CODY: Terry Knickerbocker, how are you?
TERRY: Great, great Cody and how are you doing today?
CODY: I’m really excited to have this conversation.
TERRY: Me too.
CODY: We owe a big thank you to Brian Levenson for introducing us.
TERRY: Absolutely, what a sweet guy he is.
CODY: Absolutely, and if you haven’t listened to his podcast and you listen to mine, you’ll get a lot out of it as well. So, I’ll link to that in the show notes. But. Really excited, we’re going to talk about coaching actors. So, I want to ask you about the artistry of coaching actors and the reason I want to do that is – I got to spend some time with the guys at Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year. I’ve spent a lot of time personally studying stand-up comedy for my own development in terms of message delivery. And that’s kinda really piqued my interest in the nuances of performing and this has been your world for quite some time. You’re very accomplished in your own right. So just tell me: what is the artistry of coaching actors in your world?
TERRY: Well it really helps if they’re good.
CODY: Haha same as in sports.
TERRY: You know, I mean you can have a great coach and not a great performer and I can’t put the acting into them. What I try to do is understand the material. So, it’s very important for me to read the script and bring my understanding of story and structure and what is the role of that character that they’re playing in the story so that they can stay in that lane and really be clear about that lane. And then help on the simplest level for them to make that performance simple, moving, something that honors the writer of the story and also honors them as individual actors and artists as well. And just to make it better, to make it detailed, to make it interesting.
CODY: So I’ll back up and I know I threw you into the fire there a little bit. But, tell us about that process. So, actors come to you when they have a role. They have the script and you’re kinda involved in the character development with them one on one. Would that be fair to say?
TERRY: Yes. Yeah, and it helps if they have ideas. If it all has to come from me and I’m spoon-feeding them…I can do that but it’s not as much fun.
TERRY: It’s better when we are collaborating like….Like one of the guys I’ve worked with the most is a wonderful actor named Sam Rockwell who you may know from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; he won an Oscar for that. And he was recently in the Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon thing with Michelle Williams. He’s done… I don’t know what a hundred movies. Jojo Rabbit he was just in. Richard Jewell with Clint Eastwood. Sam is full of ideas and I’m full of ideas. So it’s….When we work together (and we have been working together for 28 years now), It’s kinda like playing jazz together. We have…we’ve come up with a language of work that has a nice flow to it. And it goes well and we get a lot accomplished.
CODY: And, so let’s talk about that a little bit ‘cause I’m big on language development. And you know, again, my realm is two-fold in the team dynamic of it as well as the individual one-on-one coaching. But, I’m big on that language. So, talk us through that process. So as you’re kind of going through developing these characters with these people and meshing your ideas with there’s like, what does your language actually look like? Like, what would be some examples? Like how would you challenge each other as an example?
TERRY: Um, haha, challenging each other. You know, that’s a delicate thing; you get a lot of egos with uh, especially you know some actors can be… I like to challenge, but I like to sort of camouflage that in the form of an invitation.
CODY: Haha, Right.
TERRY: Not to make it too provocative or anything like that. Um, but also not to settle for….Like sometimes we will butt heads. Or I’ll come up with an idea and the actor will go “Wait a minute that’s crazy!” and I’ll go just try it. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But in terms of acting, you know, most good quality acting derives from this fellow named Stanislavski who brought the Moscow Art Theatre over to America in the 1930s. And up to that point, American Acting was very stilted and not very realistic. And then people saw his work in New York on Broadway doing plays by Anton Chekhov like The Seagull which he spent two years to rehearse. And it was like “Oh my God! This feels like life”. And so even though they’re different schools of acting; there’s Lee Strasberg which is sometimes called the “Method” – that’s where Al Pacino studied. Or Stella Adler which is where De Niro came from. Or Sanford Meisner which is my particular school of thought. Where people like Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen came from, and Sam came from. They all kinda have the same vocabulary which has to do with action. Like, what are you doing? Acting is doing. You know. So in every moment: what are you doing? Cause’ if you’re not doing something it’s not Acting. So, a lot of bad actors think that Acting is about feeling, and so they focus on tears or anger and stuff like that. And that’s not active. That is a byproduct of something that’s happening in something that you’re doing. So, we focus a lot on what are you doing. The other thing we focus on is what does everything mean. What is the meaning of every moment? And if you make clear what you’re doing in every moment, and make clear what the meaning of every moment is. And the meaning of course is filtered through the character. So, have you seen the Joker?
