10000 Nos, Terry Knickerbocker and Matthew Del Negro

 

10,000 “No”s Podcast with Matthew Del Negro interviews Terry Knickerbocker

 

Terry: Can you imagine going to a dentist and one week the dentist knows what to do and the next week, you walk in and he says, “Jeez, I don’t know about this drill,” right? I don’t know any musicians who have hit or miss technique, dancers, architects, but I know a lot of actors who don’t know what they’re doing. They either find it or they don’t find it. But they don’t have a reliable approach unless they’ve been in the business a long time, for how to turn every script they get into behavior.

Matthew: If you’re a person who’s heard the word no from a boss, an ex, a team that cut you, a job market that didn’t want you, an accident or diagnosis that left you debilitated and depressed, or felt paralyzed y any setback that you just weren’t willing to accept, this is the show for you. 10,000 Nos is a roadmap built by guests who have blazed trails, silenced critics, and overcome the odds by facing down their fears and transforming their failures into fuel. I don’t care if you’re young or old, healthy or sick, there is always an opportunity for growth. This is Matthew Del Negro and you’re listening to 10,000 Nos.

Matthew: Welcome back to 10,000 Nos and thank you as always for being here. If you were with us a few weeks ago from my solo episode titled You Never Know Who’s Listening, you heard me mention today’s guest. I was extremely honored when out of the blue, someone from Terry Nickerbocker Studio in Brooklyn reached out to tell me that Terry, who you will come to find out in the next hour, is kind of a big deal in my industry, has been a big fan of 10,000 Nos. The fact that I’ve created a show that’s inspiring the very kind of people who inspire me really fires me up.

Matthew: The fact that I was already headed to Brooklyn for the show I’m currently working on, the week after they reached out, was what we call serendipity. I got to visit the studio, meet Terry’s staff, and sit down face to face with Terry for this incredible conversation that I’m honored to bring you today.

Matthew: For those of you not familiar with Terry, here’s a brief snapshot. For the past 20 years, academy award winner, Sam Rockwell, has insisted on working with acting coach, Terry Knickerbocker to prepare for every one of his roles. An actor himself prior to teaching, Terry studied at the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU before seeking out the late William Esper. Falling in love with the manner in which Esper worked after taking his two-year program, Terry began a 25-year stint teaching at the William Esper Studio until 2015 when he ventured out on his own to open the Terry Knickerbocker Studio.

Matthew: In addition to running his studio, Terry is highly sought after for private coaching, with such respected thespians as John Leguizamo, Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne, Rockwell, and Chris Messina among others. While it was a huge surprise to me that Terry is a fan of 10,000 Nos, once I got over the initial shock, it made sense. He, like me, is obsessed with process. He is obsessed with the potential in human beings, whether they turn out to be future Oscar winners or someone looking to hone their craft to the best of their own particular ability.

Matthew: I feel lucky to have sat down with him to discuss the craft and the long and winding road to being considered one of the best of the best in his field. Here he is, Terry Knickerbocker.

Matthew: The definition is that you’re an acting teacher, you’re an acting coach. But if I were an alien coming down from out of space, how would you describe what it is that you do?

Terry: That’s so interesting because in the Meisner training, on the first day of class, we ask, if a martian were to come here and you met each other, and they don’t know what acting is, how would you describe that? So we start to try to come to an organic definition of acting that ultimately I steer them towards Meisner’s definition of acting, which is doing truthfully under imaginary circumstances.

Terry: I think I help people to learn how to act so that they can tell stories in rich ways that are truthful, authentic, meaningful, full of their imagination, honor that playwright but also honor them as artists. Then in the coaching part, because I’m not really teaching them how to act most of the time, I’m just helping them to come in loaded in the best way possible to know what to do, to know what to do. I think that’s both cases, in the teaching and in the coaching, it’s like it’s so good to walk on set and feel like you know what you’re doing, so when the director says act… so that in a way, you’re director-proof.

Matthew: I know what director-proof is, but explain that to an audience who may not know what you’re talking about when you say director-proof.

Terry: I think the alien is still a bit confused. We enact stories either live, which is so great, this is just theater, or on camera for film and television and actors play characters who are not themselves usually. There’s always a director. That person is responsible for making sure the whole enterprise comes together, lights, set, camera, editing, all that kind of stuff. Most directors don’t have the language skills or understanding or knowledge to speak to an actor. So they’re going to talk to an actor typically in result-oriented language. “Is there a version of this where you could raise your voice?” or “Could you do it more like Johnny Depp?” Or just the most idiotic possible things. And actors have to be diplomatic because we all want the same thing, hopefully, which is for the project to be as good as it can be. But you’re thinking to yourself, this guy is… can I swear? A fucking idiot, right? I mean, he’s just, “What the fuck does he know? Can I do it like Johnny Depp? Hire fucking Johnny Depp.”

Terry: Is there a version of this where I can yell? Can you get louder? Is there a version of this where you can be more like a kangaroo? I mean, the most insane things directors say to you. Of course, there are exceptions to that historically like Elia Kazan was an amazing actors’ director. But for the most part, directors are happy when you can do it, and they give you notes. Then you have to, as an actor, translate that into something that’s actable, which comes out of your vocabulary.

Terry: The director-proof thing, because if you walk in with an idea and hopefully the director’s pleased with it, or a couple of ideas, then they don’t have to worry about you. They have to have a better idea. The worst thing is when you walk in not knowing what you’re doing. Then the director’s going to go, “eh…” and then he’s going to start messing with you and that’s a nightmare because time is money. There’s no time on the set for learning. You’ve got to walk in knowing what you’re doing.

Matthew: Which is one of the things… and hearing an interview that I heard with you, you talk about being loaded with ideas. You talk a lot about preparation, taking care of your instrument.

Terry: Is that funny how we call it the instrument, but that’s what we call it, you know?

Matthew: Yeah.

Terry: Like a tuba. But it’s true.

Matthew: Yeah, it really is. It’s all-encompassing.

Terry: I was a smoker. I’m interrupting you. I was a smoker for a long time because it was cool to smoke, and everybody smoked. I got to NYU to train and my acting teacher, Terry Hayden, who’s still alive I think in her 90s, extraordinary lady who worked with Lee Strasberg, said, “Are you smokers here?” I reluctantly put my hand up and she said, “What are you doing? You’re killing your instrument. That would be like taking a Stradivarius violin and a screw and scratching on the surface. What’s the matter with you? This is your instrument.” Man, that was a wake up call, and I quit the next day, because we’re not civilians.

Matthew: I’ll tell young actors that they talk about warming up. I say, “Did you play sports?” Say, “Yeah.” Say, “Did you just show up to the field and just get on the field and play?” “No.” “What’d you do?”

