Darbi Worley: (singing).
Darbi Worley: Hello, and welcome to Everything Acting podcast. We come to you from the capital of the world, New York City. My name is Darbi Worley.
Roz Coleman: And, I’m Roz Coleman. Join us as we inform, inspire, and demystify the actor’s journey.
Darbi Worley: Alright. Today on the show, I have an interview with one of my long time heroes, Terry Knickerbocker. People who have been listening to the show for a long time will remember me talking about Terry a lot back when I was studying at the [inaudible 00:01:13], because he was my teacher, and was a huge influence on the shaping of my artistic life, and I just think he’s really awesome. I’m super excited to get to that call, but Roz that brings me … this is a question I have for you … what are some of the things that people should consider as they’re choosing their teachers?
Roz Coleman: Oh, that’s such a good question, Darbi. I really believe that all acting methods work, but what you really have to find out is does it work with your instrument, because most schools and teachers are married to one method, and that method might not work with your instrument, so you kind of got to find out. You’ve got to go there, and sit through a class, or audit it, or read their book and find out do you respond to it. Are you inspired by it? Does it turn you on? And, if it doesn’t then it’s not the teacher for you.
Darbi Worley: Sure.
Roz Coleman: I think that too often I see … you know, I meet people usually after they’ve already had some training and sometimes I meet people who’ve been kicked out of training programs, and they’re perfectly good actors. They just didn’t respond to that particular training. Their spirits have been broken, because the teachers told them they sucked. Frankly. It’s really that the teacher didn’t reach them, and they didn’t change up the method. It isn’t something wrong with the actor, it’s that, that method didn’t work for them. You have to stay flexible in your training, and keep changing your methods, because every single method doesn’t work for every single actor. You need many, many, many tools in your kit. I think that you should really train for all of your artistic life.
Darbi Worley: Welcome back. You’re listening to Everything Acting podcast. I’m Darbi Worley. I’m here with my former acting teacher, Terry Knickerbocker, in the basement of the William Esper Studio. So, I’m having all kinds of feelings right now.
Terry K.: Memories.
Darbi Worley: I’m a little nervous, but welcome to the show.
Terry K.: What am I doing to make you nervous?
Darbi Worley: It’s not you. It’s me. I’m feeling a little nervous because I want you to think that I’m really good at this, just like I always wanted to please you in class.
Terry K.: Oh. Well, how did I handle that back then?
Darbi Worley: That’s a good question. I remember our class motto being, fuck it. I think it had something to do with that. Do you remember … is that the motto for every class?
Terry K.: Yes.
Darbi Worley: Or, just for our class?
Terry K.: No. No. I introduce that in the second class, because people get nervous always. There’s that stage fright thing, and people want to get it right.
Darbi Worley: Yes.
Terry K.: You were especially one who wanted to get it right a lot, and that intolerance of mistakes … so, what do people want to do when they come to class. If they want to be good and get it right, they’re going to suffer, because the only way to learn is to make mistakes. If they want to learn, then the mistakes are opportunities. And, so that … are we allowed to … I guess fuck it is okay in a podcast.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Terry K.: That fuck it thing doesn’t mean I don’t care, it means I’m not going to be controlled by my need to be perfect. Alright. That I’m going to be open to whatever happens. It’s sort of like, fuck it, let’s go. Not, fuck it, I’m going to stay in bed.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: Let’s go. Let’s see what happens. It could be a disaster. I did my work. It doesn’t mean don’t do your work. Do your work the best you can. Prepare as fully as you can, like for an audition. If you go and try and make an audition the best audition you ever get, they’re going to smell your fear and your tension. If it’s like, look I’m probably not going to get this job because they’re seeing a hundred people, but I like to act, and I like moments, and I like this script, so let me show you what I’m doing. And, if you like it, you like it. If I don’t get it maybe it’s because I’m too tall, too short.
Darbi Worley: Right.
Terry K.: Not the right chemistry, and who knows, maybe it’ll lead to something else. There’s a kind of free wheeling openness that comes from that willingness to make mistakes and be loose.
Darbi Worley: Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s go back to the beginning, because I don’t know that I know your story of how you came to be a teacher here at Esper. Tell us of the 10,000 foot view of your life history coming up to-
Terry K.: I started acting-
Darbi Worley: … how you became a professor.
