.

Terry:

So the people who did Lost are doing this new thing. So this guy was up for, he’s a funny guy. He’s a really, he’s had a long career, um, up in Vancouver, you know? So there’s a lot of market stuff happening up there, um, for like the village idiot. Based on that, self-tape that he did, they said, um, not that, but can you play now the priest, who’s like a very different guy in the thing. So then he came to me cause it, it didn’t seem that interesting on the, on the page. And he had two scenes and we tried to like put some stuff in there and, and, um, I want flavor, you know, and I don’t know what that flavor is, but I want – I like, like, I love Toni Collette. I just think she’s the way when she works on there, like Kathryn Hahn, you know, like, um, Chadwick Boseman, like just like people who like put heart and soul. But also there’s a little bit of, you know, I have a seven year old and he’s really, we cooked some food last night. And then he said, Papa, can, can I get a chair? And I said, what do you want a chair for? I said, I want to get some spices. And he went over to the cabinet, which is like up here and like was just starting to pull down. We had this cool spice called Slap Your Mama, you know –

Alyshia:

It’s so good. Isn’t it called? Bone sucking good, too? On the side of it, I think.

Terry:

It might be. So he’s just like, he’s putting that on. He goes, oh yeah. You know, I want to put a little flavor in the audition. Right. Like if you’re hiring me, I don’t want to just, you know, be a forgettable performance, fulfilling the function of the story without some humanity in it.

Alyshia:

Right. So when you’re looking for flavor, because I think a lot of actors, when they hear this are like, oh, I’m going to make an interesting choice. And I’m just reiterating what you said. What supports story? So are you trying to make interesting choices or flavor choices based obviously based on the text, but do you kind of find those through relationship? Are you finding those through movement? Are you throwing those through voice? Like what is a good indicator for, because you know how I would say younger actors and I don’t mean in age. I mean, in experience will be like, I’m going to do this one thing just to be different. And you’re like –

Terry:

No, no. You serve the story. That’s the most important thing. You’re there to tell the story. That’s why the audience is going. They’re not going to see you. They’re actually going to see themselves. They’re going to see themselves reflected in the story.

Alyshia:

Yes.

Terry:

That’s – but –

Alyshia:

Say that again. And even when you audition the casting directors, the producers, directors in the room, they’re witnessing this and trying to see a reflection of themselves. Yeah.

Terry:

Exactly. And so no, don’t do anything just to be different. Don’t just like, you know, drink a cup of water upside down to be weird. But, um, we do have imaginations, right? And so, you know, you can, how many parties, how many birthday parties or just parties have we been to that we actually remember? And very few, because they’re all generic. Right? They go to party city, they get the stuff, they get the chips, they get the dip, they get the carrots with – right? That’s really not interesting. So what’s going to make the work interesting. Not to them, to me as an artist.

Alyshia:

Yes.

Terry:

Right? So that I like it. I liked the way I liked the way I made it, you know? And I think it serves the story, but it also has some, like, I dunno, it’s got some humanity in it or whatever. It could be a physical choice. It could be a vocal choice. It could be all those things you said. A relationship moment. It could be whatever, you know. Um, yeah.

Alyshia:

I think what I always have been marinating on lately, if I’m interested, the audience is interested. So I think exactly what you just said. What makes you excited about playing this part? That’s what’s magnetizing. That’s, what’s exciting is your curiosity, right? So your excitement and curiosity, um –

Terry:

Play! Play in that. Like it’s a play, right? So you should be, it should be loose and fun and, and then like put it out there and hope for the best and move on.

Alyshia:

And move on. So since you’ve been doing this for a long time, I have two specific questions that don’t even have to do, I would say with the process itself, or it should be, I think part of the process. I would love to know your insight on helping actors deal with nerves. So do you have any insight, you being a coach, you being somebody that is helping people even, or even if Sam has taken on something where it’s like, this is really outside himself and he’s there’s, I don’t even know if he gets fear anymore. But do you have any techniques for the human condition? I love that you were just nodding yes. To help get us out of fear and into the curiosity and the excitement of creation.

Terry:

Well, I would say nerves and fear are cousins, but not quite related for me. I think it means you care. I think it means that like, um, it’s a signal that your nervous system, um, knows that this is a big deal that you care about and you want to do well. Right? Rather than like paralyzing fears, like, oh, okay. I’m really nervous right now. I think. So I think that’s actually positive, but it can’t be such that it paralyzes you and, like you can’t go on stage and you have stage fright and all that. So I think the best thing to do, the worst thing to do is to deny it and say, I’m not, I’m not afraid. I can do, you know, like try to like coach yourself into it, like a Tony Robbins thing. Like you can do it, you know?