Terry: Stretch.

Matthew: Actually stretch. You get your mindset right, and yet some people don’t think of it when it comes to… they think, just go. But what I was going to say was as I listen to you in this other interview, and I’ll put the link in the show notes to this other interview, because it was great and you got into Meisner. We’ll cover some of these topics and probably not cover some of them. But what I was struck with was your approach to acting is so in line with so many other guests of 10,000 Nos, who are in all different fields.

Terry: Tell me about that.

Matthew: Just in terms of preparation, attitude, service.

Terry: Yeah. I was listening to the guy who was in jail for seven years.

Matthew: Oh yeah.

Terry: Who’s the Crossfit guy.

Matthew: Rob Grupe. Yeah.

Terry: I’m getting chills just thinking of him because I was going like, yep, yep, yep, yep. Talk about overcoming his stuff.

Matthew: It’s a great reminder to sit down with all these folks and either or other ones where people have overcome these insurmountable odds and that’s for the mindset and reframing something. Then there’s also where I thought, with you, really it’s a crossover with probably every one of these high-achieving guests, it’s the preparation and setting yourself up for success. That was a question that I had, was you work with actors of all different stages of their career, including the pinnacle of our business, Sam, as we were talking about before we sat down, but-

Terry: That’s Sam Rockwell. So, yes. [laughs]

Matthew: What is it, though, that you… how do you convey that message to a young actor who’s coming in and they’re saying, “I want all of these things, but where do you start?” What’s the beginning point for you?

Terry: We do all our classes here by interview. Some studios, you come in and audition. There’s a lot of different ways to study acting, especially in New York. There’s probably more acting schools here than any place in the world. But you can be coached within an inch of your life and do a monologue that everyone’s got you, and then you don’t really know anything about the person. So the first thing I ask anybody I work with or meet who wants to work is, “what are your goals?” because I think having a north star is very important.

Terry: 90% of the time what people will say is, “I want to be a working actor.” My heart sinks when I hear that. It means they don’t want to be a barrista. They just want to make a living. I had a student in my class who didn’t know what the hell she was doing, but she made a lot of money because was a stand-in on Law and Order, five days a week. So she bought a penthouse. She was a working actor except she’s not working. I tell them, in this gentle a way, but a direct way as possible, “I wonder if we could find a more interesting goal.” And it takes a long time.

Terry: They say, “Well, I want to win awards.” I say, “Well, you know Jeff Bridges didn’t win an award till 40-something years into his career. Does that mean he wasn’t a good actor until he got the award?” That’s marketing. When Sammy did Moon, that was one of the best films ever, I thought. Sony, I think that was the distributor, decided that they didn’t think he was going to have the legs, and so they didn’t pay for screeners, so he didn’t get nominated. Not because he wasn’t good, but because they didn’t have the publicity machine going full stop, which is how these awards work, is actually a lot about publicity and stuff.

Terry: I try to get them to, “I want to be the best actor I can be.” That’s the north star that interests me. I don’t want to be better than Clint Eastwood or Meryl Streep. I want to be the best. There’s no competition. There’s only one me. I want to be the best actor I can be.

Terry: We have a little girl who loves tennis and her hero is Serena Williams. And you ask her what does she want to do. She wants to play Wimbledon, and she knows that to play Wimbledon, she has to be the best player she can be. Then her family makes decisions like, okay, well, we’re not going to do that in Idaho. We’ve got to move to Florida. That’s where the coaches her. So I want to be the best actor I can be so that I can play leading roles in projects I care about.

Terry: Now, that may be a 20-year goal or more, but that’s my goal. Then you reverse-engineer that and you say, “Okay.” If that’s your goal and you mean it, and you mean it, because lots of people say they want shit and they don’t do it. Dreams without action don’t equal anything. It’s just a list. It’s just a to-do list. It’s not on your calendar. So I say, “If that’s what you want, then where does training fit into that?” Then people say, “Well… because I run a conservatory. I teach acting here but I also know that in any MFA program, here or in London or anywhere else, you want to be a good actor, you have to work on your voice. You have to work on your body. And we’re not even talking about other stuff you need to work on, but at least that, and I offer that.

Terry: They go, “Well, I just like to do the acting.” I said, “Do you know about The Sopranos?” Speaking of you, right? “For seven years, those guys had a great career. How many of them are working now, because they sound like they’re from New Jersey,” because they were great on that show. But they’re not going to work on Fargo. Only Gandolfini and Edie Falco and a few select others in the main… Imperioli and a few others are out there doing it, and the rest aren’t doing anymore. They’re getting royalties but they aren’t doing any more.

Terry: So if you need to do that, you need to work on your voice. You need to work on your body, and you need to work your fucking ass off because… and we train actors in two years. That, to me, is extraordinary because there’s no one who plays the violin who can do that in two years or ballet. But because innately, as human beings, we’re storytellers already from the beginning and we see and know how to mimic stuff if we have that interest, getting the skills can actually be given in two years. But it takes 20 years to 10,000 hours to start to master it.

Terry: People say to me, “Well, I don’t want to take movement. I can’t afford it.” And I’m like, “Fucking Airbnb your couch, man. What do you want to do? What’s your goal? There’s sacrifice involved here.” It’s in the conversation that people self select, that they see that I’m all in. Most really good actors are obsessed and you can’t be dabbler. You can’t be a dilettante. You have to know why you want to do it and really love it. If you do, you’re going to do it. And even then, and they come and study here and I’m not cheap. I’m not the most expensive, but it’s not cheap here. You still see people who are very self-sabotaging. They don’t rise up.

Matthew: Talk at that. The self-sabotage. What do you think? What do you see as the big barrier for a lot of… if you had to pick one thing that would stand-

Terry: Fear.

Matthew: Fear?

Terry: Fear. A condition fear, habitual fear, fear that’s been in them forever, maybe that they learned from their parents, and I would say, more fear of success on some level than fear of failure. What would it be like if I actually became the very best version of myself? That’s not easy.

Matthew: Yeah. It’s a lot of responsibility.

Terry: A huge amount of responsibility and it’s a huge amount of work.

Matthew: Yeah. That’s a common theme when I’m talking about other guests. I think of the entrepreneurs. You see them flying around in private jets and everybody says, “I want to do that.” #Entrepreneurlife, whatever it might be. Then when you actually sit down with these men and women who do this, the answer is always… first of all the story is always 30 years long to get to where they were. What they actually do to achieve that is incredible sacrifice, incredible focus on work ethic, and it really applies.

Matthew: Tell me a little bit about your own journey. I know you were with the Experimental Theater at NYU. But I mean even further back, did you know at a young age that you wanted to be an actor, a storyteller, somehow involved in this or was this kind of a complete left turn that got you here? Where’d you grow up?