Terry K.: … when I was four years old. My dad carried a picture in his wallet of me dressed up as some biblical person with a beard like when I was four. Then, acting in junior high. Then, acting in high school. Acting in college. Eventually, I went to NYU. I went to Boston University and flunked out because I was acting, because I was supposed to be a French major, and I didn’t go to any class, because I was always rehearsing, so they kicked me out.
Terry K.: Then, I had a couple of years just acting around Boston. Doing a lot of musicals especially. A little bit of straight theater. Then, I figured oh God, I better get some training, because sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s how most actors who start out. Very few people for their first acting job go to school. They’re in a play, and it’s good. That’s what often happens with child stars … you know, they get that first movie, and they’re right for it, but then the next movie they’re not right for, because they don’t know what they’re doing. So, I said, “I better find out what I’m doing.”
Terry K.: So, I went to NYU, which has a great program, and did all kinds of stuff there. Got exposed to all kinds of amazing teachers. I was in the Experimental Theater Wing, so we did a lot of physical training, Grotowski based training, and something that’s hot nowadays called the Viewpoints, which was found by one of my teachers there, and my colleague Mary Overlie. Sort of a post-modern approach to theater. I was working. I was doing shows at La MaMa. I was doing all of this downtown experimental theater.
Terry K.: And then, one day, in a scene study class. I was doing a scene from “Morning Becomes Eclectic” by Eugene O’Neill. Very intense scene between the brother and the sister. There’s the father’s dead body in the living room and you needed all of this emotion. O’Neill writes all of these stage directions about emotion, and I could understand I needed all of this emotion, and I had no way to get to it. And, it frightened me.
Terry K.: You know, musicians know how to do their music seven days a week, and my dentist … I don’t go in there on a Tuesday and he says, “I don’t know if I can drill today.” … and, last week I’d done a really good show, and then now I’m in this scene and I don’t know how to get it. The inconsistency of that … even though I’d done it for a long time, and studied at NYU and got my degree … I didn’t feel like I had a consistent craft.
Terry K.: My teacher at NYU’s boyfriend happened to be a teacher at the Esper Studio. A guy named Joel Rooks. He doesn’t teach there anymore, but he taught here for a long time. I saw him in a show at La MaMa, that she directed. Her name was [inaudible 00:10:48]. She’s a brilliant Israeli director and teacher. I saw that show five times, and he did amazing work every time I saw it. So, he was consistent and brilliant. I said, “I want to be able to do that.”
Terry K.: So, she said, “Well, you go talk to him. He studies with Bill. He teaches with Bill.” So, I came to study with Bill in 1983. I thought I’d just kind of polish up what I was doing, and I had some jobs lined up. Bill was much stricter then about people taking outside work. He really wanted a very firm commitment. Now, he’s got a lot of working actors, so he’s got to be a little bit looser.
Terry K.: So, he said, “You can come here, but you have to give up all of your jobs.” I said, “What are you crazy? Actors don’t give up jobs.” He said, “No, because I’m going to teach you a new way of running, but we’re going to start with crawling, and if you go … because everyone here starts at the beginning. There’s no advanced Meisner class. Everyone starts with repetition. Even if you went to Yale. Even if you’re a working actor, because you don’t know where the holes are in a person. And, so you all go back to square one. And, if you’re going back to square one and practicing a process and then go into a show, you’re going to fall back on your habits.”
Terry K.: I thought he was insane, but I decided to do it, and it changed my life. Then, making it fast, I used to come and watch him, because I actually started to follow his directing. I got some directing opportunities, and acting became less important, and I thought, “How am I going to make a living as a director. I either have to have a Broadway show, or I have to have some teaching, or I have to work at a theater.” So, I used to come in and drop in on Bill’s classes, and then I just decided I’m going teach, and he said, “Well, I don’t have any teaching spots available,” and I said, “That’s okay. I’ll just keep coming until you ask me to leave. And that was about 28 years ago.
Darbi Worley: So, what drew you to … and, I know you just told the story about Joel … in terms of the Meisner technique, what drew you to that and why do you choose to continue teaching this … What do you think is the beneficial about it?
Terry K.: I don’t think it matters what technique you study. I don’t think anyone goes to the theater or movie and says, let’s see some Meisner acting. I think we want to see good acting. I was drawn to Joel because of his good acting, and at NYU I had been exposed to Strasberg’s work, and Grotowski’s work. They’re all different roads to the mountain. They all have their benefits. This one just made the most sense to me. It’s eminently practical. I like the practice part of it. It wasn’t mysterious.
