Answers 4 Actors

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Ways for an Actor to Work Out Every Day

An actor needs to be ready to audition at a moment’s notice. You want to be on top of your game all the time. How do you do that?

Actors ask me all the time how to keep their acting muscles in good shape. Of course serious actors take class and go to their acting coaches as much as they can. But an actor cannot be in class or working with their coach 24/7; so here are five ways for an actor to work out every day and, listen; it doesn’t have to be boring or feel like homework. It can be creative and even fun.

These exercises will support everything else you are doing. Okay, you may not do them seven days a week, but even if you do these exercises four or five times a week you will notice a major difference in the consistency and quality of your technique. It’s like using those weights at the gym. You will get stronger and find it easier to perform the exercise. Pretty soon you will have to use heavier weights, but let’s not worry about that right now!

Here are the five ways to work out every day as a Professional Actor.

1. Read out loud every day for five minutes.
Sounds simple and basically it is, just like those weights you lift. If you do it consistently in a very short time you will see a difference in your cold reading technique.
Use a script, a newspaper, a book you are reading. It doesn’t matter what the material is. It matters that you do it regularly.

Glance at the script, grab a line and look up at a spot on the wall and say the line. This is different than just normal reading. You are connecting to the person in front of you. This is the technique you need to be able to use in an audition. It is also what you would do if you were reading to someone else and wanted to keep his attention. For a change of pace, pretend you are reading to a six year old. Keep that child’s attention.
Do this every day and in a very short time you will notice a major improvement.
It is an easy exercise. It will improve your cold reading audition technique very quickly.

2. Watch a scene from a film or television show scene and analyze it.
If possible use a DVD or record the television show so you can play the scene more than once. Analyze the acting performances. Did you believe the characters? If so, why? If not, why not? Write down your analysis of the scene. Now try to decide why it was believable or not and what you could tell the actor to do to make it better. Keep watching the scene over and over until you could tell me exactly why it worked or didn’t worked and what you could do if you were the actor to fix it.

3. Practice memorizing a quote and see if you can say it from memory the next day. Keep a book of quotes or a list of quotes on your computer. Here is a quote to begin this exercise.
“The most powerful tool we have for changing our environment is our ability to change ourselves.” Stephanie Matthews-Simonton.

Don’t tell me that you will memorize a monologue every day. Don’t tell me because you won’t do it. Oh you will plan to do it but you won’t. Make it easy on yourself. Do something that will only take a few minutes. You can practice the quote in your shower or in your car or while you are walking to catch the subway or the bus. When you wake up the next day see if you can say it. You will get better and better at this and you also will find that you memorize faster and your recall will improve quickly.

4. Describe a person you have seen. Someone in line at the grocery store, on the post office line or sitting next to you on the subway or in the car idling next to you at a stop sign (don’t do it when you are driving I want you to concentrate on driving). Do this exercise two ways. One way is to tell another person and the other way is to write it down. You should definitely write it down and you can also tell another person. But writing it down is the best. Try to be as specific as you can. Use colors and sizes. Make it so specific that the person you tell or the person reading it could identify the character you described if he or she appeared in front of them.

5. Sit quietly for five minutes and remember a highly emotional memory in your life.
Make it a strong emotion such as something that is very sad or extremely happy. Take note of what your body feels like as you re-live that moment. Identify where you hold that emotion in your body. For example, when you are crying or feel like crying does your throat feel like it is locking up or your stomach gets tight? Notice all the physical effects that emotional memory has on your body. If you need to recreate this type of emotion, the more you have used your sense memory in your practice the easier and more efficient it will be for you to bring that emotional life to your scene and to your character when you are under pressure like at an audition or on the set.

These are five ways you can work out every day as an actor. You don’t need to be in a class or have another actor there to work with to do these exercises, which means you don’t have an excuse for not doing them.