Alyshia:

Yeah.

Terry:

So I think it’s like, okay, I’m afraid, I’m nervous. I’m very nervous. And um, what am I here to do? And, you know, I think meditation, mindfulness stuff, you know, calming yourself down as a practice so that you have some, some way of grounding yourself and it, and it, for me, it’s the body and the breath, you know? Do I, do I feel my feet on the floor? Can I notice my breath? Can I just close my eyes for a moment and sort of centered in, um, in what today’s about and, and telling myself it’s going to be okay. And um, putting my attention on things outside myself, right? Like, like the feet on the floor is, is, is that is sort of physical and the breath is physical. And then I can say, oh, like what’s, sky’s blue. And, uh, Alyshia’s wearing a necklace and there’s a kind of a colorful mosaic painting behind her. And that, that, and I think I see a microwave above her stove and like that sort of starts helping me just settle. I think, settling,

Alyshia:

Settling in, yes. Now on the flip side of that, do you have a process or technique to share for debriefing out of character? So let’s say somebody’s been with the same character, pretty heavy, pretty, and maybe even using Sam again as, uh, um, uh, an example, but going from character to character, somebody that’s bouncing around from project to project. Do you have something that helps people debrief after working with so many actors?

Terry:

Or when you say that I – I’ve heard another word used like de-role, like get out of a part, is that what you mean?

Alyshia:

Yeah. I mean, yeah. De-role, debrief. Like, you know, I did a pretty, uh, I can use myself as an example. I did a pretty hefty character on True Detective, in the first season of True Detective. She still lives in me. I can, I can bring her memories. What’d you say?

Terry:

I said the best season of True Detective.

Alyshia:

Yeah. Oh yeah. But there was, you know, I, I think that there are some roles that live within us for a very long time. Um, and I just was wanting your wisdom if there’s ever been a de-role, debrief, especially if you’re going from project to project where you’ve just let go, and you have to now inhabit a new world, a new situation, new relationships. How you can kind of get touch point back into yourself without having too much –

Terry:

Are you talking about like lingering trauma and stuff like that?

Alyshia:

From the characters? Yeah. Yeah.

Terry:

Well, I mean, first of all, um, I’m not, I don’t someone asked me the other day, like, um, what’s a good act- what’s the best acting technique, um, for having the least trauma? And I’m there like any good acting technique should work for that because acting’s not meant to be traumatizing. Right? And actors often, I think, because we’ve all got trauma, I mean, some significantly more than others, but, uh, that’s just part of the living experience. Um, and some quite a bit like really intense, awful things. Um, which I believe personally can all be healed. That the, the work in trauma these days is so- it’s very physically based. Um, people like Bessel van der Kolk, um, does great work and what kind of Peter Levine stuff that just really like works through the body in a very slow way to restory things and move out of that. And, and, and so that. Um, but people often confuse feelings with stories. So if a really bad thing happened to me and if like I was at my, you know, I was, you know, standing on the corner, I’ll just pick something horrible. And my sister was with me and she got shot. Right? And she died like literally right in front of you – her blood sprayed on me. And I was eight years old. Right? So great loss, great sadness and terror. Right? Here, okay. Well, I have work to do on that event, whatever that work is as I grow up and let’s say, now I’m an actor. Well, I don’t need to be afraid of fear because fear is just a color I paint with. And just because I’m feeling the feeling that happened when that traumatic event happened, and I’ve purposely used a very graphic one, but it could be anything could be the day my parents divorced and, you know, and we had pancakes that day. So I can have pancakes cause they’re sort of imprinted as that. But actually pancakes are pancakes. And fear is fear. And it’s not necessarily the story. So, I think of acting as the safest thing in the world. Right? And, and there are no, there shouldn’t ever be any consequences for acting. Like, I mean, look, you know, if I get cancer in a, in movie, I don’t have cancer. If someone cheats on me in a movie, they didn’t cheat on me. Right? I mean the best thing an actor can do, oh God, listen, I got this amazing part. Tell me. All right, check it out: in the first act I come home and my girlfriend is fucking my best friend. Oh my God. Yeah. Can you believe it? Wait, it gets better in the second act. I get brain cancer and die. Right. That’s an actor’s banquet. Right? And you want to be able to go there. Right? And then, you know, and then it’s over. To me, it’s over. Now the way to de-role, if you’re, if it’s staying in your body, if you’re like doing eight shows a week of like a serial killer or some really deep stuff, I mean, you have to go there. And I think you need to have some practices, usually in the body. I like showers. I like yoga. I like sweating. Right? To just like move me into the present moment. Because in the present moment, I’m not in that story. I’m not that character. I think good food, ice cream, you know, have some homemade pasta or whatever it is. Get into nature. I think changing the channel is get out of the house. Right?