Terry K.: Like, in Strasberg, you start out doing scene study right away. That’s their approach. That doesn’t make any sense to me. That would be like going to take beginning piano lessons, and then having to do a concerto. So, the emphasis on doing material too soon didn’t make sense to me. It’s more like you do scales. Like a dancer does exercises, and then they do repertoire, or a violinist does scales and exercises, and then they do a piece. So, that repetition exercise, which is the foundation of Meisner training, made a lot of sense to me in terms of other-
Darbi Worley: Can you describe that in case people aren’t familiar with it?
Terry K.: Sure. So, you know how-
Darbi Worley: Say, what that’s about?
Terry K.: … to do it so we can do it together. It’s a way to get the actor to put their attention on the other person, and to listen, and respond truthfully. To be in the moment. So, if I’m working with you, I’d say, “I like your spiky hair.” And, you’d repeat that.
Darbi Worley: I like your spiky hair.
Terry K.: Except, you know that I’m talking about you, so you’d say.
Darbi Worley: I’d say, “You like my spiky hair.” That’s right.
Terry K.: Yeah.
Darbi Worley: Ah, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Terry K.: Right. [crosstalk 00:14:38] your spiky hair. And, you’d repeat it back.
Darbi Worley: You like my spiky hair.
Terry K.: I like your [phonetic speaky 00:14:42] … and I made a mistake there, and it’s funny and we go with that. Right?
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: And, so that starts to develop spontaneity. And that’s something you want to keep in your work. Now, that’s not the whole of the technique. That’s the beginning. That’s the first little baby seed of the technique, but it has some things that are good for really good acting, which is I’m in the moment, I’m listening to you, my attention is on you. I’m being spontaneous. I’m being authentic. I’m not trying to create a result. I’m not trying to make it dramatic. Eventually, you add more water to the bathtub. You start to add some imaginary circumstances.
Terry K.: That’s another thing about the technique that I like, that we work with the imagination, where some techniques are more interested in your personal history. This is more not what was, but what could be. So, what if … and that magic word if … what if I had no money, and I needed some money. What if I fell in love with someone but they were moving away to Paris, and I needed to keep them. What if I was drunk one night, and I hit my wife, and now she’s left me. Just sort of getting myself … which is what actors do. They take on imaginary circumstances, and they live them out truthfully.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. Yeah. I remember that living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. It’s one of the first things we learned.
Terry K.: That’s Meisner’s definition of acting. I like this technique because it works. It works for me. It works for a lot of people. It’s very practical. It’s not mysterious. It does make use of talent. It makes use of your humanity. And, it makes use of practice. You have to keep showing up, which is how other … you know, why should dancers have to work so hard, and actors be lazy.
Terry K.: It depends on the day. I have a really talented person right now, who has a horrible work ethic, and it’s upsetting to me, because I don’t want to keep giving them chances that they’re not kind of doing the same thing that other people in the class are doing. I think you need both. I mean, Kim Stanley, who was a great example of that. She was maybe what some people thought was the greatest actress of the 20th century, but she had a horrible … she had a drinking problem, and she got really freaked out about a lot of things … and, so she ended up not having the career. Although, if you see her in Frances, I don’t know you know Frances with Jessica Lange she’s extraordinary.
Darbi Worley: I don’t know her work. I’ll have to look-
Terry K.: She’s amazing.
Darbi Worley: … her up.
Terry K.: Yeah. Look her up. She’s an extraordinary actress, but she didn’t have the work ethic. I think you need both. I don’t know if I could choose. I love working with talented people, but at the end of the day, someone with a better work ethic may get further than someone with a lot of talent who can’t show up, because in this business there are too many actors, so if you don’t show up you can’t have a huge multi-million dollar production waiting on you, and you’re too drunk to show up, or you’re too whatever. They’re just not going to do that for you.
Darbi Worley: What is it about the actors psyche … the people who are drawn to acting … what do you think it is that also draws them to drugs, and alcohol, and numbing agents?