Terry: I grew up in Brooklyn Heights until I was seven. Both my parents are attorneys. My dad’s deceased in 2010, but my mom just turned 91. She’s still living in Brooklyn. Then we moved to Massachusetts. My parents were so good at… I’m getting a little choked up, at exposing me and my sister, I have a younger sister, to culture. We’d go to the theater. My dad took me to the symphony. We’d go to museums. I was listening to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Pirates of Penzance, and H.M.S. Pinafore, which I loved. I love that stuff. It’s weird stuff. My dad loved it. He was sort of an old-fashioned Republican. My mom was a Democrat from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Syracuse, New York.

Terry: With all this weird stuff, and I loved to do it. My dad carried around a picture of me at the age of four in his wallet, dressed up as Joseph from the Bible, with a fake beard and stuff like that, so something was going on. I know I was in some plays in middle school and in summer camp. There was like a drama thing. I never thought I’d do it. I just enjoyed it. I also really liked French, and I was a total underachiever. I mean, I was like-

Matthew: Really?

Terry: Yeah. Every report card until my junior of high school was saying that Terry has lots of potential, but he needs to apply himself. I was really sad. I was a very depressed and anxious kid. I don’t think I had a very happy childhood at all.

Matthew: Where do you think that came from, just in your chemical makeup or there was… and we don’t have to delve into your childhood, but just the-

Terry: I don’t know, because I feel pretty happy now and very fulfilled, and I’m so blessed with a wonderful job that I love to do every day and a wonderful family and great people around me. But I was lonely. I think my dad was kind of sad. Without getting into a lot of family stuff because these people are still with us, I’ll just say it was environment plus maybe some chemical makeup, but a lot of environment and confusion. I did West Side Story in high school and I really wanted the part of Action. He’s the guy who’s this cool, cool-

Matthew: My son just did Tony in West Side Story’s… yeah. So I’ve seen it now. Yeah.

Terry: Yeah. I wanted that. It was between me and this guy, Andrew Friedman. I went to a boarding school in Providence, Rhode Island, called Moses Brown. It was between me and Andrew Friedman. Mrs. Gunyan, the drama… it was 1972, said, “Okay, let me see you both walk across the stage, and based on that, I will decide.” So he walked and I walked, and he got the fucking part because of his walk. And I got the booby prize which is the part of Big Deal appropriately named. Big Deal was one of the jets. Action was Tony’s right hand man, right?

Matthew: Yeah.

Terry: And he got his own song. Big Deal got one verse in the song called Dear Officer Krupke. But because I could sing… the audience here is laughing. We have some students here. Because I was a good singer, I was also backing up and singing harmony on Tony’s songs backstage. It was so cool to grease your hair back and all that, and then… I was high all the time. I mean I was just-

Matthew: Really? Starting from what age?

Terry: Oh, man. Ninth grade. Yeah. Just drugs. That was huge. There was the anti-war movement and all this kind of stuff going on. I wasn’t really that interested in school, for the most part. Then my dad got me into BU, because I didn’t even send an application. I’d say, “I’ll send in the application.” I didn’t send in the applications. He taught at BU and so he pulled some strings and I got in as a French major because I spoke French pretty well and took AP French, and I did not go to a single class.

Terry: I went to the first class of each one of my classes and bought the books, and lived in a dorm. My parents lived in Cambridge and I was in Boston. That was weird. The first week, I saw an audition notice for this operetta called the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein written by Offenbach who was sort of a contemporary of Gilbert and Sullivan’s, and I went, “Oh. That sounds cool.” Need a chorus. So I went in, I auditioned, and I got into that and ultimately became the president of the Boston University Savoyards, which was a really niche group devoted to Gilbert and Sullivan, and occasionally other operettas. But I never went to class.

Terry: There wasn’t online stuff then, so my parents would go, “How are classes going?” “Oh, classes are going great.” Then I’d rush home to intercept the letters from Boston University saying, “Your son has incompletes,” and all that. Finally, at the end of my first there, they figured that out and BU said, “Hit the road.” I got a job and I started acting in everything amateur I could do in Boston and Cambridge, which is shows at Harvard, shows at BU, some dinner theater stuff, lots of musicals. Then I did my first straight play, which was Ionesco’s Macbett, which was his take on the Scottish play.

Terry: I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I kept getting these parts. They kept giving me these parts. Then I went, “Hm, I think I’ve reached a plateau here. I need to train.” I applied to NYU, took the train down. It’s the only place I applied to, got in, and everything changed after that. That was full-on training. I was at Circle In The Square for the first two years, which was a studio there. It’s not anymore, which is where I met Terry Hayden. Nikos Psacharopoulos who founded Williamstown was my teacher, and started Linklater Voice. We did jazz dancing and it was weird stuff. But I was also interested in this experimental stuff, so I transferred over.

Terry: That’s such a long answer to your question, but the bug was early on through being exposed to it but it really didn’t catch fire till high school and after.

Matthew: What I love about that answer, especially as a parent, and especially as a parent in today’s society where everybody’s kids have to be number one right now, what I love about that story is that it’s not like it has to be deemed… you don’t need to find that thing when you’re six necessarily, and maybe you did find it in some way as you’re saying. But the fact that it didn’t really crystallize for you until you were almost 20, it should give hope to parents that are listening, certainly, that you don’t have to micromanage every single thing that your kid does.

Terry: But that’s just tempted… I mean, my kid just started… I have a five-year-old and we’re talking about your kids and I just want him to be happy, right?

Matthew: Yeah.

Terry: But when I see him liking something, like he is really liking drawing now and coloring and stuff like that, and he’s pretty good, which I have no talent for, I have to hold myself back from going, “So do you want to be an artist?” Because it’s too early.

Matthew: No. I’m telling you. Yeah. My son just did the West Side Story. Both my kids, my son and my daughter just started doing just community theater last year and they both really like it, and I think they both have some aptitude. But my feeling is: expose them to everything. If they’re interested in it, give them opportunities to keep going but do everything you can not to be overbearing and sometimes-

Terry: Stay –

Matthew:  … I succeed at that and sometimes I don’t. But I love hearing that story that here you are with all that you’ve accomplished, and then to hear that you’re saying your junior year of high school, until then is when you were an underachiever.

Terry: Way. Yeah.

Matthew: Then even beyond that, you go and you… I don’t know if I would call it failed out, or lacked attendance out of BU.

Terry: I failed out by not going to class.

Matthew: But by not going to class. Go on, sorry. So you found the Experimental Theater at NYU. What happened for you there?

Terry: Oh, man. I just felt-

Matthew: Or what did you learn in there?

