Jon Favreau: “Acting is the closest thing you’ll get to an apprenticeship for directing”

Actor Jon Favreau

“I learned to read character—how people tick, and I got firsthand experience of the anxiety and fear that actors deal with.” – Jon Favreau on Taking Improv Classes

Though Swingers star Jon Favreau still acts, he’s received far more acclaim in recent years for his directing — including 2008’s Iron Man, 2014’s Chef, and 2016’s The Jungle Book (and the eagerly anticipated live-action adaptation of The Lion King). As one of the handful of actors who became very successful directors, Favreau has insight on both careers — though as he told audiences during a special Tribeca Talks: Directors Series session at the Tribeca Film Festival (while being interviewed by frequent collaborator Scarlett Johansson), the two roles are more closely related than people might realize.

Favreau recalls that he wanted to entertain from an early age, but it was his move to Chicago that taught him to work both on stage and off. He explains, “I was the class clown who loved theater. I loved performing, and the applause that came with it… I moved from New York to Chicago, and that changed everything… Because it was so DIY, I learned about storytelling, writing, editing, acting.”

Learning to write was a difficult hurdle, but being part of a weekly sketch performance series in Chicago gave him lots of practice to improve and gave him a better understanding of character. He recalls, “Because they were short skits, it wasn’t loaded with pressure. We had a sense of freedom; I wasn’t judging myself too harshly and therefore I got to get better… It taught me how to appreciate human nature. I learned to read character—how people tick, and I got firsthand experience of the anxiety and fear that actors deal with. You’re vulnerable, you wonder how you look, how you’re coming across. I find that stuff very moving.”

Through acting Favreau learned how to become a director, and he suggests that aspiring directors become actors first. He points out, “Acting is the closest thing you’ll get to an apprenticeship for directing because you’re actually on set watching the director do what they do. When you go to school for directing, you rarely have the luxury of actually shadowing and watching someone else who’s doing it well. But because I was on so many sets, I got to learn whose style I liked.”

via No Film School

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