Terry K.: I don’t know about the … well, their experience junkies, so they like experiences and adventures, and those drugs can offer adventurous possibilities. And then, the numbing is because they feel so much. Bill Esper used to always say that actors don’t like real life, because it’s either too boring or too painful, so that’s why they like acting because they get to live out fantasies, but that may also be why they like to sort of be a little self destructive and numb themselves out, because they feel everything.
Terry K.: I mean, we’re working on freeing up our feelings and then you go home and you discover what kind of a life you have in your family, and who wouldn’t start drinking.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. One of the most important lessons I learned in this room was not even … it didn’t have a whole lot to do with acting … it really had to do with how important therapy is for actors, and how important it is just to be in that mode of questioning and looking at your behavior, choices in your life. Can you say something about that?
Terry K.: Absolutely. I think all actors should be in therapy. Not because we’re crazy, although we are, or full of pain that needs to be resolved, because we often are, but mostly just so we can understand ourselves. We are … I’m sort of making a gesture head to toe … we are the instrument, so if Eric Clapton, who plays the guitar and is a master needs to understand every aspect of his instrument, we need to understand everything about our instrument so that we can make use of it for our heart.
Terry K.: If we do something in life, and go why did I do that. Why am I so upset? Why did I yell at that guy? And, we don’t why. We don’t know what caused it. We’re just at the mercy of these sort of spontaneous, sub-conscious, unconscious actions, then our acting can’t be informed by that. So, the main reason to go to therapy is to understand yourself. Who am I? Not to change yourself. Just to understand then you have some choices. Why can’t I keep a relationship? Why am I keeping a relationship I shouldn’t keep? Why didn’t I confront my father about that? Why am I afraid to confront my father about that? Who am I? Why do I get upset?
Darbi Worley: I remember you saying when we first began the program, that often times actors will leave relationships, so can you talk about that?
Terry K.: Change relationships.
Darbi Worley: Yeah, why does this work?
Terry K.: Well, go back to that repetition exercise. Most people when they talk in life do it in a very social way. So, when someone on the street says, “Hey, how you doing?” How many people do you think would say that, that actually mean that?
Darbi Worley: Sure.
Terry K.: Right. We just get by in a very social way. So, as people, we start to get numb to what’s really being said to us, and how people really are. We’re not really listening to that. We’re not really listening to our responses. Once, you start to work in the repetition exercise, and in this training about really telling the truth, and really hearing the truth, you may start to hear somethings in your real relationships that make you start to question them. You end up usually upgrading. Right?
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: Not because you’re supposed to, but just because wait why do I have to stick around and be fed this crap? Or, why do I have to tolerate someone who’s not really my friend, or why when someone says, “I’m so glad you did that.” Why do I always feel used? I don’t want to feel used. This seems to all be on your part, not so much for me. I’m not sure I want to do that anymore.
Terry K.: And so, you just start to align yourself with a more truthful understanding of the way the world works, and how you fit into that. But, you have to be careful. I had this student who came in … she was very repressed … and she came in one morning for class, she was about two months into the work, and she was very excited. I said, “What’s going on, Victoria?” And, she said, “Oh, you’re going to be so proud of me. My boyfriend and I had a fight, and I kicked him.”
Darbi Worley: Oh, dear.
Terry K.: I said, “What are you talking about.” She said, “Well, I felt it.” I said, “Yeah, you’re not supposed to go do the work in your real life. We tell the truth here a lot of this is an exercise in subtext. You can’t do that in life. You can’t go up to a police officer, tell him to fuck off, because you’re going to end up in jail. And, you definitely don’t want to go to your boyfriend and kick him.”
Darbi Worley: Yeah. I think that was even one of the rules of … there aren’t many-
Terry K.: No, you’re not allowed-
Darbi Worley: … rules, there’s no-
Terry K.: … to hit each other.
Darbi Worley: … no hitting, no fucking. I can’t remember what the other ones were.
Terry K.: No peeing.
Darbi Worley: No peeing.
Terry K.: No hitting teacher.
Darbi Worley: No bodily functions.
Terry K.: No destroying the room. Yeah, we have a few agreements to keep everybody safe so you can kind of do it again. So, you don’t want to go and act this stuff out.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. Yeah. So, talk just a little bit about what your job entails. What is a day in your life like?
Terry K.: Here?
Darbi Worley: Here, and any other … I think you were going to school to become a therapist or sort of an art therapist?
Terry K.: Drama therapist.
