I attended a screening of the new film, Nebraska, with my Canadian actor and pal Jean Brassard. What a truthful bit of film-making it is and what amazing casting! In the live chat with Bruce Dern that followed, he shared some of his wisdom:
1. Don’t push. Don’t perform. Don’t show us anything. Let us find it.
2. Always leave a piece yourself at an audition, even if you have just 2-minutes of time. They will never forget that.
3. Take risks and build a family of creators around you.
4. Go home. Because that’s how you find out who you are.
I’m inspired to explore these themes in the next few entries.
First off: “Don’t push, don’t perform, don’t show us, let us find it.” Dern was told this by a casting director at one of his earliest auditions. How very compelling and very challenging! It seems like a contradiction – telling an actor not to show something; a performer not to perform. And it is a beautiful irony. Don’t the best performances seem somehow to be “dialed in”? It’s like they come from somewhere else. Genius and raw talent manifest in this way. An artist opens up and just streams the stuff from God knows where. That actor is a pure, clean channel. For me, its been precisely in those moments when I’ve managed to step beside myself and vanish for just a little while, that something real and truthful has been invited to come in. I feel at once all there and not at all there.
The best performances I’ve seen are also highly original and individual. I don’t think of us as purely pure channels. I do sense that there is a heightened awareness, yes, and a tuning that gives way to something less self-conscious. So what is performing anyway? Webster’s says it’s “presenting something, portraying a role, demonstrating a skill, taking action, enacting, and… beginning something and carrying it through. Now this really resonates with me. To perform is to carry something through, to quiet my urge to “show” something and allow something to show itself through me, using all my faculties and resources. I get myself out of the way to clear the way for something to convey. This is the essence of performing, of being a performer. For in handing myself over, I’ve still got myself in the mix.
Returning to Dern: Not to show something and instead letting it be found – how radical is that in our time and age! Where everything is shown, put up big and boldly and loudly, screaming at us all the time…”see me, see me, see me…want me!” – in advertising, in business, in our relationships.
For a thing to be found, it has to exist. It has to be available and given in the first place. No camera can find a thing that isn’t there, that hasn’t come into the room. Showing up is that thing given. Showing up at the audition, showing up for the camera, for the viewer, showing up for the carrying out. “Show up, don’t show off” is what Dern is advising. Present, but don’t push. Carry and stay, don’t get carried away. Convey, convey, convey. The rest is up to the finders.
Next Bruce Dern said: “Always leave a piece of yourself. They will not forget that.”