CODY: I haven’t yet.
TERRY: With Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a profound… I mean… It’s a disturbing movie, but it’s a profound performance by Joaquin Phoenix and he is in character start to finish and it’s a very disturbed character, very damaged character. So he gets his feelings easily hurt because he’s been so abused and then of course, he ends up becoming very violent. He gets bullied quite a bit and, um there’s a lot of betrayal and. But it’s a brilliant portrayal of a damaged person. So if someone snubs you or, or doesn’t go out on a date with you, if you’re that character it’s gonna hit you in a different way then, I don’t know, if your President Obama who’s a lot more resilient. So, if you can figure out who the person is, what their essence is, what they’re doing in every moment, and what every moment means, um you’re well on the way towards shaping something. And the other thing is: don’t keep doing the same thing. You can’t keep playing the same note, you know. You have to have some sort of structure that has a beginning and a middle and an end because that’s the structure of everything. Whether it’s a tree or a human being or a play or the act of a play or the scene of a play – everything has a beginning, middle and end. So I’m always thinking about shape.
CODY: That’s fascinating. Can you just give me the cold notes on those schools of acting that you were talking about. So we talked about some of the, the mainstream actors that you would associate with those. But I’d love, kinda the, what is the actual….like what is the embodiment of them. So method acting, etc.
CODY. And I’ll tell you why I’m asking. Because I see a lot–
TERRY. It’s going to get really nitty-gritty–
CODY: Yeah, but I…but I see some, see some parallels with, with what we do in athletics. So hence why I–
CODY: –want to kinda dive into it a little bit more.
TERRY: Yeah, you know I mean I was talking to someone about, you know, about Colin Kaepernick, the guy I train with. And I was saying, “Um, do you think that he can, you know, make it? Is he, uh, is he going to come back?” He said “No, he’s just a…all he can do is a West-coast offense and no one does that.” And I was like, “Okay.” You know what that’s about I don’t know what that’s about. That’s real shop talk, you know, so you tell me if I get too deep in the weeds here. Um, Stanislavski came, as I said, uh, and blew everyone’s mind. And in New York at the time was a collection of actors who called themselves the Group Theatre. And that was Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, a wonderful playwright named Clifford Odets and wonderful people who were doing great work. And Stanislavski came and went, “Oh my god, that’s acting.” Now Stanislavski’s work at the time was what we know as the Method and what he was interested in was what he called “emotional memory” or “effective memory.” He did believe that one of the most important things for acting to be realistic was to have believable emotion. And what better source of believable emotion than your own life. And so, if you needed to do be sad because um, your sister died, well, he would say, “Let’s go back to a time in your life when you experienced profound loss and start to get in touch with the sensory details of that event, recall it through the 5 senses. So, what were you smelling, what were you seeing, what were you hearing, what were you tasting, what were you touching.” And through recalling that actual biographical event inside yourself usually, if you’re open to it, the emotion would come which you then sort of inject into the scene and the play. So that started to work. And people were doing that sort of thing. And Lee Strasberg started to teach that and ultimately opened an acting school that’s still open. He’s dead now, um but he was a wonderful teacher and actually a wonderful actor. He’s in The Godfather Part 2, plays a bit part there. But an important part, um, mostly because of his connection to Pacino, obviously. So all these guys started doing that. And that’s now called “the Method.”
TERRY: Around that, about a year later, Stella Adler who was part of an old New York Jewish acting family that included her brother Luther Adler and a bunch of other people – she was a great actress – went over to France just to check up and see what was going on with, uh, Stanislavski. Because he left America and went back to Russia and he was in Paris at the time. And she said, “Oh you know Mr. Stanislavski, we’re working with your emotional memories, it’s just doing wonders for us.” He just said, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.”.