If you are serious about working as a professional actor, start to create a daily practice of working on your craft. It doesn’t have to be hard and it can actually be fun to do. You are creating characters, details and emotions that you will use as a professional actor. And when that phone call comes for an important audition you will feel like you are at the top of your game and able to give it your best.

If you have a question or concern as an actor and you would like me to write about it please leave a comment here or send it to me at:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Workshops in Hong Kong in December 2010

For those of you who have been asking when I will be teaching in Hong Kong again, I am happy to say that I will be back in the first two weeks of December.

If you would like to learn about each of the workshops take a look at the information at


I will be writing more about what is new this time and what is available for everyone who wants to learn from the secrets and techniques that Professional Actors use.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Being Wrong Can Be A Good Thing!

I am sure you are ready to totally disagree with the title of this blog. I feel your pain. I hate to be wrong, doesn’t everyone? But if you are not willing to be wrong, you will stay clear of some of your best, most exciting choices in acting and in life.

I have been reading about Leonardo di Vinci lately. One of Leonardo di Vinci’s principles is Dimostrazione - Commitment to test knowledge through experience and the willingness to learn from mistakes. So I think if a genius such as di Vinci embraced the willingness to learn from mistakes we can do so as well. As actors, and performers, we really need to learn this.

Of course it isn’t easy. Hey we don’t want to be wrong but knowing that we can learn from making a mistake makes us less afraid to try. To take chances. To embrace that we can learn so much from making a mistake, from being wrong.

Athletes learn this very early on in their training. They can’t learn and improve unless they become not afraid of making a mistake or trying something that doesn’t work. And yet we all still find it so hard to do that in our lives.

I sometimes think we should just go ahead and do something wrong early in the morning and be reminded that it isn’t so bad and then we can get on with our lives.

When I teach all day workshops in Hong Kong, it is a long intense day and we do two days in a row but the good thing is that everyone feels it is a safe place to make mistakes, to explore new techniques, and to strive for the stronger emotions in their work which means taking chances and being willing to fall off the edge of the cliff.

Putting yourself in your work can feel vulnerable but that is what we actors do. That is what artists do. Is it scary? Of course but we do it anyway. And the only way you can explore new areas of yourself is to be willing to be wrong.

I know in this day it seems that no one wants to be wrong. I find that even when it is totally clear that someone made a mistake they still can not say, “Hey I was wrong, sorry!” Why? I don’t know. If you are willing to open yourself up and try something new you may fall on your face but you can get up and learn how to make it work.

Actors, now let’s look at this concept in your acting. You are studying a role for an audition. You have learned how to analyze the scenes and hopefully the whole script. You feel that you have found the clues that writer has given you. Now you want to bring yourself to the work and to the role. Most of us will start with a safe choice. That is natural but you want to stand out, to show that you are right for the role. I have found that I must help an actor I am coaching to try the more dangerous choices to see which of them are WRONG. That’s right I said wrong. Each time you try something that doesn’t work you are actually learning more about your character and what is best for your character in this particular script.

Actors are upset sometimes if they don’t get the right answer right away. Would you tell your child to stop trying to walk when he falls down. Of course not. You would encourage him to try again. So you need to encourage yourself in your work.

It may seem odd to you but I find that you can actually learn what you must learn more quickly if you try immediately some extreme choices but only if you are willing to see what does NOT work.

It is like the often-told story about Edison. This legendary allegory tells about how it took 2000 steps to figure out how to create the light bulb. Edison said, “…I found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb.” Now I don’t know if this tale is true but the moral of the story I do believe in. The story is used to remind all of us that we must not be afraid to be wrong because we learn what does NOT work and then we can move on to something that WILL work.

As actors we need to remember that learning what does not work is just as important as finding out what will work. If we are afraid to be wrong we will never find the best answer to the question, the best choice for our character. The most exciting “watchable” action. But we must not be afraid to be wrong.

As actors we must remember that sometimes the character is more believable if he or she makes mistakes. So we should embrace those imperfections of our characters and actually look for them. Seek out where your character is weak, or not very good at something. It makes that role seem real.

