14 Acting Tips From Jeffrey Tambor’s SXSW Workshop

Jeffrey Tambor at SXSW 2010
Jeffrey Tambor
gave his annual Acting Workshop at SXSW this year and no matter what, I was not going to miss it.

I arrived an hour early and was the 5th person in line. When Tambor got on stage, he brought out  the stars of Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate – Chris Doubek and Heather Kafka. The idea was to have them do a scene from the film and he would direct it.

Over the next 90 minutes, he would have them act the scene in different accents, make Doubek act like a child, sing their lines and finally do the scene as an opera.

And it made the scene better once was all said and done. His idea is to destroy the scene before you can build it.

Tambor has acting classes in Santa Monica and from what I saw, his style totally inspired me. Watching him is one of my SXSW highlights. I highly recommend taking his class. Click here for the website.

I took a massive amount of notes and below are the best of the best.

1. “In Meet Joe Black, they gave me size 13 shoes. I’m a size 12. I was on my way to do a scene with Anthony Hopkins and I was walking to the set from my trailer. Walking and I just started to sway a little bit. I had been working on the role for a couple of months. On that, maybe, 1 minute walk, he became a lush. And by the time I hit the set, I said to Marty [Brest – the director], “Lets make him about 5 drinks into this, shall we? [Pretending to be the Director, he puts his thumb and gives the ‘OK’] That came, literally, from some kinetic thing that I learned to listen to.”

2. “If you read the Joseph Papp book, he says ‘you have to shatter the work to get it.’ You have to shatter it. And then pick it up. You have be willing to destroy it. I have four kids at home. I have two five month old boy twins. I have a three year old and a five year old. That’s why I look this way. And they are willing to build but they are also willing to destroy. And they love destruction.  And we lose that. We just go ‘Is this good? That’s the killer. Is this good? Is this right? Do they like it?’ We can always repair it. Let’s fuck it up first.”

3. “You’re in control. And the event, the story is just waiting. And you go, “Where am I gonna go?” And they’re excited. Because, what they’re not doing is aiming. They’re not coming out and going I’m aiming. Don’t you see where we’re going? I don’t know where I’m going in life. Do you?”

4. “Henry Miller said that his teacher said ‘I know how it is when you do it right… when you try to be good. Now try to do it badly.’ And Henry Miller said that’s when he found his voice.”

5. “This is whats great about being an actor. Losing the love is whats terrible about being a human. Losing the cat. Losing the dog. Whats great about what we do is that we get to use it in our art and we get to have them live again.”

6. “This scene is not about doing a scene in a film, is it? Its about our lives and that’s what we sometimes don’t get. We don’t walk on the set with that. ‘Its an indie, I’m getting schedule F, I have a double-banger and lunch is at 12.’ And we forget that our life is at stake here and if you don’t bring your life, we [the audience] don’t get it.”

7. “It’s a personal game. I mean, I just have to tell you… around the tables on a film I was doing the other day, you could just tell the love and concern. You were safe. You were safe to fall. Those actors are protected. It’s very, very important. I don’t like people who yell. I don’t like tyrants. I don’t peacocks. A peacock is a director that’s all about him.”

8. “If I don’t understand the director, I’ll say, ‘Do it for me.’ They usually die. I love directors by the way. Those actors who say a good director is one who keeps out of my way are stupid. I like directing. I like to be directed.”

9. “This is a get-along business. You can’t be some asshole.”

10. “I’ve given up acting twice because its so painful to me. Because I care about it so much so its a trick.”

11. “This thing is a confidence game, you know that. And so confidence is not really an acting technique. Confidence is born out of the ability to say ‘I want to do exactly that’ and the ability to actually do that. And you have to be lighthearted to do that. You can’t be closed.”

12. “This is a scary business. I know what fear is like and I’m an enemy of fear. I try to keep it lite and easy on the set, a lot of fun. Even though there’s all this pressure, I keep it really simple.”

13. “I goof around on the set. I bring stuff to the trailer that makes me happy and loose – those are drugs [laughter]. Things like that. I goof around. I keep it lite. I walk on with a sense of play. And I find that most actors do that. Because I find that if I bear down, its over.”

14. “I will tell you one thing that will help you. I’m a theater actor. I still think I have more hours in the theater than I have on film. And I was very nervous about going up on my lines. Very nervous. And I’d see other actors going up on their lines and I would go, ‘Huh. That’s so funny.’ And then I would watch their take and their take was better cause their not holding on to an idea or line. Their just loose whereas I can see in my eyes that I’m not totally present.

3 Comments

  1. talli

    March 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    i have a question. Are there anymore teachers out there with contemporary approaches like that? What he says about destroying the scene rings so much truth within me. Although I won’t say it’s a new idea because even during Stanislavsky’s time they at times had the same approach to rehearsing.

  2. Lance Carter

    March 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Yeah, I liked what he had to say also. There are a bunch of coaches out there like that, I’m sure. Where do you live?

  3. talli

    April 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    I am in New Jersey/ New York. This approach reminds me very much of Stanislavsky’s Active analysis.

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