TERRY: I found that that was um, perhaps a little limiting. Like what if you had to play someone who had a sad childhood, but you had a happy childhood. Where are the memories going to be? “So I’ve become much more interested,” he said, “in the imagination.” And that’s limitless. So I don’t have to have lived a sad childhood, all I have to do is be able to imagine it, you know. Plus things change. Like, what would happen, let’s say, if you were in kindergarten and uh, it was Valentine’s Day and all the people in class were giving each other valentines and somehow the person you liked forgot you. Well at the time, when you were 5 years old, that probably hurt you, broke your heart. But now as a grown-up, you might find it sort of sweet: “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I was so upset back then about kindergarten valentines.” So the meaning of that changed. I mean, you can see that in relationships that don’t work anymore. Did you used to love that person? – Oh my god, I was obsessed. How about now? – I wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. So, it’s hard to…the meaning of things change whereas imagination is limitless and, and very enduring. So, she came back to New York and told all the members of the Group Theatre, “Hey, I was just hanging out with Stanislavski in Paris. He’s not doing that emotional memory anymore. He’s into the imagination!” And Strasberg said, “Well, screw you, I’m still gonna do it.”And it’s the work he teaches to this day. He doesn’t, but the people who studied under him and continued his work. Um, and Stella started her own school. And so that was one of the first splits. And I would say that Meisner, um, is very much in that vein. Um, he’s a little bit different from Stella in that he came up with an Acting technique that included a lot of what I would call foundational work or scales, the sort of stuff that we were talking about before we started speaking about with Kobe Bryant doing the basics and dribbling and footwork. Um, and that’s a different piece of it. But, but they both really relied on, “Oh, what’s the imagination, what is this, what’s the character like? What could, not what was, but what could be?” Dribbling and footwork.
TERRY: And then where Meisner came in with these ideas of foundations…You know, when I – I started out as an actor. And as a freshman at New York University, which is one of the best schools in the world for learning acting, um, we started with scene study. That is ingrained into most pedagogy when it comes to acting. That you start with scene study. Which means you start with a play. Now, that is not done in any other performing art. So, if you were to study ballet, you would never start with Swan Lake. You’d start at the bar: 1st position, 2nd position. If you were going to learn the violin, you would not start with a Bach violin concerto on the first day of learning. You’d start with a C major scale. So how is it that acting, which is just as valid and skillful and crafted an art form as music and dance, starts with scene study? It makes no sense.
TERRY: Now you can learn something from doing that. You can learn how to do that scene. But it doesn’t teach you how to do the next scene. Right? So you can get coaching from your teacher how to do a scene from the Glass Menagerie or Streetcar Named Desire or some of these great plays. But, what happens when you get a new script? You may or may not know what to do. And so, a lot of actors I find their work to be hit or miss. And that was certainly my experience. When I graduated from NYU, I’d had some amazing teachers, I’d done some great scenes, I’d done some great projects. But, I found out in the real world that some days I had it and some days I didn’t. And I – that was terrifying. But very typical. I mean, can you imagine if you went to a dentist and he said, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do with this drill. I knew yesterday but I don’t know what to do today!” Right?
TERRY: Right? And you just can’t have that kind of inconsistency. But it’s very common with actors. Not so much with musicians or dancers or athletes. Right?
TERRY: The best athletes have a foundation because they do drills over and over and over and over and over again. So that, that skill of dribbling or shooting or batting or pitching is so engrained in their bodies. What, what, people say is muscle memory, it’s a kind of a crazy term because muscles don’t actually have memory. But the nerve pathways do. So, Meisner, a guy who ultimately became, um, my religion, my school of thought, was also a pianist. So, he was a member of the Group Theatre. He, he, saw Stanislavski. But, he was also a very skilled pianist and he understands, he understood that scales were… I mean, no one goes to a concert to hear scales. But it’s the people who do scales every day like Eric Clapton who people go and see because they have this amazing technique and they’re very musical.