Alyshia:

I love that. Changing the channel. Cause it’s interesting because our pain sensories, right? Using all of our sense memory or however you’re using to play that serial killer, you’re using your instrument to access emotions, mostly past emotions, something that you’ve built. And then you can change the channel back to yourself by changing scenery. Yes.

Terry:

I would change what you just said. You know, Stanislavski at first was into this past idea and that’s where the method came from. That’s what Strasberg still teaches. And then, um, Stella Adler went over to meet him in Paris, Stanislavski, and said, Hey, what’s going on? Like a couple of years later, she was part of the same group, the group theater that Strasberg and Meisner and all those folks were part of. They said hey we’re doing your sense memory stuff. That effect, he called it affective memory. And Stanislavski said, oh, I don’t do that anymore. He said, oh yeah, I find the imagination is more useful. So then she came back to New York and said, Hey guys, Stanislavski is doing the imagination. Basically. Strasberg said, well too bad. This is what I’m doing. Which is fine. Um, and then Meisner and Stella Adler went well, let’s get into the imagination. So it’s not what was what happened. We’re not digging up old stories. We’re just kind of creating what, what could happen, that if it happened, would have meaning for me? Right? Now, Strasberg, to be fair, um, recommended seven years or more in the past that like, if you were going to get into a thing that happened to you, don’t have it be that you had an abortion yesterday and you want to use it today. I think that’s pretty dangerous. Um, but seven years is a very arbitrary number because we know that trauma can, can be, uh, epigenetic and go across generations.

Alyshia:

Right.

Terry:

Seven years is meaningless. Actually. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not useful or healthy to use stuff until you’re completely like fixed with it. So I really much prefer, not past trauma, but like, let me just make something up. What if I came home and a guy had a gun to my wife’s head? That fantasy – because the nervous system can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. And we know that from like sexual fantasy, right? If you have a sexual fantasy and I don’t mean just thinking about it, but like imagining it, things are gonna happen in your body. Things are going to get wet and hard and all kinds of stuff and no one’s in the room with you and you’re by yourself,

Alyshia:

Right.

New Speaker:

Right? Or if you’re afraid of heights or in New York and the subways, a lot of people have fantasies about either jumping in front of a subway train or being pushed. And so sometimes when I’m on a subway platform, more pre-covid, I don’t take a lot of subways yet, but we’re getting back. Um, I get like, ah! Now, I’m safe. Like, or if someone’s afraid of heights or afraid of cats or afraid, whatever, all they have to do is imagine it. And something happens in their nervous system, which is so amazing for the actor, because it means that if you could imagine it, you got the thing going – and like things happen, you got adrenaline flowing, all that stuff. So I would differ with you that the past trauma and that to me makes it safe. I’m just imagining a story.

Alyshia:

I meant imaginative past trauma, like character past trauma. So I, I do a lot of imaginative where it’s like, oh, this happened in the past. And I use since memory, I don’t use myself. Substitution for me, I, it doesn’t, I don’t know when it’s dangerous. I don’t know when I was like, okay. And it’s dried up and it’s not working and it’s not giving me anything. I’ve healed it in some way, shape or form. Yes. So it’s, I’m going to pop to one really quick before we run out of time, because I – there’s so there – you have such a wealth of information. Um, and you’ve been doing this for so long. I do have one more question one while you’re coming in, are you wanting to transition into directing? Are you really loving the seat that you’re sitting in right now, to like directing, I should say television or film?

Terry:

Do you have a job for me?