Darbi Worley: Is that … drama therapist?
Terry K.: Yeah.
Darbi Worley: Are you doing anything?
Terry K.: I sort of left that behind. I was helpful. But, ultimately, I think I get more out of being with actors and helping people to grow and become more fully themselves through this vehicle, so I stayed with this, and I coach actors … professional actors … and, I teach here, and I teach at NYU.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: You never know what’s going to happen, so that’s fun. The work has a structure, but within that structure you never know what people are going to do, so I find it keeps me young. I don’t feel as old-
Darbi Worley: You look exactly the same as you did ten years ago.
Terry K.: That’s nice.
Darbi Worley: That is not … that is pure honesty.
Terry K.: That’s great.
Darbi Worley: I’m shocked.
Terry K.: That’s good. That’s good. Well, that’s exciting. You know, we’re playing. Ultimately this work is about play. To be playful … I think … is a very useful way to approach life, and it keeps you very flexible and young. Basically, I’m a facilitator. It’s not really about me. It’s about people who really want to learn a craft and learn how to use themselves in the craft. Hopefully, they love acting. If you don’t love acting, it’s going to break you, and it’s too hard to do, so you got to need to do this. If you’re obsessed with acting it’s probably useful to know how to do it. You can learn on the job. I think Mickey Rooney kind of learned on the job. He was a child actor, and he acted for 70 years, and he learned it on the job.
Terry K.: But, I think ultimately, it’s better if you can get a good class, and learn how to do it, and then go out and do it. So, I’m offering tools that are useful for acting that come up, that solve problems. Like, you need to drill, because sometimes as a contractor you need to make holes. So, you need something we call emotional preparation, which is a tool for inducing emotion for when you come on stage.
Darbi Worley: Right.
Terry K.: Come in to a scene, and something is going on. You always need that for acting. If you just found out that someone died presumably that has an emotional meaning to you, and you need some kind of tool to put that in you. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. We do it based on daydreaming, but you could do it however you do it. It’s a tool you need. So I say, “Here’s a tool. This is useful for acting.” So, I offer tools and a process, a way of working, so that when you come in to the acting space there are certain things that are useful to do. Certain questions to ask. Who am I? Meaning what’s the character. What do I need? What’s my objective? What’s the acting relationship, which is emotional. Do I have a preparation? Is there a character? So, is there some adjustment that’s different from me.
Terry K.: Like you were playing Laura in a Glass Menagerie, you need to find that part of you that’s got low self esteem, and is shy, and has a limp, and could have a domineering mother, but yearns for romance. How to do that, how to understand a script. How to understand what it is expecting of you, and what are the tools to get you connected to create behavior, because that’s what we make. We are makers. Like sculptors make sculptures, actors make behaviors. That is the artifact of our art form.
Terry K.: And so, to make behavior that’s authentic, and personal, and meaningful, and interesting … because, just because it’s truthful doesn’t mean I should watch you do it. Just because I brush my teeth in the morning, and I can do that on stage, doesn’t mean I should be paid to do it.
Darbi Worley: Right.
Terry K.: Right? So helping people to get those skills, and that process, and discover the artist in themselves.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: Mostly, it’s a lot about getting out of their way.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. I remember you saying early on that … You gave a list of some of the things you thought were good tools, or good characteristics for an actor to have, and you said, “Notice I have not included high intelligence on that list.”
Terry K.: Right.
Darbi Worley: Do you remember saying that?
Terry K.: Yes.
Darbi Worley: Can you talk about that a little bit?
Terry K.: You know, it’s funny I teach at NYU, and I went to NYU, and I don’t think I would’ve gotten into NYU now. It’s become a very-
Darbi Worley: It’s so competitive
Terry K.: … you know, they think of themselves as almost being on the level of an Ivy League school or even on the same level. They have the same kind of faculty. When I went there, it was a safety school. So, if you didn’t get into Harvard, you could apply to NYU and be pretty sure you’d get in. It was just a different beast. But, we had great actor training, which meant that most of the actors in my class weren’t necessarily the smartest, which means it was more impulsive. There’s that thing about acting, well I’m in my head, right, or I’m being too cerebral or intellectualizing it. At the end of the day, it’s about behavior, so you could give me these actors who have no behavior and then we talk about it, and they have great stories. They go, “What does that mean? I have to come to your dressing room after the show and you’ll give me a term paper?”
