My foray into acting began after returning from Portland last year. It was around that time that I took a hiatus from writing. I won’t know if the break was a good idea until later. For now, I’ll begin to explain where I’ve been. Though it’s always been in Los Angeles. My city.
Listening to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ makes me feel like I’m beginning again. Like things from this point on will never be the same. I remember my first days listening to the song, a few years back when I was going to school. I’d walk around campus with it playing in my ears and I’d wonder where Bob Dylan had been all my life.
I take that back. That was a slow realization. My first thought was that ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was Bob Dylan’s only good song. And now the thought seems more blasphemous than ever as I type it tonight.
Much has been written about ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by scholars, musicians, critics of all stripes. I’m no critic, but I am a musician. All that I can say is that it influenced me more than any song ever has; and of all those in the Dylan canon, it is to me the most poignant.
To me it was talking about freedom, how it comes with struggle if not some measure of responsibility. This realization, the shock of it when it first hits us, and the plight to navigate through it all form the mark of youth. For some people, it marks the end of it.
In the song it seems almost deliberate, how these imperfections of being young, of being free in a harsh world harmonize so perfectly with Bobby’s own imperfect voice. But what a raw voice it is. Blistering. Shouting. Unwavering. Honest.
As I look back on it, those may have been my first memories of craving to be an artist. It was the first time I can ever remember wanting to break the mold in some way, the way Dylan’s voice seems to break through the air in the song. To have a message that was so impacting, and to deliver it in a style that was so unique, together formed an ideal and identity to me that I craved more than I had anything before.
Finding such an identity might be difficult to do as an actor starting out in Hollywood. Since you’re more often in a position of taking whatever work will come to you. For me it was always easier to do it through my writing or making music. But I neglected both as I began the road to understanding more clearly how this business of show business works.
I’d been disillusioned with the business of acting for years. So why at that time I felt compelled to try it, let alone make a career in it, I still don’t really know.
Certainly it was more about networking, shaking the right hands and flattery, than it was about understanding character or human nature. Who cared what kind of actor I was if I wasn’t represented or didn’t know the right people?
It all seemed like a horrible problem. You had to count too much on other people, and it wasn’t just in finding fame or making a good living. Acting itself required a greater dependency on others than writing or making music, unless you planned on doing monologues in your room. There was no initial feeling that you could be independent.
It also required a lot of waiting. Waiting on people to call you back, waiting to get enough funding, waiting for cameras to start rolling, waiting for your scene, waiting for your big break. That last one of course was the greatest of all.
It was like standing next to a closed door that only opened at random moments. No matter how hard or differently you knocked upon it, you had no guarantee it would ever open. You therefore stood beside it constantly and kept the vigil, while neglecting everything you might be missing out on in the meantime.
When I was a kid I dreamed of being an actor, not thinking so much about the process of acting itself. The art. The creating. Now, as a young man I realized I had it wrong. Being an actor was one thing. Acting itself was the real joy.
Maybe that realization is what kept me in it, seeing how increasingly wonderful the art looked in comparison to the crude business. Creating a character. Inhabiting a character. Understanding how someone operates. How they move and how they think. Those ideas are what drove me.
First I’d have to find a way to understand this industry, and ultimately some way to reconcile the industry and the art.
It was a strange way to begin, but I started reading books about Abraham Lincoln. I read ‘Team of Rivals’, the book that inspired the Spielberg movie. I watched Daniel Day-Lewis in that movie and the fire in me grew. He was an actor in a league of his own. I’ll talk about him another time.
It was Lincoln himself that I found fascinating. His subtle way of influencing people, the great skill of his that formed the thesis of the biography. He loved to tell stories. Great stories. Recitiations of Shakespeare, Aesop, old folk tales, American History, tales from his own life. He was that man in a crowd around whom everyone had gathered.
And yet while Abe enjoyed speaking, he never did so pompously or arrogantly. He engaged people. He had a way of making them feel important. He took an interest in other people’s lives. And it was genuine interest. It matched the main theme in Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ which is the importance in showing sincere appreciation for others.
And so how did all these things apply to acting? The industry, like so many, required a great deal of flattery and shaking the right hands, to climb up the ladder. And I was no politician.
But reading these books taught me that politics is everywhere, and also that it didn’t always have to be bad if it was done honestly. Politics was merely a science of understanding what other people wanted. But to me, the greatest politicians didn’t just understand what other people wanted, they found a way of appreciating it. Relating to it if they could. Politics could therefore be more fulfilling if one made it more sincere and operated from a less selfish place.
There was a way to relate to everybody on some level, and while one person might require more energy or time to do it, it wasn’t impossible. Lincoln and Carnegie were masters at it. I would master it too.
Meanwhile my acting classes provided me a home unlike any I’d come to expect since moving to LA. It was in class that I found an opportunity to exercise and take risks, and find that level of creative excitement that had been missing for sometime. Furthermore, it brought me an agent and a strong circle of friends.
The common thread in everything I had been studying since Lincoln was the importance of honest communication. To be a good communicator required an understanding of the other person, which further required an understanding of human behavior in general. Even tonight, it seems painfully obvious to me how the same understanding of human behavior, of another person’s story and situation is central to acting, and therefore, how the importance of networking and dealing with people harmonizes beautifully with the craft itself.
An actor is unique from other artists in that his focus is more specific. He is a student of the human condition. The artist-physchologist. Human behavior is his ongoing subject.
Furthermore, he is unique from other artists in his form of expression. Next to dance, acting is the most physical of all art forms. You don’t write or sing about it, you don’t film it or paint it. You are it. You penetrate another person’s being. The whole thing is like some great sex act. And still, it has a graceful subtlety that makes it far more complicated than dance. Maybe it’s the aspect of dialogue or the advent of method acting that we have to thank for that. So much can be portrayed in one word, after all, or in any gesture, slight facial expression or movement of the body.
An actor is a student of human nature. Therefore, I believe that an actor is always working. If he is not performing on stage or on screen, than he is talking with others and immersing himself in his surroundings the way that all artists must. In doing so, he is studying, observing not just those with whom he comes in contact, but himself as well.
The actor is a hustler, a mover, a talker, a story-teller of the most raw form.
I realized that in acting there is no such thing as finding any creative identity. There is only finding yourself. And once you do that, you become unstoppable. Acting is the one field in which an understanding of myself became an absolute requirement. Therefore, it has done more for me now personally than writing or music ever could, so much even that I feel I am twice the writer, twice the musician, twice the artist I ever was.
This isn’t because my style as an artist has changed in any way or become more eloquent. But because my focus, my subject matter has become more concise. My world, my city, my people, they are my ongoing subject. My never-ending passion. In my endless pursuit to learn about my world and the people in it, I grow stronger.
When I was in school, in those days where I listened to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and dreamed of the life that Bob observed. I longed to break free from where I was. Wondering what a degree in journalism could ever give me. I had no plans to work for any news program or publication.
To be a good actor you need to have an instinct to want to tell a story. A burning desire and a dedication to your environment that is the common thread uniting all great artists.
Good, honest journalists, like artists, live and die by the world around them. They breathe in their surroundings. Stories are their oxygen. People give them life. They are duty-bound to them. Chasers. Scribes. Seekers. They are pilgrims. They are constantly on the move and nothing is ever certain. All that they have is the world around them. That is their home. It’s what makes them who they are. Always moving, always learning, always young. Like a rolling stone.