Terry: I found a home and my mind got blown by the idea of what is theater. That just got exploded primarily through a teacher named Anne Bogart who a lot of people may know as the head of what’s called the SITI Company, S-I-T-I, which is an experimental company that’s been around for many years here in New York, and she’s also the Head of Directing at Columbia University in their grad program. But she was my teacher, one of my teachers at NYU, Experimental Theater Wing.

Terry: She had the idea that theater for her always felt like a journey. So we started to do a lot of site-specific theater and taking the audience on journeys. We’d be in Washington Square Park doing scenes, and then there’d be a guide bringing the audience through. Then they’d stop for a while and watch us doing something, then they’d go on to something else where there was another scene in someone’s basement in the East Village.

Terry: We did theater in abandoned high schools. We did theater on the steps at NYU and so-called invisible theater or just alternative street theater stuff and just, what is it and how do you, in a very post-modern approach to making theater that was so rich. We just felt like we could change the world.

Matthew: What are some lessons that you learned from that? Because I think there’s a certain amount of risk involved with that. When you’re doing a play on a stage and people are paying to come into the theater, that’s one thing. It’s in a vacuum. But what you’re talking about, it’s doing it out there in public. Did you learn something-

Terry: Sometimes in public, sometimes in a basement that only people about it were coming to and they were looking through the windows, and they paid. They paid some money.

Matthew: What I mean is did you learn something about risk in a performance?

Terry: Yeah, man. That is scary, to have people coming and looking at you, the public. When you’re doing theater on the street, that’s scary, and that’s cool. I like risk. I think risk, to connect to your guests in this 10,000 Nos podcast, that the ability to run towards risk, safe and healthy risk, to go to your edge, seems to be a theme.

Terry: I learned about community. That was always the best thing about plays, it was rehearsing and forming a family. We felt even more like a community in this underground Experimental Theater Wing, it felt like to us. The reason I went there was because at Circle In The Square, which had some great classes, great teachers, great students. But I would notice, because we’re taking class at Midtown, where the Circle is is where theater is now near the Gershwin Theater. People would come to class and the teacher would say, “Who wants to work today?” And people would be like all dressed up for an audition. And they’d go, “I’d like to work, but I might rip my pantyhose,” or whatever. That to me was like nails on a chalkboard. It was like, “Folks, we’re here to train. Why are you worried about your career right now when you’re in college and you have this beautiful sacred gift of a shelter and a dojo to train?”

Terry: It just was a very mixed set of priorities. Then when I got to ETW, Experimental Theater Wing, it’s like just an empty space, people in sweat pants, no bullshit. We’re just going to get down and dirty, and that just felt like that’s home to me. The work, the dojo, that’s what I liked.

Matthew: Rocky back in the old gym-

Terry: Yeah. 100%. Yeah.

Matthew: … of Apollo. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all-

Terry: But not training for a fight, just training knowing that the more we train, the more work we’re going to be able to do when we want to do it.

Matthew: Yeah. You have a great story of how you came to meet William Esper.

Terry: Yeah.

Matthew: My condolences, by the way.

Terry: Thank you. Well, we’ve all lost someone pretty astounding who had been for over 50 years a pillar in actor training, and he lives inside me for sure. I had a teacher at NYU named Rina Yerushalmi. She was an Israeli woman, great director. She went to Carnegie Mellon. Incredible. She, in our last couple weeks of senior year at NYU, just said, “Well, let’s try a little bit of this repetition exercise,” which I knew nothing about. No one in… I can’t say no one. But back then, New York theater training, Lee Strasberg was still alive. Stella Adler was still alive. Uta Hagen was still alive. Those were the big three. Then a guy named Eric Moss, a few other people like Paul Sills who was teaching the Viola Spolin work. But I never heard of the Neighborhood Playhouse. I never heard of it. Certain people had heard of it because like-

Matthew: It had been around for-

Terry:  … Steve McQueen and… I’d never heard of it. So I didn’t know anything about Meisner. I didn’t know anything about that. I thought these were the big ones. She told me about the repetition exercise and we did a little of it, and she was dating a guy named Joel Rooks, who studied with Bill Esper and had just started to teach with Bill Esper. Was a working actor, still a working actor. Wonderful actor.

Terry: Then I was working backstage at La Mama on a show she directed, that Joel was the star of called Yossele Golem, The Golem Legend, at La Mama, which is a great Lower East Side wonderful off-off Broadway theater work, great work I’ve done. So I saw Joel every night do this lead role magnificently like an Olympic gymnast, just sticking it like character, emotion, precision.

Terry: Right around that time, she had a class for us outside of NYU where we did scene study. One week I did a scene from Bertolt Brecht’s Baal and it was great. Then I did a scene from Summer in Smoke, Tennessee Williams. It was great. Then I did a scene from Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My brain knew what it needed, but I didn’t have a roadmap, and in fact, it turned out that NYU had given me a lot of great experiences, but hadn’t given me a toolkit, because the methodology there was scene study, which makes no sense to me. But that’s how most actors learn, because you do scenes and you do more scenes and we get some technique. But none of that technique made sense to me.

Terry: The confluence of seeing Joel do this and being terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing, even though I knew it the week before. I mean, can you imagine going to a dentist and one week the dentist knows what to do and the next week, you walk in and he says, “Jeez, I don’t know about this drill,” right? I don’t know any musicians who have hit or miss technique, dancers, architects, but I know a lot of actors who don’t know what they’re doing. They either find it or they don’t find it. But they don’t have a reliable approach unless they’ve been in the business a long time, for how to turn every script they get into behavior.

Terry: So I went, “I want to do what Joel’s doing,” and he studied with Bill. I went and met with Bill. I was cast in two plays in the fall. I went to see him in the summer. I was going to do a play with Rina and I was going to do a play with Ann Borgat, and I was just going, “Hey, I’d like to get this.” Bill said, “That’s great. You can come into my class. I don’t actually have any room in my class so you’re going to have to be an alternate,” which meant I’d have to watch him and then train with someone else, who happened to be Maggie Flanigan who is an astounding teacher but was just starting out there. And I said, “Okay, yeah.”

Terry: I got these plays. After missing classes, he went, “What? Oh no, what are these plays?” I went, “It’s going to be off-off Broadways.” “I don’t want you to do those plays.” I got so pissed. I didn’t tell him I was pissed. But I was just like, “Who goes to an acting class to not do a project? I’m just here to get in tune.” He said, “No, no, no. We’re starting from the beginning. Everyone who does this work starts from the beginning. I don’t care if you went to Yale or NYU or you’re a plumber. We all start at the beginning because I don’t know where the holes are. And we’re going to winning races by crawling. If you go from my class to rehearsal with some director, going back to the director-proof, who’s going to give you some bullshit or result-oriented direction, none of this is going to stick. So I don’t want you to do those projects.”