Terry K.: Acting does call for a kind of intelligence, but it’s not the same kind of intelligence that does crossword puzzles or computer programming. It’s not cerebral. It’s more a kind of animal intelligence, an instinctive intelligence. An ability to understand circumstances. You look at a script and you’re able to analyze it in a way that gets visceral inside you. You start to feel it just reading it. That calls for a kind of intelligence. Or, understanding that a part should have a beginning, middle, and an end.
Terry K.: There’s a guy I work with Sam Rockwell. He did a great movie called Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, that George Clooney directed. In that movie, he had six drunk scenes. Six scenes where the character had to be drunk. So, Sam, who is not a good speller … I don’t think he’d mind if I told people that. So, he’s not a book kind of smart, but he’s a very smart guy … instinctively understood as an artist that it would be a waste if all those drunk scenes were the same. So, he knew that he needed to create variety, intellectually he understood in analyzing the part that even though they could be truthful drunk scenes, if they’re all the same, sloppy or belligerent or sentimental, or all the different ways drunk can manifest itself, that, that wouldn’t help tell the story in the most interesting way.
Terry K.: Part of the work putting that part together was how to make this drunk scene have its value, and this one have its value, and not be the same. You know.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: Just like a good chef isn’t going to put six green things on the plate with all of the same texture, because even though they’re all tasty, it doesn’t have a story in it. It’s not balanced. It’s not interesting.
Terry K.: I don’t think I can teach acting. So, there are people who have come, and offered to give me a lot of money because they don’t have the time … there’s a big commitment to do the two year program.
Darbi Worley: Sure.
Terry K.: Some people don’t have that time, and they just want to sort of fly in and do some work. I said, “I don’t think I can teach you that, because I think you need the group. I think the group helps you to learn, because the group is a hall of mirrors, and you see reflections in other people’s work that give you inspiration, or that you steal from, or that you find connections.” So, I don’t teach acting privately.
Darbi Worley: Okay.
Terry K.: I’ve done it a little bit, and it doesn’t work very well. It’s coaching for an opportunity usually. The best one is when you’ve already got the job, because to coach someone for an audition I can help them to make it a better audition … especially a callback when at least they know they’re in the game … but, there’s no guarantee they’re going to get the part. So, they’re going to spend a lot of money to work on something that maybe fruitful, but you know it could be because you’re too short, too blonde, too tall, not ethnic enough, too ethnic, or there’s not chemistry between you. You know, you don’t have any control over an audition. Or, they need a name. Someone would be better for the part, but they can get funding if they get another name, who’s an A list actor rather than a B list actor.
Terry K.: I don’t enjoy coaching people for auditions, because I don’t like knowing that, that work is not going to go somewhere. Although, it goes somewhere. So, my favorite work is when you’ve already got the part, because you can’t depend on directing especially in film and TV, there’s no rehearsal.
Darbi Worley: Right.
Terry K.: So, you have to show up not only having your lines but having all of your choices. Most directors in film and television are more technically oriented people than artistically oriented people in terms of the acting.
Darbi Worley: Sure.
Terry K.: Some people are, but there aren’t too many Elia Kazan’s. Right. There are more people that know about camera placement, and making the scene work … and, I’m not putting directors down, they do have an amazing job, and they do it great … but, they basically expect you to know what you’re doing. It just helps an actor to get an experienced eye to put a shape to what they’re doing so that what they bring in … I mean, why not bring in the best work you can. A lot of actors have coaches.
Terry K.: I have. Normally, we do it ahead of time, if possible. It gets weird and distracting on a set, because directors feel threatened by you. Who is this person? So, directors don’t even need to know about coaches. And, if you have an idea, I wouldn’t even tell the director. I’d just do it, because if you tell them they get nervous. I was thinking I’d wear a birthday hat in this scene. Oh, no I think that could be a bad idea. Just show up with the hat, and if they don’t like it they can do something else.
Terry K.: It’s mostly just to make the work better.
Darbi Worley: Do you act with them?
Terry K.: Yeah. I used to not. I used to have a reader, but … and sometimes that’s okay … but, usually I just act with them. So, they do their part, and I do my part. I do all of the other parts
Darbi Worley: Do you love it? Is it fun for you?
Terry K.: It’s fun. Yeah. It’s fun to play.