TERRY: Scales make you musical. So, he figured out a system of what would be the equivalent of scales for actors which had to do with “how are we going to work on the acting?” And he took away the text. So he took away the very thing that actors need which is a script. And instead worked on this improvisational exercise called “the repetition exercise” which starts out extremely simply, very basic. I put my – it works in pairs – I put my attention on the person I’m working with and I notice something about them. And I might say uh, “Oh, you have a blue shirt on today.” And then they will repeat back to me cause their attention is on me, “I have a blue shirt on today.” And I’ll say it back to them “You have a blue shirt on today.” Now, this is not Shakespeare, but it starts to cultivate some things that are very useful for Acting, for instance, listening. Good actors are good listeners; they’re able to improvise moment to moment. It also cultivates really truthfully responding in the moment with how you feel about it, with whats going on in you. So, you start to have self-awareness – we were talking about that friend of yours Tasha and her idea of self-awareness–
TERRY: And then also awareness of the other person. “I and thou,” as Martin Buber would say. And then out of that we start to introduce imaginary circumstances, simple imaginary circumstances that involve doing. And it’s sort of like juggling. You spoke about Cirque Du Soleil who are so skillful. I’ve had a few Cirque performers as students and their discipline is astounding, you know because they’re out there throwing each other around and if you miss, someone gets hurt. So they have to be very, very, very skillful. And so we start to introduce – it starts sort of like juggling, with one ball. One ball is not hard, but to do it clearly takes some skill. Then you throw in a second ball. That’s a little bit challenging but after a while that gets easy. Then you throw in a third. It takes consistency to ultimately be able to have 5, 6, 8, 10 balls in the air. And you do that by adding a ball at a time. And Meisner does that in this 1st year of his work. So at the end of the 1st year actors are able to really access any part of themselves and live out any imaginary circumstance as themselves, no emphasis on character. And then in the 2nd year of his work, we use all of that sort of raw material and start to apply it to good scripts and what are the ground rules of working on scripts which is what we were talking about in the beginning, having to do with what are you doing, what does it mean, what’s the essence of the character, and stuff like that.
CODY: So why I wanted to ask you about that is–
TERRY: I hope that wasn’t too much Cody.
CODY: It’s never too much when we’re talking about this kind of stuff and performance and education and coaching, uh, this is, this is what this show is about. And yeah, what I was curious to ask you, particularly about that idea around, you know, Method was – you know, kinda, what’s commonly known to the mainstream now is like Method acting–
CODY: What I find really interesting is that I see that in a lot of athletes in that the performance that they give you know on Sunday in the NFL, a lot of that is an act. In that, if you were to dive into the actual human being, there’s a lot of vulnerability that they’re trying to overcome. And often, like a lot of actors, they’ll put on an act or create a character that they can more easily become than themselves. And hence why I was interested to ask you about that. And also the second part of that is to steal from a friend of mine, Dan Abrahams, who I know you were listening to, to our podcast with Alan Stein together. To steal from him, funnily enough, he talks about from a sports psychology perspective: it’s handy for coaches to have, you know, these little phrases that jog your memory and imagination and perception within players. So, you know, things like, “Tell me about your best. Or “Tell me about your dream game.” You know stoking that imagination, like, “Go deep into it, what does it look like, how do you feel?” And then the perception inside, as well is like, “Who do you want to embody?” And yeah just seeing those elements and that’s where I see the overlap. And hence why I wanted to have this conversation with you is they’re not too dissimilar even though they’re performing in vastly different environments and with a whole range of different variables. Um, there’s just so much that we can obviously learn from each other.
TERRY: I mean, that’s certainly part of it. And I like to notice what’s happening in the actors’ bodies because, uh, our bodies, uh, talk a lot even when we’re not talking. And if I notice them closing up or opening up or, um, some part of themselves that they’re not willing to access, whether it’s vulnerability or rage. Um sometimes we can lead into that through some, um, you know they can touch their heart or they can stamp their foot or they can start to, um quick-start that through the body. Um, you know, mindset is a real buzzword these days partly because of that wonderful book by Carol Dweck—
TERRY: –About mindset and do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. And um, I sometimes think about, “Are actors or people coming at their work and their life from a place of fear?” Which I think a fixed mindset is often rooted in a fear or a place of love and willingness to take risks. And that very much involves the imagination and intuition. Um, you know, you look at a part like uh, what Johnny Depp in playing Jack Sparrow.
