Amy Lyndon Talks About Her Acting “Technique”

If you been visited this site for any amount of time, then you’ll know who Amy Lyndon is. She’s written several columns for me and I was one of the first people to review her new book, The Lyndon Technique: The 15 Guideline Map To Booking.

She has appeared in over 40 films, produced, directed and is an acclaimed acting coach.

Daily Actor: When I first met you, I think one of the huge selling points is that you are a working actor. I’ve been to a million teachers who, they’re fine, you know, but they weren’t doing anything. You look them up on IMDB or try to Google them and you didn’t see any credits.
Amy Lyndon: And you can’t find them. You’re like how can you teach what you don’t know? Or there’s people that were like actors like years ago. The industry has changed so dramatically. And since I’m out there with my students, I know how they’re dealing in the room because I’m dealing in the room the same way.

Exactly. Yeah.
And I also know the difference between the energy of network television and the energy of feature film. So it’s so important that I’m out there and I understand it and I can explain it to them of what they’re going to be in for so then they’re preparing.

I totally agree. I love that you still love the hustle of the business, you know what I mean?
Oh I know exactly what you mean. I gotta tell you, I’m still not a great fan of the hustle of television because it really is corporate, and it’s just not as friendly. But I love, love, love the hustle of feature film. I’ve done like over 40 films.

How did you transition from actually acting full-time to also being a teacher?

About 19 years ago my friend asked me to coach her kids for Pre-hysteria 2, and I said, “Oh, okay.” And then she booked the starring role in the movie, and I thought “Hmmmmmm.” So, then I started to get into alliances with different agents I knew at the time, and they started sending me people. And then three years into the teaching and everybody started booking, I started to manage. I managed the people I was teaching. And so that went on for 9 years, and I left the management company. I basically sold it.

And I love teaching. I love being a part of an actor’s process and helping them deal with the business and also deal with understanding how to work in this business as an artist.

Well, still being a student of yours of sorts, just watching you watch the actors on stage, you’re just so in tune and focused on every sort of nuance and every little thing they’re doing. I can just tell that you love it.
Yeah, you know, I mean for me, it’s not only about the art form, but it’s about understanding the tone and the style and texture and that adds so much to performance.

Like the 15 guidelines were actually born out of me freaking out at auditions. Seriously, I used to like really feel like I was going to throw up. So, I created the 15 guidelines, and it’s obviously at this point become really refined. So when I talk to people in my classes or I coach people, I only talk to them about the technique because everybody who comes to me already knows how to act. And so you can get a job just by cleaning up your opening moment and not taking up the energy in the room. Or the person that you’re talking to isn’t clear enough and so therefore you’re actually looking at the casting director and you should be looking at the person in your scene.

Well, to get to your book, there are three quotes that I completely love. “Your emotional state of mind has to be in place long before you even open your mouth. 90% of your work is done before you walk into that door.”
Let me address that. What’s important about that is you never want people to think you’re an actor. So, if it’s going to feel like I’m starting a scene now, then it’s going to feel like you’re an actor. But if it’s already started since we’re all, always jumping into the middle of the scene, then you’re bringing the energy in with you, and so they get caught up in that. In that energy of what’s going on in the scene, which is the emotional opening moment.

I remember you hammering this into my head a million times. Whenever I used to start a scene, I would for some reason exhale (she laughs), and I don’t know if you remember this, but you would just always hammer me, and I don’t know why I would do it. I don’t do it anymore, thank God, but you were just completely on it.

Well, the exhale is coming from excess energy, you know? What it is, is actor-filler, so you weren’t really ready to audition. (Laughter).

Yeah, exactly.
You’re still gearing up when you’re in the room, you know what I’m saying? And that stuff needs to happen in the waiting room. If you’re going over your script in the waiting room, then you shouldn’t have left your house because you didn’t do enough homework.

That is true.
What you should be doing in the waiting room is not talk to anybody, not even catching their eye. Actually bring an iPod with you. Or go sit outside, don’t even sit near anybody, and work on your opening emotion. And work on the environment, so when you walk into the casting office – let’s say the film takes place in a movie theatre – that scene, you’ll be walking into a movie theatre, not a casting office. So, you’ll be protected by the environment.