Darbi Worley: So, speaking of a reader, what’s your counsel for actors … for me a lot of time, the opportunities that I get are one to five lines, very small pieces …
Terry K.: Why do you use the word face? That sounds-
Darbi Worley: Oh, I don’t know.
Terry K.: It sounds like a battle.
Darbi Worley: I guess that’s how it feels sometimes.
Terry K.: That sounds like a turmoil.
Darbi Worley: I think I chose that word, because often times the readers are not very invested in giving you-
Terry K.: Rarely, yeah.
Darbi Worley: … good … somebody good to work with.
Terry K.: You got to kind of endow them.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: I mean, you have to work off them, but you also have to endow them, so if you’re supposed to be in love with them, and they’re looking a little sleepy or bored, you love that about that. You love that your lover is sometimes a little sleepy and bored. That’s what makes them charming, so that you can use the real behavior, but you sort of have to endow them, and give them … It’s like a makeover I think.
Terry K.: Just try and make it interesting, and fun for you. Enjoy it. Really you never know … going back to Sam Rockwell. He did an audition for Duncan Jones for a movie. He’s David Bowie’s son. He didn’t get the part. So, he moved on, but Duncan was so impressed with that audition that he wrote a movie called Moon for Sam that they did two years later. So, you never know where … I do believe in metaphysical things like karma and stuff like that, so you put something out that’s good, it’s going to go somewhere. How and when it comes back to you is out of your control, but someone’s going to remember you. So, I think every audition is an opportunity to make another connection, and to do what you love to do.
Terry K.: If you keep it as acting, rather than an audition, and come in and be free. And then, have that fuck it attitude like when it’s over, it’s done, move on. Don’t obsess about it. Which means, you need to audition a lot, because if everything riding on today’s audition I haven’t worked in seven months, seven years, and I haven’t auditioned in five … you know, you’re just going to explode and you’re going to be tense. Just showing up, and doing your work, and staying loose, and having an idea. I think the main thing is to have an idea. Don’t be obvious. Most people are going to do the obvious thing. What’s your idea? What makes this your version of it? They’ll remember that.
Darbi Worley: Sure. Speaking of Sam Rockwell, I auditioned to play a part opposite him where … I just remembered this, I had completed forgotten about this … but, where I was going to have to be naked in the scene-
Terry K.: You say, “Have to be”. This is an opportunity.
Darbi Worley: Yeah, I had an opportunity I get to be naked in the scene.
Terry K.: You were having to face being naked.
Darbi Worley: For that movie where he was as sex addict.
Terry K.: Yeah. Choke.
Darbi Worley: Choke, yes, so in that audition I was a little perplexed about how to physical-ize that. What would be your thoughts?
Terry K.: Probably not take my clothes off.
Darbi Worley: Yeah. I didn’t take my clothes off.
Terry K.: I don’t know. Be excited about the sensuality of it, and keep it playful and you know it doesn’t have to be a porno thing.
Darbi Worley: Right.
Terry K.: Just has to be about freedom probably. I’d think of it more of as like your birthday or something like that. Just try and stay loose. I think that’s the main thing, is have fun, stay loose, be ready for accidents, be open to feedback. If they want to give you an adjustment take it. If they don’t, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I don’t know, it’s hard to do these sexy … I mean, I think that’s a bad audition scene for them to give you, because you’re going to act it out in a bed, so what do they want you to do in the room.
Darbi Worley: It was airplane bathroom if I remember correctly.
Terry K.: Yeah. What do they want you to do? I mean that seems a weird test.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: You have a choice. How’s that working for you? I mean, what’s the benefit of that? “Things or neither good nor bad, but thinking makes them so,” says Shakespeare. Just like you said, “I had to face an audition.” You know, how we language things is really important. So, if you have that, first of all, don’t hate yourself for it. Try and understand where that came from. Compassion and empathy are very important for actors, and it starts with empathy for the self. So, most of us are very wounded. Most actors are very wounded souls. So, you have to have some empathy for your wound. It’s not your fault that these things happen, it’s just your responsibility to do something with your life. What do you want to do with it? If negative thinking isn’t working for you, then, get some help so that you can have some options. Don’t hate yourself for it, you had reasons for thinking that way. You inherited that from somewhere. Children imitate what they see.
Darbi Worley: Sure.