TERRY: In the Pirates of the Caribbean. Now that’s a Disney movie which um, that’s a studio that tries to be very clean. And Jack Sparrow is kind of dirty guy in a certain way–
TERRY: –and Johnny Depp’s idea for that part came from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. And so he, he modeled that part of this sort of scalawag on a guy with a drug problem, a guy who smokes too many cigarettes, a guy who, a guy who’s done a lot of heroin in his life. A true rock and roller. Now that’s not in the script, but that’s his idea. And, and that is the kind of thing that actors need to bring to the part. All the time. And hat’s what’s going to make that actor have their mark. You know, you look at um, classical material like, Phillip Seymour Hoffman – who we lost way too early – uh, did a play on Broadway called Death of a Salesman. Now that is a classic um. It’s been done on Broadway several times. Dustin Hoffman played the part. Brian Dennehy played the part. Uh, the original was with the guy, a wonderful Method actor named Lee J. Cobb. So, who… and you know Broadway pays okay. But, basically, the word on the street is that the theatre pays you in hugs and that the only real way for actors to make a living nowadays is to do Film and Television. Plus that’s where some of the best material is. So Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is an amazing film actor: why would he do that play? He did that play – especially because it’s already been done–
TERRY: So he did that play, just the same reason why a conductor would conduct Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. How many recordings of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony are there? But he believes that he had something to say about that part that would honor the writer Arthur Miller, but also honor him as an artist. And so he had to bring his ideas. And really, as an actor, you’re only as good as your ideas. And what is your idea for that part? That – you know you can’t make it not the story. The story is king. You can’t turn that into a story about something else. It is the story of a guy who is sort of at the end of his life and facing failure. But how are you going to find your way into it? And that’s something that he did. Uh, and that actors need to do all the time.
CODY: How much do directors or anyone in that landscape focus on like the culture of making a television show or the culture of making a movie. What about the kind of the, the teamwork or the team culture within the–
CODY: –performance itself.
TERRY: Well, again, you know when they bring together, you know… movies…. Um, like you look at the patriots, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. I mean he has built a culture there over years. Or Coach K. Um, that’s not how a movie works. A movie is brought together for maximum 6 months.
TERRY: And then that family spreads to the winds. And so it really has to be…Now sometimes, you see people like Scorsese: he always works with the same editor, a woman named Thelma Schoonmaker I think is her name. They’ve been working together since Raging Bull. So, sometimes you find the right people. Or he – Scorsese works with DiCaprio all the time or De Niro all the time. So sometimes you’ll bring together the same team or elements in the same team and that makes it work well. But most projects, you’ve got a different Director of Photography, you’ve got a different Editor, you’ve got a different cast, you’ve got different writers. And so, hopefully, it all comes together. But it’s, it’s not as well-oiled a machine as something that’s been going for a longer time like a corporation or like a sports team.
TERRY: I do think it helps – since I work with actors – you know, it helps to not be a jerk.
TERRY: You know?
CODY: That’s, that’s, that’s kinda what I mean.
TERRY: You know, I mean like because that person who’s working in craft services where you know you’re getting your cappuccino, is going to be directing your next project. And if you’re a jerk to that person, they’re going to remember. That person, you know…I, I, I have a former student…..Talent Agents so that’s like William Morris or CAA or Gersch or some of these places – I mean every actor needs an Agent or a Manager, except for Bill Murray he doesn’t have one he just has a cell phone – But otherwise, you need someone who is going to get you in the room. Now, those have a long tradition of starting out in the mailroom. That you start out as someone’s assistant: answering phones and bringing them coffee. And then they sort of groom you to become a junior agent, then a senior agent. Then after many years you’re, you’re up on top of the heap. So you got to be nice to those people who you’re coming in and checking in with because they are gonna remember you. Um, it helps to be a good person, to be a good hang, you know, because they’re going to want to work with you again. Who wants to work with someone who you get a call from and says, “Do you know this actor?” “Oh my god, they’re super talented but God are they obnoxious.” You know.
CODY: Haha. This is a little bit more – well, it’s not a personal question – it’s a personal question for me because I’m interested. You were talking about Scorsese and Belichick they’re…so this idea around Bill Belichick and the Patriots, it almost seems like they play a different game right now to everyone else and have for some time.
CODY: And there’s a similar aura around Scorsese. What’s your impression? Like, what makes Scorsese so great? ‘Cause I don’t buy into this just the artistry is… is and the pageantry are great. Like what, what does he see that other people don’t, do you think?