Alyshia:

Yes, can’t wait. I’m like Terry, this is how we get you on set. So, um, I’m wondering…

Terry:

I mean, it’d be cool. You know, there’s a lot of technical stuff that scares would scare me. Like I’ve always thought, oh, maybe I could co-direct something so that like I could handle the acting and the whatever. And then someone else, like right now, I’m working with Natasha Lyone on season two of Russian Doll. And she’s got a wonderful director who came from Saturday Night, Live, uh, Alex Pono. Um, and we’re having all these sessions and they’re mostly script sessions, right? I mean, we’re talking about the acting, but Natasha wrote it. She stars in it. She’s directing it with Alex. I’m having a lot of fun. Like just, like putting all that together with them. That’s just me. And I’d love to just be on the like, oh wait, no acting stuff. No problem. But like, you know –

Alyshia:

The lenses, the – yes, all that.

Terry:

Telling the crowds when to cross the street, you know, like all that kind of stuff that really great directors know how to do. Or the editing of it. Like I that’s just, I, I, I would have to learn the language much better. Um, so probably not, but it would be fun if I could.

Alyshia:

It sounds like you’re bringing, you’re such a partner in creation that that lane feels so rich for you. So I completely understand that. And I think that, I mean more actors to have partners in creation is where we get the sharpest version of raw authenticity. Therefore for us to learn, be entertained fromIt’s, it’s, it’s interesting to me that a lot of actors like to say that they do it independently and some do, I’m not knocking that they don’t, but I think creation is a collaborative effort. So when you can have teammates really helping you sharpen the tools, that’s the way I love to create. I love getting eyes on something else. So I’m very thrilled to have anybody with your experience to get to talk to, to like help how we’re going to form this. And how about this idea and that idea it’s, it’s exhilarating to have somebody else. Juan, do you have a question?

Juan:

Yeah. Um, thank you, Terry. This was great to hear everything that you’ve shared. I actually, uh –

Terry:

Juan, what have you been doing the whole time when you were off camera, were you having snacks?

Juan:

You name it, there’s a mess of snacks underneath here. Do I have food on my mouth? Is that how you, um, uh, actually I trained with Maggie Flanigan, you know, I’m a graduate of hers.

Terry:

She’s [inaudible] –

Juan:

Uh, yeah, exactly. I know. Um, uh, I know you and her, like we’re around the same era or whatnot. Um –

Terry:

I visited her during Covid!

Juan:

You did?

Terry:

Yeah, I went up, she moved to Massachusetts. And last summer we went up there and like had many meals together with her and her husband, Richard, you know, and that was one of the first things when we took the mask off, you know, I was like, you know, I was like, okay, let’s do it. You know.

Juan:

That’s great.

Terry:

Maggie is a powerhouse.

Juan:

Yes. A tiny woman just loaded with power and strength. Uh, I’d heard once, uh, I’d met Sam a couple of times, but there’s no way he would remember me, but I remember him talking about her being, calling her The Razor, uh, just with a, just of how she is. Cause she will pick everything. But with, with that, um, I’m curious with, uh, students who graduate from your program, um, just what is the traps that most maybe have when they’re quote unquote finished training or what are the most productive things that students can do once they go through a training program? Since I know usually with Rutgers, and say two-year Meisner, and the third year you apply it to an actual play, so you can see how to use the tools. So I guess I’m just curious about that.

Terry:

Well, Meisner said, um, it takes 10 to 20 years to master the craft of acting. Okay. But asterisk that’s at the end of that is if you’re doing it consistently. And so as, you know, Juan, the, you know, the ma- did you do it at her studio or at Rutgers?

Juan:

Yeah. No, no.

Terry:

So like, that’s hardcore amazing. There’s an amazing – it’s for me, it’s Navy seals training, right? And you’re all in, and you’re going to class twice a week and you’re rehearsing twice a week and you’re going to the theater and you’re like, so dialed into this really, um, intense structure and then class ends. And the bottom drops out because it’s very hard for people to create structure for themselves. And so I think that’s the, and it’s like postpartum depression, you know? And so it’s really important. First of all, you’ve got this built-in network. Not everybody, you don’t love everybody in class. Right? But you have some buddies, you have some allies, you have some people who were be, I bet there are people from your class who you’re still in touch with.

Juan:

There’s a lot of them, a fair amount.