Terry: I slept on it and I said, “Okay.” I quit them both and haven’t looked back because that training was the most extraordinary two years of my life. It was just rich and imaginative, and he was a masterful teacher, and Maggie was a masterful teacher, and I had the benefit of both of them.

Terry: Talk about rigor, because you’re supposed to usually just do one exercise at class. But there were only a couple of us who are alternates. So Maggie said, “I’m not going to come here just to do one exercise. Why don’t you have two ready?” So I’d have two ready and then I’d always have another one ready in case, watch Bill’s class, in case someone was absent. It’s like going to the gym like Michael Phelps, three times a day, and that was great. Yeah.

Matthew: When you came out of that two-year program, had the teaching bug come yet or you were acting still?

Terry: I had always thought about teaching but I thought, oh no, I could never teach because I’ve had bad teachers and mean teachers. It felt like such a sacred responsibility. I could not imagine having someone put themselves in my hands and being responsible for that, not like china, not want to break it. I had an interest, but I thought I could never do that.

Matthew: How did you connect the dot going from that to now?

Terry: I was all in to be an actor. I actually left Rob Knepper who’s a wonderful working actor, was in my class, and he’d been given a job in a show that Nancy Simon, Niel Simon’s daughter was directing up in Vermont. Then he dropped out and recommended me. I went right from school into work, which was great. I was just like, “Great, working actor. I’m going to do that.” Then the woman who became my first wife, Jessica Litwak, is a wonderful writer and performer, a friend of Anne Borgat’s, got this chance to do a play that Anne had directed. And Anne got another job and said, “Well, would you like to direct it?” And I went, “Okay.”

Terry: That actually fit because whenever I was acting in projects, I always wanted to kind of mess with everybody else’s stuff, which is a no-no. I’d always have ideas about their costumes, and their moments, which I’d mostly keep to myself, but it was a bit of a torture. So to be a director was like, “Oh, now I get to be like the mad scientist and in charge of everything.” I did it just to help Jessica out but I won an award. I applied and won this grant from the Drama League of New York for emerging directors, which was a fellowship for the next six months and I got to assist at Arena Stage and at Amazon Studio Theater, and then do my own project, which Bob Moss who founded Playwrights Horizons was my mentor for that. It’s like, “Oh, okay. I’m directing now.” Then I was like, “I don’t need to act any more. I like directing.”

Terry: I really wanted to be a director. Then I realized very quickly that directors can’t make a living, stage directors. The only stage directors that make a living, for the most part, are if you have a show running on Broadway. So Joe Mantello, he said he’s got Wicked. Julie Taymor, she’s got Lion King. I didn’t do musicals, so there was no way I was going to make a living. The way directors making livings is they either work for theaters like as artistic directors or literary managers, or they directed soap operas. A lot of them did that or they taught. But no one in New York needed anybody at there… wrote The Public in Manhattan Theater Club and nobody wanted anything.

Terry: So I said, “Okay, I’ll try the soap opera thing.” I had one day shadowing this director on Guiding Light and I thought I was going to just vomit. It was just horrifying. I couldn’t do it. My soul felt horrified at that. No disrespect. Soap operas are great. DirecTV’s great. A lot of people working really hard doing great work there, but it just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Terry: Teaching became the default thing. I went up to Bill and I said, “I want to teach the work,” and he said, “Well, I don’t need any teachers,” because his way of learning how to teach was you observed him like an apprenticeship for years, unpaid. I said, “Well, how would it be if I just came until you told me to go?” And that became a 32-year relationship that finished in 2015.

Terry: I started with the teaching just to support directing, and at a certain point, I didn’t need to direct anymore. I just loved teaching.

Matthew: What is it that you get out of teaching that you didn’t get out of directing? To be able to follow someone’s progress or-

Terry: The thing with directing is… ultimately, to be a really good director, you have to direct hit shows. Something has to work, and so the commercial considerations and compromises and whether it’s about casting or budget or whatever, it just isn’t as pure, to me, as teaching. I love theater, I would say. I love the possibility of theater when it really works, and I directed some shows that I’m very proud of, and those were thrilling. But some of the other stuff just felt a little draining.

Terry: There’s something pure about teaching, at its best where just people there… it’s like going to a dojo. You’re just there to learn this thing that is so beautiful to do and it’s so hard to do, and the Meisner technique is such a beautiful approach. It’s just soup to nuts so ingenious. The pedagogy of it is so perfect. It’s a journey. It’s clear. It’s foundational. That’s the main thing. Scene study doesn’t work for me as a training methodology because it’s like trying to learn Beethoven if you want to learn the piano. You have to learn scales. You can’t do Swan Lake the first day of ballet class. But my first day at NYU, I was doing Streetcar Named Desire. That’s just really putting the cart before the horse.

Matthew: I would love to hear your explanation of the principles of Meisner’s teachings and even the repetition exercise, even so that I feel that that work applies to non-actors.

Terry: Sure. Yeah.

Matthew: I actually think there are ways in which it does. It goes beyond just the audience of actors… I’d love to hear your explanation.

Terry: I don’t know if we have enough time.

Matthew: Yeah. Maybe it’s-

Terry: I’ll just basically say that… just to use the scales metaphor. You have to do a lot of scales if you want to be a musician, whatever the instrument, major scales, minor scales, diminished scales, seven scales, so that you start to develop a vocabulary and a facility in your muscle memory for doing that work. And it sort of pre-solves problems. Like if you work on, I don’t know what, eighth note arpeggios in a major seven scale, you do that so you don’t have to think about it, so when you have a piece of music that calls for that, it’s already available.

Terry: Meisner starts with this really simple exercise, and it starts with listening. How many people can we say are really good, really deep listeners? Because that’s a really important thing you need for acting, and it starts with putting your attention on the other person because to listen, you can’t have your attention on yourself. That’s already setting you up for a lot of freedom. It sets you up for spontaneity. It sets you up to start to cultivate and be interested in and have the bravery to respond to what you’re listening. And it starts pretty simply.

Terry: Say, you’re wearing a ring and you say back to me, “I’m wearing a ring,” and we go back and forth, you’re wearing a ring, I’m wearing a ring, because you’re repeating back to me so you don’t have to think about the text. You just have to have your attention on me and I’m giving you the text. That will slowly but surely develop into something, if you let it. You don’t have to send it anywhere. It goes where it goes and you’ll start to have an experience. That’s kind of cool because it’s so organic. You’re not making anything happen. It’s just happening to you. So maybe after 20 times of saying, “You have a ring,” and they’re like, “All right. You have a ring.” Now I have genuine frustration. I didn’t manufacture it. It happened organically, like, “Oh, I can actually organize stuff to happen in me if I allow it to happen, if I’m it, right?