TERRY: First of all, you know, he does – at his age he doesn’t need to be working. He’s… he’s done so much he could just be, you know, down in Florida relaxing same with–
TERRY: Yeah… yeah I mean so one of my colleagues, uh, who teaches at NYU, was recently talking to me about – sometimes he hears about former students who are doing really well and to himself, he goes “Really? That one? That’s not how they presented in class in terms of like talent. They were not necessarily the most talented one.” And he started to think about, “What makes those people successful? What’s the common denominator?” And he said that there are actors who love acting, who love the art form. And there are actors who need to act. Like their life is not complete unless they’re acting. There’s an obsessive need to do it. And I think Scorsese has that. He needs to do it, same with Clint Eastwood. Sam Rockwell just worked on this Richard Jewell with Clint Eastwood. I mean he hasn’t lost a step. He’s 88 years old and he’s directing full-length movies because he wants to, because he needs to as an artist. He needs to keep putting that work out. That’s what makes him feel alive. So, I think first of all it’s that. That Scorsese loves the work, needs to do the work. He’s also put in the 10,000 hours times 30 probably. And so he’s a real student of the art form. So you know sometimes you’ll see that there’s… uh… on like the Criterion channel which has a lot of art films – a package of films that, a collection that have been curated by Martin Scorsese. These are not his films. These are the films he thinks everyone needs to watch to learn something about movie-making. Right? So he’s a real student of the art form and I think that’s part of it as well. You have to love the art form and you have to need to do it. Um… and, you know I think it was that fellow Dan on that podcast who was talking about cultivating skills, uh, in search of mastery. You know, my mentor, Sanford Meisner, said that it takes about two years to teach his method of Acting but it takes 10-20 to master it through doing it every day. Um, so there’s something to be said for — not everything Martin Scorsese has done is magical. But, you keep making mistakes and you learn from them, um, and you get better and better and better.
CODY: That’s a very eloquent way of putting it and as you were talking there I was thinking of some other leadership examples and… and yeah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there.
TERRY: You know I was… I was… there’s that Micheal Jordan quote about how many game-winning shots he hasn’t made.
TERRY: You know, he’s lost, he’s missed, he said, I think, 9000 shots. And he’s lost 300 games. And there are 26 or 28 times when he had the ball and he could either win the game or lose it and he lost. And every one of those made him a winner.
CODY:Terry, where do you look for your inspiration?
TERRY: I… I love that question. There are… there are three things and the first thing that came to mind is my son. I have a six-year-old and, uh, he’s a feisty, enthusiastic, loving, very much a boy. Um, a lot happier than I was when I was a kid. Um, partly I think, a great deal because of the amazing work my wife does in raising him with me. But watching him learn, you know. He’s such a great teacher to me. Because literally, you know, like everything they do for the 1st time is – you re-live it. So he’s brought a sense of innocence and openness and curiosity. If it was ever getting lost in me, he has rekindled it. Because when you see them put their feet in sand, a baby, for the first time, you remember what it was… and see what happens in their body when they feel the sand on their feet.
TERRY: Or when they eat a strawberry for the 1st time. That sense of Wonder and openness and inspiration and curiosity is just so exciting and hopefully erases any part of me that was jaded and had a “been-there-done-that” attitude. You know? He… he, um, went back to school yesterday – he’s in first grade. And he’s got an amazing teacher, wonderful teacher and uh, I said, “What did you do in school today?” And he said, “Well, uh, the teacher said, ‘What did you do in 2019 and what are you going to do in 2020?’” And he said, “Well, I learned how to read big words in 2019 and I’m going to get really good at doing complicated math problems in 2020.” All this stuff that we take for granted, you know. Um, so that’s great. The second is nature and I think my son is sort of connected to that idea of nature but you know a rock, a tree, water, the sky, uh, animals. Um, there’s a pureness to all of that that um is unmatched anywhere. And so that’s that’s super inspiring to me. And then art you know. I mean, when I – Obviously the art I partake in the most is theatre and movies and television, um… And when I see a great project – and when I see a terrible project and I get mad about it and I go, “Uh they really missed the boat there.” I mean, I was talking about Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker: I don’t think the movie’s perfect but I think his performance is spectacular. And yesterday I watched Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story on Netflix. I think that’s an amazing film, a beautiful film, a very well-observed film, full of detail about a very sad, you know, couple. He happens to be a theatre director and she’s an actress and they have a son who’s named Henry, which is what my son’s name is and he’s about the same age. And they get… they get divorced and… the… the level of detail and thoughtfulness. I mean it is a beautiful script which Noah Baumbach wrote and directed. And their performances are so generous and so specific and so lived in the fullest possible way. I mean that’s just, that just great. I love that.
CODY: Thank you for saying that. Even finding a way to find inspiration or study something that’s not, you know, “best-in-class.” I think that’s something that I’ve realized through my coaching. And I try to remind other coaches of regularly is what we tend to do is we only go and study Bill Belichick and you know… I thought… I have a lot of soccer coaches on my twitter and all they talk about is who is winning at the moment and they…
CODY: And there is so much to learn from either the teams that didn’t quite get there. Like, no one talks about the Buffalo Bills who made 4 straight Super Bowls because they didn’t win. Everyone… everyone’s should trying to decode sustained success.
