I just took a short tally, and after 30-odd years of being a professional myself, I’ve personally worked with about ten Academy Award winning actors.
The first was the great Paul Newman, with whom I acted in a short film in New York City. Also in NYC was Marisa Tomei, who was my scene partner in the first feature film I ever did, The Paper.
I worked with both Matthew McConaughey, who had not yet won his Oscar, and Martin Landau, who already had his, in a scene in Ed TV.
I worked with Tom Hanks on Apollo 13 (and felt the hackles rise on my neck when he told us in Mission Control that “the ship is venting something into space.”)
I worked with Oscar winners George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon in Inherit the Wind.
I worked with Jerry Maguire Best Supporting Actor winner Cuba Gooding on a little film.
And I spent two days in a hot room out in the desert with Oscar magnet Daniel Day Lewis, for There Will Be Blood.
Just recently, I traveled to Rome and worked cheek by jowl with another double Oscar winner, Kevin Spacey.
That’s a lotta Oscar winners!
So, what did I learn from those experiences with actors at the top of their game?
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The thing I noticed about all these different actors and actresses was that they were fully committed, and that commitment, along with their own unique particular viewpoint on a role, is what creates a convincing, believable performance.
Pretty straightforward, really.
But it’s funny- for instance, I was watching Daniel Day Lewis perform his first monologue of There Will Be Blood, (“I’m an oilman, so you will agree”) and I was thinking, “Well, sure– that’s the way you do that.”
No bells and whistles. Just a lot of RIGHTNESS.
That’s the hallmark of any professional; a LOT of what’s right and NOT a lot of what doesn’t belong. They make it look easy, because, among other things, they are fully committed.
Now, the enemies of full commitment are what? Uncertainty and lack of confidence, as well as poor preparation or other distractions. Self doubt, or indecisiveness. Hesitation.
The superstars have conquered those things, somehow.
Part of that must, I believe, start with one’s own confidence that what one is doing just IS the right way to do it. In the arts especially, that’s definitely the case, since so much of it is arbitrary anyway.
CONFIDENCE is key.
And as most of us actors and actresses are rarely 100% confident of our choices, (especially with a mantlepiece visibly unpopulated by Oscars) we have to manufacture our own confidence; in essence, PRETEND to be more confident than we perhaps feel inside.
I have had to do this many times. Probably you have, too.
But that’s cheating, right? Pretending to be confident can’t be the same as real confidence, can it?
Well, why not?
The dictionary on my laptop tells me that Confidence is “feeling or showing certainty about something.” If an actor is showing confidence, he is probably feeling it, too. And vice-versa.
Certainty is just deciding about something. “I’m good at this.” “I’m in command.” “I’m an oilman, so you will agree.”
So, maybe confidence is not so mysterious. Maybe it’s as quiet and simple as a decision.
Sometime in their careers, the many Academy Award-winning performers I have worked with must have decided that they knew their business, and just got on with it, neglecting any manifestations of self-doubt or hesitancy in their art.
What sorts of hoops they had to jump through in their own minds to achieve that outward appearance of certainty, we may never be privy to.
But certainly everything begins with confidence. And any method one can find to harness it, or even fashion it out of thin air, is totally fair.
(Unless, of course, one is depending on drugs to create “confidence.” That’s a short lived, unreliable method, and, as with all drug reactions, the inevitable result is MORE of the exact same insecurity that one was trying to vanquish in the first place, only amplified.)
Real confidence, unlike drugs, doesn’t present a hefty bill at the end of the evening.
But it might present a Oscar… or perhaps even two!