Real People are not perfect.
Real People stumble.
Real People have areas in their life where they are blind to what everyone else can see clearly.

Sometimes the pressure is so tough for actors because you start to believe you will have only one chance. I am not going to tell you that doesn’t happen, yes it does. But the one word in that phrase I question is ONLY. You don’t get only one chance. There will be another chance on another role or another opportunity. So why not make the most of this opportunity in front of you today.

You, Actors, who allow the pressure of the audition or the fear that you have only one chance are allowing your mind to concentrate on the wrong thought. I remind actors that the one thing you have control over in an audition is: “I have control over showing you who this character is if I played him/her.” If you keep your focus on that, you will do your work even if they only allow you one shot.

The other way to improve your ability to make strong choices under pressure is to PRACTICE. Just like professional athletes, you practice so much that it just feels normal to do your work even when it is really important and you are nervous. That way when it is a “big game” your body and mind are so used to doing your job that they will lead you. But that takes practice, lots of practice.

So don’t be afraid of being wrong or making a mistake.

Practice your craft so your mind and body will do what you need to do even in your

Celebrate being wrong because you are one step closer to the answer you are looking for and the pleasure you will feel in doing a wonderful performance and audition makes it all worth it.

By Jeanne Hartman, author of The Right Questions for Actors and professional acting coach in Hollywood and Hong Kong. You can find her new book at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't Forget to bring your gift to your work, Actors.


I don’t mean a gift, I mean your gift. Not your ego, your gift. I’ll explain.

I know that sometimes actors work so hard to learn great acting skills and techniques and to remember to ask the right questions when preparing for an audition that they forget to bring what makes them unique.

So this is just a reminder that you need to do all that preparation but you cannot forget to bring what makes you unique, special, and distinctive. Let’s talk about how to make sure that gift helps you but doesn’t hurt your chances to create that audition you are proud of. That piece of work that will always make you satisfied with what you did.

But wait a minute I suppose I should explain what I mean by your “gift”. Why don’t I start with what Albert Einstein said,

“ The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Your intuitive mind is a sacred gift. Your rational mind is a faithful servant. When I read this quote I realized that I always want the actor to bring both to their preparation. I don’t believe that you should forget about either your intuition or your rationality. Each works in a unique way that helps you create a believable , exciting performance whether in an audition or in the work itself.

An actor came to me in an introduction class at an actors’ group and told me, “I just do my thing, you know what I mean.” I asked him to explain what he meant. He related some legendary story about how an actor walked in and threw away the script and did “his thing” and got the job. First of all, I am not even sure that was true but I asked him how many actors he knew had done such a thing and got the job. He did not know anybody.

So I suggested that he put himself in the shoes of the writer, director or producer who had been working on a script for a film for over 5 years. He chose to be the writer. I asked him what he would feel like if he had worked diligently on a script for years and then an actor walked into an audition and said he was going to throw it away and do his own thing. As I watched the actor’s eyes widen I knew he had begun to understand that his job is to interpret this script not “throw it away”.
As the writer, this actor realized that this script is the writer’s “baby”. He has brought it to life, nurtured it and has seen it grow. This actor began to realize that throwing away the script is like telling the writer his baby is “ugly” and we would never say that to a parent would we?

So I am not telling you to take your gift and go off on some “ego” trip. You have a job to do. What is that job? As an actor you have been given a road map which is the script and any other information from the casting director or director. You must first use your rational mind to analyze that script, the information you had been given, and your character. You need to be a good detective to find all the clues the writer has put into the script and make sure you have gotten all the information you can glean.

Then it is time for you to listen to your instinctive skills. Now is the time to make it your own, to find every personal connection for this character. Your instincts will work even better if you have gathered as much information and facts first. BUT don’t forget to bring your intuitive mind.