CODY: Now a team got to 4 straight super bowls: you don’t think there’s something to learn from that organization over that period of time just because they didn’t win what is essentially a… a coin toss game.
TERR: Yep. Yep.
CODY: And, and the team’s that are getting absolutely drilled every week, the Cleveland Browns of the world, there is so much to learn from what they’re doing and but we… we just don’t look there. And so thank you for that reminder, thank you for saying that. That even within performance sometimes it’s the ones that aren’t the cleanest or aren’t the glitziest, um, that there’s still things that we can take away from them, inspiration even.
TERRY: Yep. Or what not to do.
CODY: What not to do. Or a… a slight tweak that would actually make it work–
CODY: –That’s your unique spin on it.
TERRY: Mhmm yep. And I think you have to have… I think you have to have your own taste. Like one of the things that…my, my teacher was a man named Bill Esper who died earlier this year but I… I worked with him for over 30 years and–
CODY: Sorry to hear that.
TERRY: –And he worked with Sanford Meisner– Well he was in his 80’s he had a good long life and he really a contributed so much to the art form– And one of the things that was very important for me was to cultivate how I was different from him. Like he happened to hate some artists that I loved. He hated this actor Paul Scofield and I loved him. So at first, I was there like, “Well wait, if Bill hates Paul Scofield, does that mean I’m wrong for liking him?” And it took me a while to kind of go, “No we’re just… we have different taste.” And… and cultivating my own unique point of view, uh, is a very important thing. Otherwise, I’m just a copy of him.
CODY: Yeah, the, one of the things that I’ve picked up being in North America – and I hadn’t really seen this a lot – I became fascinated with or have been fascinated with the NFL just because the attention to detail is absurd like the level—
CODY: The level of athlete your dealing with, the odds of making it, the fact that literally when a lineman is blocking, like, down to the position of there thumb can be–
CODY: –the difference between a play working and not. And… and I started reading up on it – obviously a massive outsider – like, we didn’t see games in Australia.
CODY: We had 5 TV channels and they weren’t putting American Football on them when I was growing up. And one of the things that I learned through a couple of books that I read is that people like a Bill Belichick will go and look at… Again, you know, the things that people think aren’t working for the Browns, look at that play and just put a tiny little spin on it and put it in their playbook and it works. ‘Cause they’ve got the… whether it’s the players that, that do it or whether it’s the coaching to actually drill it into the guys in the right way or their own little wrinkle. Um… and so yeah again and I… I… I’ve already talked about this, but I… I think that there’s such a huge component to that to not just a turn your nose up at something or like you said, say “I shouldn’t like this person .I shouldn’t learn from this person because my mentor likes them or my mom dislikes them or”–
CODY: –Whatever it is. It can be really destructive, I think in leadership in general. But also just from uh… that growth mindset opportunity.
CODY: I ask everyone this as we kind of wind up the show and I’m really curious to hear what you say here. Outside of work and your obsession, what’s intellectually stimulating you? It could be the Netflix documentary that you saw on the weekend. It could be some Wikipedia hole that you’ve ended up down learning about whatever the thing of the day was. Is there something that is peaking your interests at the moment that you maybe didn’t expect would?
TERRY: Well you know I’m… uh… currently renovating the top floor. I live in an Old Brownstone in Brooklyn it’s over a hundred years old and it’s a two-family. And uh we’re… we’re finally gonna take over the top floor. We rented it out for… for the most of the time we’ve had this house, but now my son needs his own room. And watching the process that the architects who helped build my studio… uh… in Brooklyn. And the contractor who was the contractor that they work with a lot. The level of mastery and detail that they have is fascinating to me, and to watch… You know, they’re able to conceive of things that just… I can’t even imagine. And to watch them do that and to… to focus on like where is the line going to go on the tile in the bathroom so that it’s visually appealing? And why do we put a light switch over here? And …’cause all these old houses have their own personalities and you’re never going to find a floor that’s straight or level because things sag you know. And how do you… how do you make things feel right? How do you make things safe? Um… and to watch, especially my contractor who is just such a master and has been doing this for a long time, look at a space and – he’s like Belichick. I mean you know, when people ask me this, like can I watch acting and just enjoy it? I mean I… I’m watching it like a football coach watches a football game. And I’m probably seeing stuff that most people aren’t seeing. Um… and to see how my contractor looks at that – I don’t know if it’s intellectually stimulating but it is fascinating to me.
