The Thespian Ten Commandments: Part 2
What better time to explore the balance of emotions that encompass acting (and it's five remaining central rules)
than at the Holiday Season. The personal, family and professional gatherings that take place over the next few months
are filled with all kinds of dynamics. Dynamic dynamics - and not so dynamic dynamics. "I think I'll ask Paige to
marry me on New Year's Eve." "Will Uncle Fred act like an idiot again this year about Janine's turkey stuffing?"
"Just ONCE I'd like to visit the Mission downtown and volunteer to feed the homeless and the hungry. I'm SO sick
and tired of sitting at a full table and listening to everyone who has everything (who are in event, actually
'full of themselves') complain about how 'bad' they think they got it."
Well, as the great Mahatma Gandhi once said (and I really don't know if he said it in real life, 'cause I only know
first hand that the Oscar-winning Ben Kingsley said it as Gandhi in the 1982 iconic film of the same name), "I know
a way out of hell" - which brings us to Number 6 on the list of The Thespian Ten Commandments:
6. Keep quiet and speak at all of the right moments and/or Speak only when spoken to: You wanna know some
of the best acting I've ever seen Tom Cruise perform? It was in his 1999 film Magnolia, when he played probably one
of the silliest characters I've ever seen ANYONE play on screen - or off: the misogynistic self-help guru Frank Mackey.
Through the middle of the film, a journalist arrives to interview Frank who thinks, as usual, that he has the situation
under control. But he does not. The reporter is manipulating him, like Frank has done with others his entire life. He's
been loud, obnoxious and over-bearing which, as with any bully, has of course hidden his insecurities. But now, in this
scene with the reporter, he's grown quite quiet. That's right. Quite quiet. So much so, that the journalist wonders why.
"I am silently judging you," replies Frank, who realizes that he's been duped - and is trying to regain control of the
interchange - which he ultimately does. But this time, through silence and by NOT losing his head. Here, Tom as Frank
gives the line delivery of his life. He's not jumping around the screen spewing vulgarities in his underwear and looking
absolutely ridiculous (as he does throughout the rest of the movie). Nope. He's just sitting there, saying nothing - and
taking full command of the scene in the process. The point is, in acting, it's not always so much what you DO say, but
what you DON'T say. Sometimes, it's all about the power of silence in between the spoken word, the proper pause, and what
you can do with a silent stare - as opposed to an open mouth. That being said, sometimes we have to let the OTHER actor
do the talking (scripted or improv'd), and be the strong silent type.
7. Walk and move on a line at all of the right times: If you have to know when to speak and when to shut up
as an actor, you certainly have to know when to walk and move. The question is, can you chew gum and walk at the same
time? The answer is: not always - and nor should you desire to. For example, let's say you're playing a female character
with a very life-altering secret that needs to be revealed, and you've been waiting for just the right moment to spill
your guts. In other words, you're pregnant, and you have to tell your husband, but you really don't want to because he's
not the father. Johnny Bridgework, the mailman's first cousin on his mother's side. - HE'S the father. Needless to say,
you're in quite the predicament, with a major truth to be told - and you just can't blurt it out. And as an actor, you
can't walk all over this line of major revelation. But this is what you CAN and SHOULD do. You have to pace yourself
properly. Let's say the exact line is simply: "I'm pregnant." You don't want to say this line while moving, because
you'll "throw it away." So, instead, you move first, AND THEN say it. If the director has guided you to walk over to
the sofa and sit down in the process of your revelation, then you say it either BEFORE you ultimately sit down, or AFTER
but NOT DURING the walk over to the sofa. Again, we employ the power of silence - especially with interpreting such a
monumental character revelation.
8. Keep up your energy and stay alive even when you (or your character) is dying: One of the most important
things you can do besides that you're PERFORMANCE is likable (even when you're character is not, which see Part 1,
Commandment Number 4), is keeping your performance ALIVE even when you're character is dying. That is to say there
is ENERGY in every emotion that you perform on stage, in film or on TV. Living energy. Dying energy. Happy energy.