You know what bugs me, I’ll go to auditions and I’ll see actors catching up, talking, having a great old time, then they get called in, and they’re like, “Hey Todd, I’ll catch up with you in a sec.” And it just bugs the heck out of me.
Actually, you know, you just turn around and go, “Okay, there’s two down.” I just went downtown for Mad Men. Had to start out really early in the morning. Oh my God! I mean, parking is far away, the offices are far away. It’s really inconvenient. So, if you’re going to go down there, then get the damn thing.

And now you need like five quarters just for an hour (laughter). You’re right, you’re totally right.
Yeah, I really was shaking that today just in terms of going downtown. I mean, it’s convenient for them because that’s where they shoot and all, but as an actor, you know, you have to love it so much that that kind of stuff just does not get in the way of your work. That it really is just all part of the process. But if you really feel it then go get that damn job.

And if not, then why waste anybody’s time.

Exactly. Then go find something else to do. There’s just too much heartbreak. It could change tomorrow.

That’s another thing I really love about this business. It’s feast of famine. Tomorrow things can change.

Yeah, like tomorrow, you can book a series because they can’t find this one character. Your picture comes across their desk, you go in, and the next day you’re on the set shooting and you have a contract for a new series regular. I mean, this stuff happens all the time, which is why it kills me that people aren’t ready. If you’re not ready for that opportunity, it can come out of nowhere, seriously.

I saw a quote from you saying something like, don’t come out here unless you’re ready because it could happen that quick and you could lose your opportunity that quick, right?

Oh my goodness, I had this girl come in class the other day, actually she was going to cancel because she had to go work at the restaurant. And I asked her how many auditions, out of 10 of the auditions that you’ve gone on in the last month and a half, how many of them did you book? And she said, “None of them.” And I said well you might want to restructure your schedule at the restaurant. All those opportunities, all those people, all that money that could have been in your pocket is gone because you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s amazing to me how many people just blow by opportunities. The only reason why I can say that is because I was one of those people.

And I was, too.
(Laughter). Now, don’t you know when you get in an audition, aren’t you ready?

Yeah, after this conversation, I have an audition tomorrow, I’m going to go and work on my sides.

Exactly. Think about what you’re going to do. A lot of people don’t break down their script that way. They come into the room and then all of a sudden they figure out, oh maybe I should be sitting, you know? And all that stuff will throw you. You have to know exactly what you’re going to be doing in the beginning and the middle and end, and you’ve got to tag out. It needs to feel like it’s still continuing.

How do you think over the years that you’ve been teaching and doing this, how do you think actors have changed? Are they more serious or less serious? Do you find that they want to be actors for the right reasons or just want to be famous? What’s your take on that?
I have to say, it depends since I’m a booking coach… when people get to me, they have to already have training. What I will tell you of what I’ve noticed is that they’re a lot of teachers teaching their students wrong. I find that as the years are going by I have to correct a lot more than I used to.

You think it’s the laziness of their former teachers?

Well, there’s a couple things that go on. I think that a lot of teachers are directing, and so they’re telling them how to do it rather than giving them a note and being patient to let the student get there in their own time. Then the student doesn’t know how to do it on their own because they’re always directed on what the teacher feels they should be doing. So, what I get a lot is a lot of people that don’t know what they’re doing.

Even if they’ve been doing it for a long time.

Yeah, they’ve got all this meat and potatoes and all this emotion, but they have not even a single idea where to put it. Because nobody’s teaching structure. And if they are teaching structure, they’re giving the direction of the structure, so then the student doesn’t need to learn how to break it down themselves. Most teachers out here actually don’t have a technique. So they’re actually not teaching a way to get to the material.

Your technique in the book, this is something you completely created. Something totally new.

Yeah, it’s completely new based on how I work. And you know, it’s interesting because there are so many talented people, but if their approach is wrong or their in a different script or their in a different show, everybody’s going to think they suck. And that happens a lot.

So there have been a lot of talented people that’ve quit the business because they’ve got frustrated because they have no idea what everybody’s looking for. And what everybody’s looking for is what the writer wrote. And when you read, when you actually break down how the writer wrote it and act it like the writer wrote it, everyone in the room is like, oh my God, he’s the guy. And the writer is saying, oh my God, he did it just like I wrote it. And the casting director is going, oh my God, he’s looking like I thought he would look. And the producer’s like, yeah that’s the guy.