So how does one explain the intuitive mind? I’ll try to show how it works for me as a coach.
Many times I don’t know “why” I feel it is important for an actor to explore another aspect
of his character but I don’t worry about the logic of what I am thinking. I just trust that something has been triggered to lead me to ask the actor to try another way. This is the only way I can explain when something comes to me that has no logic. You can call it instinct, acute observation or just a gut feeling but I have learned over many years that we all should listen to it.


Albert Einstein really knew what he was talking about! Whether you are a scientist, a business person or an artist you need to trust both your rational mind and your intuitive mind. Thank you Mr. Einstein!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.


News where to get my book.
You can now get my book, The Right Questions for Actors, at You also can purchase the book at

The wonderful thing about traveling to Hong Kong to teach professional acting workshops, which I just did again in early December, is that it reminds me of how ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.

Feelings are universal.
Emotions are universal.
Want/need is universal.

Whether you grew up in Hong Kong, North Hollywood, Australia, or Singapore, everyone understands loss and pain. We, Actors, strive to portray real, believable people and the nonverbal part of acting translates into every language.

The words, you may not understand, but the emotions in the face, in the body and in the tone of voice can be understood even when the language is unfamiliar.

So, actors, remember that 90% of your performance is not the script. It is the relationship, the background, the history, everything you know about your character’s life that you never say but is important to you.

Teaching and coaching students in Hong Kong just reminded me how important what you don’t say is and how universal those nonverbal emotions and communications are. In Hong Kong I had a student who although he spoke English already, he did feel more comfortable with his first language. So I suggested that he translate the scene into Chinese and I first had him and his scene partner do the scene in Chinese and then when they did the scene again laying the English on top of what they learned by doing the scene in Chinese. It was amazing how much better the performance was. I’ve used this technique many times with actors where English is their second or third language. It works very well.

So what does this tell you about your work? You must, must make sure you know everything your character knows even though it may not be said in the scene. You need to analyze the scene and recognize what you need to know playing this character. Most of that information will not be in the script. Let me repeat that, most of that information will not be in the script. Why did I repeat this? Because I find actors forget to gather that information when it is not on the pages of the script. It is so important. It is absolutely necessary.

So how do you get better at gathering such information?

Let me give you one idea which you may have noticed during this holiday season. When you are out in public places, take a little time to be “a fly on the wall”. Just sit back and listen to other people’s conversation. A conversation where you are not involved. Notice what is not said by each person, but you know is important to the conversation. Try to write it down. (Maybe not there in front of them but as soon as you can) You will find there is so much communication going on that is never spoken. That is what you must investigate for each of your characters.

As actors and also writers you can research everywhere you go. Your families are a great source of character development. Waiting in public places are fantastic research labs for you. Don’t always immune yourself from your surroundings. Stop texting and talking on your phones once an a while and notice the people and conversations around you. The research will come in handy. Always have a small notebook with you or some index cards so you can write down your discoveries. You must do this because you will forget the details or the exact way that person said those words. Add descriptions of the people as well. There is a gold mine of ideas and inspirations around you. Be open to them. Whether you are in NoHo or Hong Kong, people are your research lab, make use of them.

I love working with actors whether in Hong Kong or here in No Ho. Actors are curious and generous of spirit. It is my honor to work with such amazing people. I wish you all the very best in your work and your life for this New Year of 2010.

Bless you all. Jeanne Hartman

What really is the Best? Best Actor? Best Movie? Best Performance?

Well we are coming into the “Awards” season here in Los Angeles. And there is a lot of talk about who is the BEST! What does that mean? I know sometimes it is the most well known actor or actress in the biggest movie. But really what does that mean?

I was thinking about this and realized that my favorite artists sometimes have a great performance and then of course there are times that I feel like they just didn’t nail it. Yes, of course, it is just my opinion but that is what BEST is based on.

I believe BEST can only be determined by each individual performance by that individual choice by that individual artist. I know that probably makes no sense so I’ll try to explain.

I don’t believe that there is only one way of performing a role. How you choose to perform it will always be different than another actor or actress.