Terry:

Because you see each other go through this incredible process and people get naked both literally and emotionally in ways that, you know, I mean, people fall in love in class. People hook up in class, people break up in class, people, you know, it’s so, I mean, you see each other in the most heightened, beautiful, artistic ways. Um, that those – that’s your team. That’s your, that’s your, that’s your tribe. And I think it’s really important to stay in touch with them and like have some peer work that you’re doing. Like, let’s say, Hey, let’s meet once a week and do scenes for each other. Let’s go to the theater. Like you have to kind of keep it going so that, you know, meanwhile, you’re starting to build your resume, and like, becoming a solo person who’s like trying to get out there and make it happen, but you have to do it. You know, Bill – Bill always told this story. There was an actor named Danny Stone who studied with him and was a member of Circle Rep and a really wonderful, wonderful actor. Uh, did a lot of Lanford Wilson plays, did Balm in Gilead, that Malcovich directed. You know, it was just like a brilliant actor. So we got this job. He studied with Bill, he was Bill’s youngest student ever. Like he was 17 when he studied with Bill. Um, I think the youngest person Bill ever took. And, um, Bill want- he got his first professional job and Bill said, let’s go to lunch. Let’s celebrate. Then he said, uh, I can’t, I got to go to rehearsal. But the job doesn’t start till next month. I know, but I can’t wait till then. So there’s this thing in Queens, and it meets in a, you know, at the library and I’m going to be in a garage, like I just gotta act Bill . You know? And you gotta, you gotta keep creating opportunities. Even if they’re not paying opportunities, for you to be working on things. And at the same time, start to strategize the business of it, right? Like you really have to start to go okay, like, do my pictures work? Does my website work? You know, how am I networking like, you know, you gotta get that, but if you focus too much on that, you’re going to lose the artistic sense. So, I think it’s being a self-starter, you know, like I have this trainer that I work with just to like, you know, kettlebell stuff and whatever. Love the commute, by the way, uh, from home, right?

Juan:

Right.

Terry:

You know? And, and I was working with him once a week and he was just there, like, okay, but you gotta do it the other days and like have all the equipment, but I, I can’t make that appointment with myself. So I pay him for now twice a week. Right? Even though it’s double the money because I know I’m going to make that appointment. So you gotta make appointments.

Alyshia:

I love that. That’s a really good way to put it. I feel like, you know, we always say practice how you play. So you got to keep practicing so that when you’re called to play, you’re, you’re ready to go.

Terry:

Absolutely.

Alyshia:

I don’t think anything’s more invaluable. And I think that’s the hardest thing as an actor is having that self-discipline and not waiting for somebody to call you to do it. To be doing it on the regular. Daily, daily, daily, daily, all those hours. It’s fun because so many people that have come on the show were trained with Bill and that’s the quote. Always. I feel like that everybody said, well, Bill told me I’m going to be great in 15 years. I’m going to- and Bill was right, a hundred percent of the time. Every single time, every person I’ve interviewed, when Bill told him you’re gonna be great in 10 years or 20 years, it’s, it’s having that, um, permission to invest in yourself as a creative and allow there to be a journey in the creation and not have this overnight success. So it’s, it’s I’m so, um, I have a lot of gratitude for Sam and a lot of your, your, your clients. I don’t want to call them students, but confidants that are willing to speak about the collaborative- collaborators that they continue to work with because they’re continuing to stretch beyond. They’re not just waiting for that next job and then not utilizing their tools with other people. So it, this was such a joy to get to talk to you, Terry, and to hear some of your thought processes. Will you tell everybody where they can find the studio? And I know you guys are doing online courses and where they can follow along with you.

Terry:

Ah shoot, that’s really nice. Yeah. Um, it’s, you know, every acting studio seems to be named after the teacher. And I I’d really like to just, you know, call it The Avocado Acting Studio or something, but it’s TerryKnickerbockerStudio.com. Um, we do have a beautiful space in Brooklyn, which we plan to be back in, in the fall. Um, and the main things we do are this Two-Year Program, which we’re interviewing now for the fall and our Summer Session, which is where I met Sam. He came and did the Summer Intensive – it’s a six week taste of the work, the first 18 classes of the first year. And we’re doing that online. That starts in about a month. We’ve still got my class is almost sold out, but I have some other teachers who work for me and do a wonderful job and we have acting and movement and Linklater voice on Zoom. And it works very well. Um, and I’d love people to come and do that. So yeah. TerryKnickerbockerStudio.com or on Instagram, you can find us all those places. Yeah.

Alyshia:

Terry, thank you. I can’t wait to have you be a coach for a great part. You’ve been on my mind for a couple of years now. So again, thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being an awesome teammate for all collaborations. This was wonderful.

Terry:

Thank you. So nice to meet you and talk with you both. Yeah, thank you.