But there’s a lot of people teaching, you have to make these broad choices, and most times the choices have nothing to do with what the writing is. If you want to make a broad choice, choose the writer. So, I get into it a lot with a lot of people because I actually was trained by Harry Mastergeorge who trained like Ray Liotta and Melanie Griffith. And he works with Dakota Fanning. And that was his whole philosophy was that the writer comes first. That you are just simply a vessel of emotion, that’s it.

And I never even sort of thought about that until I went to your class.
Well, because nobody is teaching it. It came from the Actors’ Studio. The importance was put on your own personal experience. So it becomes about you.

What I loved about your book… I’ve read tons of acting books and there’s a lot of fluff throughout them. You have to search for these little nuggets of information. What I loved about your book is it was all meat. The way you set it up, you can just easily go back and reference things, and it was just so refreshing.
I have to tell you, because I see people around holding my book, and I ask to look at it. And I just want to cry because they have highlighted it, and it’s earmarked and it’s underlined. And there’s all different color highlighters on it. And I’m just so excited how much people are getting out of this book.

I’ve gotten a ton. Just re-reading this book, I’ve gotten so much stuff out of it.
What the book does really is your don’t actually need to be in the class, but definitely it does sound like I’m talking to you when you read the book.

I definitely heard your voice when I was reading it.
Yeah, you know that book was compiled over about four years of lectures from class. And then I hired somebody to transpose the lectures. And then I went to Vegas and I wrote it for a week straight, seven hours a day. And then I would gamble seven hours a day. (Laughter).

You actually got things done in Vegas? Wow!
I worked for seven hours, gambled for seven hours, and by the time I left Vegas I had a solid first draft.

Vegas wouldn’t be the first choice I would go to do anything productive.
The slot machines really emptied my head (they laugh). I mean, it’s been a very exciting ride because the book, I mean, people from Australia, Ireland, Italy. I get calls from all over.

And I heard the first printing was all sold out.
Oh yeah, that was sold out at three and a half weeks, and I’m almost into the 2nd printing. The first printing came out in the first week of March, and so here we are in July and I’m almost done with the 2nd printing.

I want to say that the book is, it’s not common sense, but when I read the guidelines, it was like, “Oh, jeez, that makes total sense. Why didn’t I think of that?” You know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s logical.

Yeah, it’s totally logical. And it’s something you can wrap your brain around. As opposed to other acting books where things are more abstract.

Oh my God! There’s so many, I remember from my training, put a beat here and then action there. And so the whole time you’re out of the script doing your beat and your actions, you know what I mean? So there’s no organic process.

And another quote of yours is “get out of your head and into your heart,” which goes right back to what you said.
Yeah, because it really is about the feeling and understanding who the character is. So, most of the time is just sitting there and figuring out how this person thinks. And then asking yourself, can I relate to how this person thinks. And then if I can’t relate to it, I’m going to use my imagination. And it really is that simple. Because we see character through emotion and through transition. That’s how we understand character.

I want to give you another quote from the book that I absolutely love. From Guideline 7, I love this because I have a huge time memorizing dialogue. “If you break down dialogue, know what you’re talking about. The dialogue will miraculously be memorized. If you study or try to memorize lines, that’s all it is, and it’s not connected to anything.” I find that so true.
Well, which is why I want people to break down each thought because each thought leads to the next thought. And also if they’re not writing next to the other person’s lines, they’re actually not having a conversation with anybody. So they really have to understand exactly what they’re saying and then they will be off book because if they know what they’re saying and they’re connected to that, then miraculously they’ll just memorize. It will be memorized because that’s what they character would be saying. Given what they just heard.

And it sounds ridiculous, but it completely, totally works.
I know. You know there are people that come into my class for the first time, and they cannot believe the students are off book on 8 pages.

Also, I don’t understand how people can go to a class and the teachers can only give them two pages. How can you only give them two pages? That’s like chintzy, don’t you think? Unless you just want to be a co-star. I personally like to train people to be stars. I train people that when you get that opportunity that everyone in the room starts moving closer to you and they’re all nodding at the same time.

To order The 15 Guideline Map To Booking, click here.

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