Matthew: Yeah.

Terry: Or I could say, “I’m tired of talking about your ring,” which means I’m just sharing with you my irritation and impatience. When you say you’re tired of talking about my ring, fuck you too. Now you’re responding to me, we’re going somewhere, and it can go anywhere you want, anywhere it takes you. Then we start to get into this idea of crafting, which is a fancy name for what actors do to arrange for behavior to happen when you need the behavior to happen, because that’s what will make us actors, like dancers make dancers and painters make paintings. We make behavior, and we make behavior that honors the script.

Terry: So the script is kind of code, shorthand for saying… the writer sees behavior, and we just get it freeze dried with the lines and maybe stage directions. We have to turn that into, okay, well, who am I? Who’s the character? What am I doing? What do I want? What am I relationships? What are the given circumstances? How do I start to get that into my instrument, body, soul, so that it feels like it was written for me, like it’s a custom-made suit? That it’s as natural as talking to you, except I’m not me. I’m somebody else.

Terry: Meisner defines the work as “doing truthfully, under imaginary circumstances”. That repetition work thing gets into crafting where we start to work with objects, and doing things, and then the objects have meaning to us and we go, “Oh, I’m starting to come to life here.” Then it expands into a whole toolkit that’s pages long. But the main thing is it has rigor in it. I think that’s a thing that your guests all share in terms of this hard work, is discipline and rigor, because we work in every class. Class meets twice a week. You must rehearse with your partner outside of class. Between every class you have homework. You have to bring in something, every class that you’re going to work on. It’s not just “show up and let’s see what happens”.

Terry: So it makes you responsible and it really puts into the body through practice, practice, practice, practice this thing that the work eventually becomes inevitable. It’s not easy.

Matthew: You just said something now, so that it’s so that you just show up and say what happens. One of the things that Sam Rockwell has said about you is that, in working with you, you have an endless amount of ideas, and ideas that are not on the nose. They’re ideas that are inventive, ideas that fire him up, inspire him in some way. Could you talk about how you work with someone, whether it’s Sam or another actor given a specific script as a private coaching situation? What are some of the things that you do that make you who you are? I don’t know if I want to say your superpower, but what it is that maybe defines you as a coach.

Terry: My simple job as a coach, I think, I’ll always listen and look at what they do first. Then my job is to make it better. There are certain qualities. I’m interested in quality, just in life, as a value. Quality is very interesting to me, whether it’s how well my Uber driver is driving, or how is the chicken at the restaurant, or how does the hotel clerk greet me. Just what is the quality?

Terry: You go into some restaurants, they go, “Hello, can I help you?” And they’re not interested. That’s going to lead to something dissonant, as opposed to someone who’s very present. In my studio, our tag line is “Training the Passionate Actor Committed to Excellence”. I’m looking for how can we get an actor loaded up with and excellent performance? An excellent performance, to me, has to honor the writing. Like if you’re doing Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar, you can’t just make him, I don’t know what, a weirdo librarian. That’s not listening to Tennessee Williams. But what’s your idea around that?

Terry: It’s like why did Philip Seymour Hoffman play Willy Loman on Broadway? Why would an actor want to do a part that’s already been done by giants? Dustin Hoffman, Lee J. Cobb, and it wasn’t for the money. It was because he as an artist felt like he had something he wanted to say to that part that honored Arthur Miller, but also his ideas about the part. This idea of imagination ideas and your take on things is very important to me. It has to have some kind of an idea.

Terry: I have, in all my training, and a lot of work on… I told you I was an unhappy kid. Well, how come I’m happier now? Therapy. I think all actors need to go to therapy because you need to understand yourself, and that’s where the storehouse is, and I’ve done, and I still do therapy every week, individual and group. I want all my students to do it because how else are you going to know what to do, who you are?

Terry: One of the things that’s led me to trust is my intuition. Stuff starts just flooding into me when I start to watch and listen to a piece of work. I mean, that Sam just got this Clint Eastwood movie and he had to turn around a yes, no on it, and he’s going to do it, about Richard Jewell who was the security guard who found the bomb at the Atlantic Olympics and then was a hero. Then he got ultimately framed as the suspect, and Sam’s going to play his lawyer.

Terry: So I’m listening. I go, “Oh, this feels like… and when you work with Sam, his vocabulary comes out of 70s movies, a lot of it, including the Godfather, almost all the time. But also Dustin Hoffman’s… I was like, “Oh, this is like Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws or Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer.

Terry: Now, on the page, there’s nothing there about that, but that kind of reference is a good door in for us to start to say, “Well, why is that? Why are we getting that vibe?” “Well, it’s because he’s a reverend. This character is a reverend. He’s a maverick. Then that might lead us to, I don’t know someone like, I’m just thinking out, Happie Hoffman who is kind of a crazy anarchist. Alan Dershowitz before he became a Trumper and stuff like that. I allow my associative thing to cook.

Terry: I remember when Sam was working on Green Mile, this was a long time ago. I lived in the East Village. I was listening to this banjo player, Roscoe Holcomb on the Smithsonian Folkways thing. It’s like Appalachian banjo player. Sam had a line in Green Mile which was, “Hey, fuck stick,” and I just said. “I don’t know, let’s just put this banjo music on and let’s do some clogging in my kitchen,” because Sam loves to dance. So we started dancing to the banjo music, this Appalachian bluegrass stuff, go, “Hey, fuck stick. Hey fuck stick,” and that became a door into this really complex tortured character. I’m sure Stephen King did not think of that, or Frank Darabont, or whatever. Ideas are cool and we try them, and if they don’t work, we throw them away.

Matthew: Yeah. I was thinking when you said that you were directing and then you didn’t… really, because I know a little bit about you from friends that have worked with you. You still are getting that directing-

Terry:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is true right there. Yeah.

Matthew: In a way, you are directing without necessarily being there… maybe sometimes you’re there on the day, but even if you’re prepping, you are kind of directing in a way as well.

Terry: Together, collaboratively.

Matthew: Collaborative. Yeah. No, I want to be respectful of your time, so I want to talk to you all day.

Terry: This is fun, man.

Matthew: I know that’s possible.

Terry: Anything you want.

Matthew: I’ll wind it down, but-

Terry: Just to tie it into your other guys and beautiful women and men you’ve interviewed. This idea of high achievement is really fascinating to me. I love guys like Tim Ferriss, people who really set code and people who are really dialing up to what makes high achievement. That’s become my fascination since I opened the studio. I think I always had that, that’s why I really enjoy your podcasts and others like it, and things I try to impart to my students like, “Guys, there are so many actors out there. How are you going to score? You’ve got to be on it and you’ve got to find your thing, and you’ve got to do it well, and you’ve got to grind.”

