Photos of Conan in Movies

Difference Between A Good Actor And Good At Acting

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Seriously has Conan gone off the deep end? Has the stress of too many anxious nights waiting for the "big one" finally gone to his head?

No, and here is a fundamental mistake that I see many young aspiring actors making.

In fact in the last week 3 different people have asked my advice on acting and I have pretty much given the same sermon I am about to give here.

Being a good actor has little to do with being good at the art of acting, though the two are not mutually exclusive. 

*NOTE: This rant is relevant to your occupation too....

But wait, isn't the 'job' of an Actor to be good at acting?

No, not entirely.

For instance I am not "good" at acting. Al Pacino , Tom Hanks , Leonardo DiCaprio (watch Blood Diamond ) and Robert De Niro are good at acting. You can give them a range of roles, difficult roles and they can play them. They are GOOD at acting, they make the characters come alive, you believe in them, your heart and feelings go out for them (or against them). While you are watching the movie the characters become real for you, you get involved, you care.

Now consider that against a good actor. I am going to use Sylvester Stallone as an example. Many people would not consider Mr Stallone's acting to be "good" and yet time and again his movies rate very well, make massive profits and everyone knows who he is. He is successful as an actor. (Though if you have ever seen Sylvester's interview on "The Actors Centre" you will realise he definitely knows what he is doing on screen, there are some choice bits of information in there that every beginning actor should know.)

See being a good Actor means much more than being just good at acting. Jean Claude Van Damme is widely criticised for being a bad at acting, yet you cannot discount the fact he is a very successful Actor. So it seems even the critic's perception of being good at acting would not be a requirement.

So what defines a good Actor?

To answer that I'd ask the question:
Q: What is the job of an Actor?
A: To bring value to the movie

You see movies are not made for the sake of art, well lots of short films are but they are not widely watched and the general public could not care less for an arthouse film. Cinema movies are made for profit. It is a business.

The Investors/Producers/Studios put their money in and expect not only a return of their investment but a good return on the investment as this is a high risk investment. They are ultimately in charge of any movie. As an employee of that business your job is to provide them with more value than you cost.

You can do this by keeping your costs low, or by increasing what you bring to the film.

By keeping costs low I mean:

  • Obviously you could work for cheap, this is an option when you start out but at some stage you'll want to earn a liveable income
  • By not causing problems on set and not being difficult to work with you don't bring any nasty cost surprises to the production
  • Willingness to negotiate contracts suitable for the production. ie Deferring part of your payment until the film rights are sold, negotiating a percentage take or box office bonus in lieu of upfront payment cutting the costs of the production by tying your payment to the films performance, taking non-cash incentives in lieu of monetary payments.
  • Accepting less than ideal conditions (ie hotels, flights, sharing a room, etc.) to save production costs (more relevant on low budget films)
  • Getting your lines right and keeping the number of retakes on each scene low, listening to the Director, doing what he asks. Daily costs are huge, the less time you take to do your part the less it costs to have you as part of the crew
  • Doing your own stunts (if allowed)
  • Having the necessary skills for the role rather than relying on Production to train you up.
  • ALWAYS being on time, if people are standing around waiting for you then you are costing production money

You can bring value to a film in several ways too:

  • A fan base. A group of people who will come to the movie just because you are in it. For example Brad Pitt could be in a 30 minute movie where he just twiddles his thumbs and people would pay to watch it. OK, that might be an exaggeration but anything he is in will have a massive audience watch it because it is Brad Pitt
  • Good media relations. You work extensively with the media, doing good interviews, appearances, getting seen out and about, talking about your latest roles - free publicity to the producers.
  • Large social media or website followings - see the above two points
  • An enjoyable personality, being good to work with lifts the spirits of those who have to work with you, happy people give more and do better work
  • Being good at acting, making the film better through your acting skills - there we go, just one criterion in a selection
  • Working overtime to nail a scene if asked, giving your all to the production.
  • Working on the film until it is complete.
  • Help choreograph your own fight scenes -make the stunt team aware of any special skills that you might have that could add to a fight or to the movie
  • Etc.

On top of all this I am going to let you in on a secret. I am not good at acting, I am good at certain roles and certain character types. I specialise. I can do a dangerous bad man 5 different ways at the drop of a hat.

Ask me to do a tender love scene and I am at a loss - I can't even do that in real life, murmering sweet nothings doesn't sit well with me. I am not good at the art of acting. In fact I remember saying to one girlfriend "The fact that I asked you to live with me should tell you that I love you." - Such romance, such passion, I cannot believe they did not use that as the catch phrase for Titanic....

Though I do believe that I am a good Actor. I seem to be the first in a new generation of Internet savvy actors who will undoubtedly follow . I have a fan base (not huge but growing) due to my online presence, many more people have come across my name - 3 million visitors at least. Funnily enough most of my fans have never seen a film with me in it!!!

I bring added value in that I can do a lot of my own stunts and for an Actor I excel in fight choreography and weapon skills, not meaning I am as good as a professional stuntman, but as an Actor I am more than familiar. To be honest I find I have more in common with the stunt teams than with the other Actors in most cases.

I try hard, and I do something each day to advance my career and I stick with it, for over 20 years now this has been my plan.

But back on topic.

When I was a Wrestler I was not good at Wrestling, technically I was very, very basic, claimed by some as incompetant but I was a good Wrestler - I could get the crowd to cheer or boo according to the character I was playing at that time.

Following the same logic as above I had a fan base, the people knew and liked me, I could get the crowd to react and I could read the crowd giving them what they wanted so that they enjoyed the show. Not to mention my physique was awe inspiring for a 8 year old kid. I was a "draw" and as such I was main event quiet often.

I remember one time I caught someone saying I wasn't good at wrestling as I was about to go on stage, "I turned to the guy and said "I might not wrestle so good but can you do this?". My entrance music played, I jumped onto the stage and the crowd erupted in screaming applause.

What do you think was more important? Which did the promoter take notice of? Who was booked every show?

The same goes for your career. Do you stay back if needed or do you run out the door at 5pm (to sit in peak hour traffic) because you're not getting paid extra? Do you volunteer for extra duties? Do you help out co-workers or do you hide behind the coffee machine in your spare time?

What are you doing to add value to your job or your career path? What are you doing to make more money for the guy who writes your cheques?

Many of the above points will be relevant to your path, maybe slightly different but the underlaying concepts are the same.

The more value you give, the more value you receive in the long run.

What more can you do to help your Production team (or boss) help you?

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