TERRY: Um, how just the skill of that and… and to, you know, make decisions around that and like “do we want this or do we want that?” Based of course partly on expense and partly on aesthetics but also “is it going to last a long time and is it the right thing and how do we solve that and what are the options and what makes a good roof and why…why can’t we have a skylight in the bathroom?”
TERRY: I want to have a skylight in the bathroom. He says, “Well, it’s not going to make sense because of this and that.” And I go okay… so that. I’m fascinated with Howard Stern.
TERRY: ‘Cause I’ve been listening to him for a long time before he went on satellite. And you know he was a shock jock and he did a lot. You know, he had strippers on his show and did a lot of silly stuff and he’s really matured into one of the best interviewers out there.
CODY: He has, hasn’t he.
TERRY: And to watch his… uh, evolution – I love this guy Dax Shepard who has a wonderful podcast called the Armchair Expert. He’s an actor and, um…read an interview with him recently where he said, “Basically I want to be Howard”. Um… and uh… I got Sirius XM so I could listen to Howard. And I love how he does his research, what a great listener he is. He’s taught me a lot about how to talk to a lot of people and go very deep with them. I mean, he… he had Stephen Colbert crying in their interview and um so I… I really appreciate how he takes his time and um… is outrageous and speaks the truth and has stuck to his guns, in terms of what he believes in, and is very good at what he does, maybe the best.
CODY: I caught a glimpse of that recently. Uh, his interview with Hillary Clinton not too long ago. And – again to me someone that wasn’t paying attention – first of all, my initial thought was, “What the fuck is Hillary Clinton doing on Howard Stern?” Because—
CODY: –I still had that old picture of his brand in… in my head. But then I started to pay attention and listen to the interview and the insight, and the, uh, here is this guy that everyone kind of thinks yeah as strippers in the studio, and he’s having this magnificent high-level, sorry, intricate conversation with one of the smartest politicians in… in the world.
CODY: And…uh… yeah I’ve noticed that too. It’s a–
CODY: –Fascinating, not transformation cause that’s obviously always been there–
CODY: Evolution, yeah, absolutely.
TERRY: And it’s interesting ’cause he’s got three daughters. So all the stuff he did around strippers and all that, he also I think on some level respected women, he was just having a persona.
CODY: Where, where can people find you, Terry?–
TERRY: Thank you.
CODY: –Cause I want to either contact you or follow what you’ve got going on. Let them know.
TERRY: Sure, thanks for that. Um.. and thank you for being such a great listener. And this felt like a very… uh, organic conversation. Um, and I appreciate your skill in that. Um, I have a TerryKnickerbockerStudio.com cause we didn’t speak a lot about it but the thing I do most is train young actors, um to be good so that ultimately they can get coaching and they can get coached and do good work. So, TerryKnickerbockerStudio.com – I have an Acting Studio in Brooklyn and we’re really dedicated to, uh… uh, teaching the “Passionate Actor Committed to Excellence.” And that’s our whole thing is “How good do you want to be?” And I’m on Twitter @TKnickerbocker and on Instagram @TerryKnickerbockerStudio on Facebook and all those places and if you… I have an unusual name so if you look me up you’re probably going to find me.
CODY: Next time I’m in Brooklyn I’m going to come to visit. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you and continuing this conversation. Again, Terry, thank you so much. I know, and we talked about this beforehand but slightly different for me, slightly different for you but I… you know, I made a ton of notes and I… you know we’re talking to coaches here–
CODY: And I think…uh… a lot of people are going to take away a lot from what you talked about so thank you for that.
TERRY: You’re so welcome and you know, I sense that you’re a very kind person. And uh.. I think that goes a long way in what we’re trying to do. I mean we are trying to make the world better, um… and coming from a place of humanity.
CODY: Absolutely. And thank you for the comment. We’ll do this again sometime.
TERRY:Thank you so much, Cody.
CODY: Thanks, Terry.
Terry sits down with Head Coach of AFL Team Canada, Cody Royle, to talk all things coaching, the importance of being good at what you do and good to work with, and more.