Terry: I love working with Sam and Emmy Rossum, among many people that I work with, because they’re so completely all in. They’re all in and I think that’s something that really excites me.

Matthew: Yeah. That was kind of my next question. I was going to say, do you notice that there’s something different in the students you work with or the clients, I don’t know what word you use, that are-

Terry: Patients. They’re my patients.

Matthew: Your patients.

Terry: No, no, they’re not.

Matthew: That are really on top of the game, is that the defining factor, is that commitment, in a way?

Terry: Because what comes first is the love of the art for them. You have to love acting. If you don’t love telling stories, if you don’t love transformation, if you don’t love learning lines, it’s going to be hard to be an actor. Because that’s what sustains you, is that we get to tell these cool stories. Then the question’s, okay, so what do I need to do it well? Then, the all in is it’s a labor of love. It’s joyful. You know?

Matthew: Yeah. Yeah. I’m going to give you the 30 questions that I’ve ended with.

Terry: Okay.

Matthew: I really hate to end the conversation, but we’ll continue to talking even after.

Terry: Is there anything you didn’t ask me?

Matthew: I mean, there’s so much. Thank you for offering that. Okay. One thing I’ll think of that… yesterday, in talking to our mutual friend, Chris Messina, who I told you is like a brother to me and we’ve been keeping I think a life journal for 20 years of acting, just been every time we’re working and talking about, for example, Sam’s way in, as you were saying like maybe there’s something external there that is his window in. I think Chris and I tend to work almost maybe opposite of that, starting with something that’s more-

Terry: Feeling.

Matthew: Yeah, and we both studied with a woman, Kim Gillingham who does a lot of  Jungian work, dream work.

Terry: The dreamy and dream stuff.

Matthew: Dream work, which work which is really fascinating to me. Her question will be why did this script and this role hurdle through the universe and land in your lap right now? What are you working on right now that you can learn from this character or this experience. I don’t even know if it’s a question.

Matthew: Just wondering your take on it, which is we all have different ways in. I think for me personally, I’ll find some roles, it could be more outside in, and then on some roles, it’s more inside out. I guess, if there’s a question in there, wondering what your take on that is. I guess you said you go with whatever the actor’s bringing you, and work from-

Terry: Sure, but also what the script awakens in me. I certainly think that the most important thing is exactly what you’re talking about, which is the meaning. If there’s no meaning in it, it’s just like empty calories. You don’t want to do a job just to do a job. I mean, sometimes you have to take a job for money, but hopefully there are some… I mean, there’s a body of work. You’re living it forever, so it should have meaning and it should have value. So the heart of it I think is very important to me. It breaks my heart…

Terry: Cultivating empathy in actors is very important, and having empathy for the character, and not letting your ego get in the way of that because you’re going to have resistance. You read The War of Art by Pressfield?

Matthew: Yeah. Steven Pressfield.

Terry: Yeah. This resistance is going to come up because you want to be the hero and you don’t want to be the serial killer, and you don’t want to be the molester, and you don’t want to be John Cazale in Godfather playing Fredo. You want to be Sonny or you want to be Michael. You don’t ant to be Fredo because Fredo’s a loser. But what a gorgeous actor he is and what an amazing part. And so, you have to stay true to what it’s about and have the risk to go there. That feels like what it’s mostly about, to me.

Terry: Then those external things will just give flavor to it, or our associations, whether it’s the banjo guy, or Richard Dreyfuss or whatever. But ultimately, what story are we telling and how do I locate? How do I have empathy? Like if you’re going to play Hitler, you cannot judge Hitler a monster who killed six million Jews. You have to think, what was that kid’s life like? Where did that go? You have to have empathy for him and love that character on a certain level and be that guy, otherwise you’re going… look, I love Jews. He hated Jews, but I love Jews. I’m a good guy. I vote, you know?

Matthew: Right.

Terry: And that’s going to separate you from the truth of the character, and so we’re in the business of truth. That’s all that matters. Telling the truth of it, it shouldn’t be pretty. It shouldn’t be ugly. It just needs to be truthful.

Matthew: Well, it’s funny. You said your parents are both…

Terry: Yeah.

Matthew: … attorneys.

Terry: Exactly.

Matthew: My dad is an attorney, and I have said actually on this podcast that I always thought I was going to be a lawyer. It’s just because I liked the way he spoke about this, and what I realized, is that as an actor, I’m doing this the same thing. The way he spoke about when he used to litigate, he spoke about defending someone, is what we do.

Terry: That’s right.

Matthew: It’s just not within the letter of the law. But my job is to get inside, get under the skin of this person, and defend their point of view to the world.

Terry: Own it.

Matthew: When I became an actor, it felt like a 180, and in retrospect, I look back and I think, oh no, I’m kind of doing-

Terry: Makes sense.

Matthew:  … the thing that I liked when I was young, now that I think about it. It’s just in a different context.

Terry: Yeah. I want to say one more value that’s extremely important is play. We have to make this… it’s called a play. Even though we want to work hard and get it done and there’s millions of dollars riding on some of these projects, if we don’t have a playful spirit in the making of it, and on set, you’re going to get tight. The imagination, new ideas, aren’t going to come in that kind of a tight space. So we have to stay playful.

Matthew: That’s a great reminder. The job I’m working on here, as they were wiring me a couple weeks ago, she said, “You know, you’re so serious,” and I said, “Oh, you should see me in this other side of comedy.” Then she’s like, “Oh, good. You can be playful too.” Yeah, but that’s a great thing to think. Am I being too serious on set? Is there more play that can be brought to it, even if it’s just on set?

Terry: I told you, I just did this guest star on Mr. Robot and the makeup person was coming to me between shots. I don’t know. I just wanted to be playful and I said, “Can I get a mole?” She went like, “What’s the matter with you?” I was like, “Okay. You don’t like to play. Okay.” [laughs]

Matthew: Actually, one last thing before I give that a little serious… you’re going to keep me here all day. I’m going to keep you here all day, which is… oh God, it just flew out of my head as quickly as it came into my head. This will be edited out, this is long pause.

Terry:  This is cool.

Matthew: What the hell was it? You just said something.

Terry: Acting.

Matthew: When I tell people that I will coach something, worked with someone for a role-

Terry: Because you teach also.

Matthew: Not really. The teaching is more often to the podcaster.

Terry: Okay. All right.

Matthew: There’s a whole can of worms I loved, but-

Terry: I googled you and all of a sudden, there you were-

Matthew: Yeah. No, no, no.

Terry: … showing these guys takes.