Terry K.: I don’t even know if I want to call it rejection. It just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right opportunity for the right time. My colleague here, Bruce McCarty, who teaches here now. He was my classmate. I did a play. I directed a play. Won this award to director … like a fellowship … through the Drama League. A Maria Irene Fornes play. She’s a brilliant Cuban playwright. Bruce was my favorite actor. I was convinced I wanted to have him be in it. He was my best friend in class. I could give him some money, because it was an equity job. He auditioned. His audition was killer. It was a two person play. Husband and wife. I couldn’t find the right wife. I finally found the right wife.
Terry K.: This actress who’s brilliant named, Alma Cuervo, who went to Yale with Meryl Streep, and was just as good as she was. In fact, some thought she was better, just not a movie actress, more of a stage actress. So, she was amazing. I had to go with her. Then, I had some chemistry call backs, and Alma’s a big woman and Bruce is a small guy, and together they looked like mother and son. It just didn’t tell the story. So, I had to give it to Alma, and find someone else. I got someone great to play her husband … not as good as Bruce in many ways … but, it told the story better, and that’s our job is to tell the story.
Terry K.: I had to reject Bruce. I had to do the best thing for the project, and luckily he was a friend, so I could tell him. One of the things is don’t take it personally, because it’s not personal. And then, hopefully you got something out of it, and you move on, and that led to something else. You don’t know why you don’t get the part. It’s rarely because you didn’t do a good audition. So you just have to see what you can learn from it. See what you can gain from it. Thank them in the moment. You know, keep all of your connections open. Don’t attack yourself. Then, go on to the next one.
Terry K.: If you keep auditioning, eventually, something is going to show up. Especially if you stay loose, and go to therapy.
Darbi Worley: So, I just have one more question. Two more questions for you. The first one is, a lot of people who listen to this show are deciding whether or not to pursue a career in acting, or to try. What are some of the questions you would encourage people to ask themselves, or things to think about as they make the decision of whether or not to do-
Terry K: Why do you want to be an actor is the most important, and if it’s to be famous, that’s not going to work out well, because you don’t have any control about that. If it’s to get rich, that’s probably not going to work out either. If it’s because all of your friends tell you, you’re an actor, then you’re doing it for them. If it’s because you say I act every day in life, you don’t act in everyday life, you lie in everyday life. But, if you love fantasies. If you love living out fantasies. If you love playing. If you love your imagination. If when you go to theater you say, “I want to be up there doing that.” If you watch a movie, and then you go home, and you do it in the mirror because you’re obsessed. Most really good actors are obsessed.
Terry K.: I don’t know why Mozart needed to make music, but he figured out that he needed to do it, and if you need to do it no one can stop you.
Darbi Worley: Wow. That’s brilliant. So, for you, do you ever miss being on stage and performing?
Terry K.: I do, but I’ve been finding ways to do it recently.
Darbi Worley: Oh yeah?
Terry K.: Yeah. I did a movie this past summer that was just at the … whatever De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival-
Darbi Worley: Really?!
Terry K.: Yeah. I had a small part, and it got smaller in the cutting room.
Darbi Worley: Yeah?
Terry K.: But-
Darbi Worley: Terry you don’t promote these things very well.
Terry K.: That’s true. It was fun, and I just did a voiceover, and I may be up for something else. I’m dipping my toe back in.
Darbi Worley: Yeah.
Terry K.: Hey, Quincy [inaudible 00:42:28]. Yeah, that’s okay.
Darbi Worley: Okay. We’ll wrap this up, but where can people find you if they want to follow … Do you have a presence on social media outside of Facebook?
Terry K.: Oh my God, I should. I’m bad at that.
Darbi Worley: You should, right?
Darbi Worley: Oh, okay.
Terry K.: It’s ready to be … I mean it exists. It’s a fan page.
Darbi Worley: Okay.
Terry K.: Yeah.
Darbi Worley: Alright. Good. Or, you can write me and I’ll put you in touch with him.
Terry K.: Thank you.
Darbi Worley: If, you ever have the opportunity to study with Terry, I’m telling you it will change your life. It changed mine.
Terry K.: Bless you, Darbi.
Darbi Worley: Aw, thank you.
Terry K.: Take care.
Darbi Worley has a long overdue catchup with one of her heroes, Terry Knickerbocker, for her podcast "Everything Acting".