Sad energy. Even smart and not-so-smart energy. Make sure you have the right kind of energy for each sector of your
performance as your character. In other words, just because your character is dying in the final act of Lester Loses
His Right Nostril that doesn't mean your PERFORMANCE has to die along with him. Keep your energy up - to the bitter end.
9. Don't over/under re-Act. Do it just right: Remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears? "This porridge is
too HOT…This porridge is too COLD….But THIS porridge…yes…THIS porridge is JUST RIGHT." That's how your acting should be.
JUST RIGHT. Certainly, not just WRONG. Again, it's all about balance. If you're interpreting a character that must
raise his or her voice at a particular time in a given play, feature film, TV show, etc., then you don't want to scream
through the ENTIRE feature film, TV show, etc., do you? Of course not. All that screaming will take away from the
real moment when you SHOULD be screaming (which see Jason Alexander's much-too-much screaming as George Costanza in
the latter, failed seasons of Seinfeld). The point is, you need to BUILD UP to that scream. Milk that scream.
But for pity sake, don't scream all the way through your scream…er, I mean, scene. And by golly-wog, please
never - whatever you do, please don't scream at your acting partner (co-actor) OFF screen - which brings us to
10. Be courteous and generous with your scene partner: Ain't nothing like a kind and courteous person
to work with. As I look back on a few of the plays that I have directed in my career, I think about, of course,
some of the actors I cast in the roles. I remember casting one less talented actor over a multi-talented actor,
because the less talented actor was a good person and easy to work with, and the multi-talented actor was a complete
moron with an ego the size of Kansas. Life is too short to work with egomaniacs. You don't need him. And the industry
certainly doesn't either. So don't be one yourself - and you'll ALWAYS have work.
And isn't that what's it's all about?
Herbie J Pilato was born to Frances Mary Turri and Pompeii Pilato in
Rochester, New York, on Erie Street, in the historic High Falls
District across from where now stands Frontier Field. He graduated
with a B.A. Degree in Theatre Arts from Nazareth College of Rochester,
moved to Los Angeles, where he studied Television and Film at UCLA,
and served his Internship in Television at NBC-TV in Burbank. As an
actor, he's appeared on television shows such as "Highway to
Heaven" and "The Golden Girls," as well as daytime serials like
"The Bold and the Beautiful" and "General Hospital." As a
director, Herbie J has guided live stage productions of Leonard
Malfi's Birdbath, Christopher Frye's "A Phoenix Too Frequent," and
"Little Shop of Horrors." Herbie J is also the author of a number
of media tie-in books, including "The Bewitched Book," "The Kung Fu
Book of Caine," "The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom," "Bewitched
Forever," "The Bionic Book," "NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A
Book," and "Life Story - The Book of Life Goes On: TV's First And
Best Family Show of Challenge." As a producer, he's worked on
Bravo's hit five-part series, "The 100 Greatest TV Characters,"
TLC's "Behind the Fame" specials (about "The Mary Tyler Moore
Show," "The Bob Newhart Show," "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street
Blues"), A&E's "Biography "(for segments on Elizabeth Montgomery
and Lee Majors), and the SyFy Channel's "Sciography" series (the
latter for which he also directed). Herbie J has also served as a
consultant and on-screen commentator for the classic TV DVD releases
of "Bewitched," "Kung Fu" and "CHiPs" - as well as an Editor for
numerous websites (including MediaVillage.com, TV-Now.com and the
family-oriented PAXTV.com). Also too, he's contributed to many
magazines, including Starlog, Sci-Fi Entertainment, Sci-Fi Universe,
Retro Vision, Classic TV and CinemaRetro. Herbie J presently has
several films and TV shows in development, and is is the Founder and
Executive Director of the Classic TV Preservation Society, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to closing the gap between positive popular TV
and education. For more information, log on to
To contact Herbie J Pilato, email: ClassicTVPS@gmail.com.
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