When I see what I would possibly call BEST PERFORMANCE. It is always, yes always, a unique performance. Why do I use the word unique because if you think about it no one but that person could perform that role in that way and create such an amazing phenomenal experience.
If anyone tried to do it, it just wouldn’t work. Like a snowflake. They always say there is no snowflake like another snowflake. Now I don’t know if that is true since they melt so fast and are so small but I like the example.

This is why we are willing to see a story that really is not much different than another story when we look at the plot points. How many movies and TV shows and plays are about two people who meet fall in love, have a fight, fall out of love and then find their way back to each other.
Now of course the place is different and the reasons are different but the basic story is pretty much the same. And yet we want to watch that same story again, WHY?
Because each time we see it being performed by different people it is unique to them. They bring their individuality to the story and we want to watch.

I watch writers being asked which of their books or movies do they love the best. And almost always the answer is something like this. “Each creation is like my child. And how would you say which one of your children can you say you love the most?” I often wonder if some parents really do love one child more than another but that is a whole different discussion but the concept or example tries to show you that each one is unique and you can’t compare one to another.

That’s why I tell actors when they go on auditions sometimes no matter how good you are you may not be what the director and producers want. You may be the most fantastic apple but they want a pear. So no matter how fantastic an apple you are
they want a pear today and you are not a pear. Still when they want a fantastic apple they will remember you!

So when you think about who is the best actor or best actress just remember that you have to be the best you. No one can compete with that. That category is very unique. Only You fit that category. No one can do that except one person, YOU.

Actors are Great Researchers or They Should Be!


by Jeanne Hartman,

I love going to plays and films where I learn something I didn’t know. I went to see a play and it reminded me that actors and actresses must be great researchers.

This play dealt with women living in the 19th century. Those actresses had to learn what it was like for women at that time. They had to do their research and I was so glad they did. It is so wonderful to take a seat in a darkened theater and step into another time in history. I love learning while I am enjoying a creative, enjoyable performance.

Yes, I do love film but I marvel when a theater company on a small budget can create a world for you, the audience, with one set. Also the weight of the responsibility lies with the actors ultimately. Of course the play, the director, the set designer and the crew all contribute so much to the work but for the actors once the lights go down and the audience is quiet it is the actors who are in charge at least for that evening. In a film, the actor is never really in charge about what is in the final product. That is the director and editor’s choice. And of course the producers.

Maybe that is why my heart and the heart of many actors lie in the theater. But back to what I saw and why I bring this to you today.

Watching the three actresses in this production, each creating their role, I marveled at their ability to share with us how these women lived in this time period. And of course as it should be, it was entertaining too. They took us on a journey.

I think watching this wonderful performance, it reminded me that actors and actresses are constantly learning about the world. Every time they prepare for a role it’s like the actors are taking a college course in a new subject.

I suppose this is why that I feel actors are some of the smartest people I know. They love to learn and they must keep learning every time they create a new role.

Yes I know I have a special place for actors in my heart but I do see how much they must learn and I enjoy their curiosity and their ability to do their research. Also I don’t think most people are aware of how much an actor has to be a detective.

Now that I have praised you actors, I will admonish you as well. I was thrilled to see the women in the play this weekend really know their characters and the time period of the play. It is your job, not anyone else’s job to do this research. The script of the play or film never has enough information for you to truly play your role. Yes, I mean the word NEVER here. It is not possible for the writer to put all that information in the format of a play or film script. It is your job to find all the details your character must know that is not in the script.

So don’t be casual about this part of your preparation. And I hope you can enjoy this process, this searching for all the information your character must have at his fingertips. I know I do. If I could I would give Doctorate’s degrees to actors who do this well. They keep learning as they prepare for each role and I thank them for doing that. You smart actors and actresses allow me as the audience to truly be taken into the world of your character and the play or film. Thank you for doing your work! I can’t wait to see your next performance!

You can find Jeanne Hartman, Professional Acting Coach and Author at