Matthew: No, and I can’t tell a teacher like yourself that I teach. But I loved it, but I didn’t… anyway. The thing that I’m amazed at, when I tell people that are outside of the business, that are just fans of movies or TV, that I’ve coached or that someone like Sam is going to a coach, someone like Chris is going to a coach, they go, “Really?” Some people are so shocked, and yet when I think of the people that I’ve had on this show, that is what… I mean, all of these entrepreneurs, their whole mantra is master classes, being around other entrepreneurs-

Terry: 100%.

Terry: I have a business coach for this studio. She shook me up hardcore. I mean, that should happen. When I did this guess star, Sam coached me. We were FaceTiming and he was taking me through a script. Then I hired this other lady, Katie Flahive who teaches for me, and she coached me, because I did my work. But I want to make sure it’s good. There’s no rehearsal in film and television. And even in a play, I think a coach is helpful because Serena Williams has a coach. LeBron James has a strength coach and a conditioning coach every day. I mean, it takes a village.

Terry: Sam works with a dialect coach. He works with a movement coach. He works with me. If he has to do authentic stuff like Kung Fu, whatever, he’s going to do that. It’s all research. So you walk in living that part the best you can be. We need help.

Matthew: Yeah. Absolutely.

Terry: I’m leaving you now to go see my conditioning coach, who helps me so I don’t age too much. Stay flexible.

Matthew: Well, then, I’m going to give you my last three. The first one is the word no means what to you?

Terry: Opportunity.

Matthew: Opportunity. All right. If you have a go-to mantra, maybe you don’t. Do you have a go-to mantra-

Terry: Can I have that question again because-

Matthew: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Terry: … I want to just think that the word no means to me, what else. No, for now. I guess that’s opportunity, like really? What else? I don’t think so.

Matthew: It’s not a closed door.

Terry: Definitely not.

Matthew: Yeah.

Terry: Time to pivot.

Matthew: Time to pivot. I like that. Do you have a go-to mantra when everything falls apart?

Terry: God is my supply.

Matthew: God is my supply.

Terry: It’s going to work out. I don’t know how, but it’ going to work out.

Matthew: Yeah. We could do a whole other podcast on belief and spirituality. We didn’t even get to it.

Terry: Yeah. That’s a big part of my morning routine.

Matthew: Yeah. We’ll have to… I’ll be back next year. Then the last one is, if you could give your younger self advice, at what age would you intervene and what would the advice be?

Terry: Age seven. Put my arm around that kid’s shoulder and say, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” Yeah.

Matthew: That’s beautiful.

Terry: Yeah.

Matthew: Terry Knickerbocker, first of all, thank you sitting down and-

Terry: Thank you for coming to Brooklyn to my studio.

Matthew: Your studio is awesome, by the way.

Terry: So nice we did this, because I’ve done a few other podcasts and it’s just on the phone or FaceTime. This is the best.

Matthew: It’s nice to see you.

Terry: This is so nice.

Matthew: Yeah. I don’t get to do it always, but this-

Terry: Yeah. I really appreciate you making the time because I know how busy you are and-

Matthew: Well, I’m thinking the same about you and I was so flattered when I got the email that you actually listen to the show.

Terry: I do listen to the show. I love that first guest you had, the Gleeson lady. She’s-

Matthew: Oh yeah.

Terry: … a great guest. You’re a good guy.

Matthew: Yeah. Thank you.

Terry: I hope we can work together.

Matthew: I hope so too.

Terry: That’d be nice. Yeah.

Matthew: Yeah. Thank you. All right. My top three takeaways. This is Sophie’s choice but here it goes. Feel free to write in and tell me your top takeaways because I’ll inevitably leave out so many by limiting it.

Matthew: Number one. Do the work. Anyone who’s taken an acting class with any teacher of substance has heard the phrase, do the work, over and over. And in sitting down with Terry, that was probably the biggest overall takeaway from him, from his take on why someone like Sam Rockwell has reached the pinnacle of the acting world, an obsessive desire to get better, to roll up one’s sleeves and dive into the meat of not only the craft of acting or whatever field one happens to be in, but also the difficult inner work which is so easy to avoid. Do the work. In the long run, it will get you further than any parties you might attend or red carpets you may walk.

Matthew: Number two, fuck it. Pardon my French on this one, but I had to mention it. I was told by my buddy, Chris Messina, about this phrase, and when I heard it, it was credited to Sam Rockwell. But after talking to Terry, I realized that’s where he got it. Either way, it’s a valuable tool because if you’re in any field that tells you no on a regular basis, it’s easy to shift to anger and go into rooms with a chip on your shoulder. But it’s not very effective to walk into a room thinking, fuck you. On the other hand, fuck it is more of a release. It’s a way of telling yourself, “Let’s take the leap. We may fly or we may splat on the ground at the end of this audition, this sales pitch, this class that we’re teaching, whatever. Either way, we need to let it reap.”

Matthew: Number three, play. As serious as Terry takes the work, ultimately, he said, it’s called a play. You need to play. Great reminder for all of us that no matter how hard we work or how significant we feel the work that we’re doing can be in the world, or how serious the content of what we’re doing may be, we need to find joy in it, because if we forget the joy, we’re going to shrivel up and the well of inspiration will be gone. You heard Terry say it in the beginning, and I totally agree, really all of the training is just getting us back to when we were innocent kids who could use our imaginations without limits. That’s joy, and it comes from a sense of play.

Matthew: All right. That is it. So much gratitude to Terry for inviting me to his studio and sharing such incredible stories with us. Thank you for listening. Here’s the thing. We produce this with our money and time, and we’re not asking your for money. But if you feel like you’ve benefited from 10,000 Nos, please do one thing, share it with your friends so more people can be impacted, entertained, and helped by these incredible guests. If you can leave a review wherever you listen, that can help us be on the map even more. We sincerely appreciate it, and if you subscribe wherever you listen, you won’t miss any episodes when they come out every Friday.

Matthew: If you liked today conversation with Terry, you will probably enjoy some of these past episodes. Their links will be in the show notes, multi-hyphenate actor/writer/producer, Mark Duplass, actor/producer Eric Christian Olsen, or director showrunner of Goliath on Amazon and Parenthood on NBC, Lawrence Trilling. Join us again next Friday for more 10,000 Nos. For announcements on promo videos of who’s next, you can follow me on social media. Those handles are @mattydel on Instagram, @matthewdelnegro on Twitter and Facebook, and you can email us at info@10000nos.com if you want to be added to our mailing list or with questions, feedback, or guest suggestions. Thanks again for listening and have a great week.

Terry Knickerbocker sits down with Matthew Del Negro, actor and host of the podcast 10,000 "No"s to discuss the craft and the long and winding road to being considered one of the best of the best in his field.

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