Identification versus substitution.

It is a wholly natural phenomenon for we humans to identify with each other’s experience, challenges, triumphs and travails. Out of that sense of shared experience comes an organic need to seek and form community. When we read or hear a story, what often attracts us to the story is a sense of relating to and identifying with the characters that inhabit said story. It is a sense of familiarity, of knowingness and understanding that causes us to want to keep watching or listening or reading onward.

Empathy is among the most important qualities/ characteristics that an actor and artist must cultivate in himself if he hopes to be a collaborator/contributor to noteworthy work. That sense of requisite empathy inspires a predisposition, a willingness, to understand. This is ultimately an actor’s job when approaching the playing of a character, to understand, as deeply, as fully, who that character is. Both consciously and unconsciously. Not to judge, but to understand. Judgement is the surest way to shut us off from the emerging and growing consciousness that an artist must acquire and possess. Understanding opens and expands us, judgement diminishes and limits us.

One of the great benefits of being an actor is as we explore the lives of the various characters we play, our quest to understand them, in hopes of portraying them truthfully and accurately, believably and credibly, we are forced to grow into a larger, fuller self. Being an actor means embodying the lives of the various characters we play. This does not result in becoming less of ourselves. In fact, just the opposite is true. The wider diversity of character we play, the more thoroughly we come to understand the human condition, the more deeply we grow in knowing ourselves. Not simply the individual self that is by nature limited to personal experience. But the Universal Self that is connected  cosmically to human life as a whole.

This is why substitution can never be an adequate, or even constructive technique. Unless an actor is playing himself, there is no experience that he has had that is identical to the character he’s portraying. The very best an actor can hope for when employing substitution is to uncover an experience from his life that bears some similarity to the character’s life. An actor can never have an identical experience to the character he’s portraying, unless he’s playing himself. This is the nature of personal experience, it is limited to the person who’s having it.

This is why substitution can only have extremely limited application to an actor seeking to understand, to embody, the character he’s hoping to portray. Because even if the actor finds an experience in his personal life that is similar to the character’s, the only application that exploration can have is for the actor to then impose how he experienced the set of similar, (not identical), circumstances onto the character, rather than what he should be doing: Getting out of the way in order that the character might reveal to the actor how the character experiences that set of (similar, not identical) circumstances. Not only does this deny what an actor’s job is, to portray the life of the character he’s playing, it denies what’s fun about being an actor, getting to be other people.

To say nothing of the situation when an actor is asked to portray a character with a set of circumstances that are completely foreign to the actor’s. What does an actor do if he’s asked to play a serial killer. Obviously he can’t go around killing people. And if the actor’s personal experience is that of a pacifist, what does he do if he’s asked to portray a soldier in combat? This is when the very nature of the imagination contained in the universal self becomes the preferred and prospectively unlimited resource that it can and must be. The realm of personal experience is by nature limited. Whereas within the realm of the imagination, within the collective unconscious, there are no limitations. Except the ones imposed by the artist upon himself.

This is where the idea of identification and relating come in. Even as experience is by nature a solitary phenomenon, the human condition is universal to all that are engaged with it. Meaning all humans share the human condition by the very nature of being human. The more empathetic we are, the more empathic we become. Cultivated to an extreme, an empathic nature results in us becoming more sensitized, more malleable, more responsive to the stimuli, the characteristics, carried by the life experience and human qualities unique to the character we’re seeking to portray. Over time that malleability becomes so highly developed, so acutely accessed, that the actor’s ability to transform from who he is into the character he seeks to portray, this ability becomes more and more facile. The highly developed, accomplished actor who employs identification via an empathetic nature within the realm of an unlimited imagination becomes a cipher, a chameleon, prone/subject to the influences engendered/inspired by the characteristics unique to the character he’s seeking to portray. Thereby the creative inevitability is that the actor doesn’t play character, character plays the actor.

Relating and identifying happen on their own naturally without any prompting or imposing on the part of the actor. This is the nature of being human. It happens every time we read or watch something that captures our imagination. Substitution is something that will only happen when we impose our own unique and personal experience into the process of exploring and developing character. This is why I draw a clear distinction between the two: Identification versus substitution. And why I encourage and promote the always abundant creative expression that comes from identification and relating while at the same time discouraging and avoiding any kind of limited, imposed perspective that comes from substitution.

The importance of the script, the written word, as provided to us by the writer, cannot be overstated. As someone wisely said to me many years ago, “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” In other words the ability of the actor and director to do their work well depends significantly on the quality of the script itself.

And so what is the script? It is a blue print, a blue print of the action, both physical and vocal/verbal, that the various characters take through the journey of their story. And even as many people will counsel the actor to study his/her script focusing on HOW the character expressing through the actor should take the action, both physical and vocal/verbal, how the actor should say their lines, I would argue that is not the actor’s job. Rather than focusing on HOW to say the words or HOW to take the action, we should instead focus on WHY the characters are doing what they’re doing and WHY they’re saying what they’re saying.

The writer has not written the words in the play motivated by a need to obligate the actor to say them. The words are written by the writer to give voice to the character’s human need/objective to convey something, to get something, to share something. So if the words are being spoken by the actor simply to fulfill the actor’s obligation to say them, the words lose their very meaning because those words were not written for that reason. The actor needs to know why the words are being spoken by the character, what is the underlying human/character need inspiring the words be spoken. Then and only then can the meaning of those words be carried by the words themselves because the actor is now captured by the reason, the why, the cause for those words to be spoken. Thus by being rooted in the why, the how does take care of itself.

Action, whether physical or vocal/verbal is the response or the effect to something that has come before. That stimuli or cause is always in the form of a human need or objective. Something that the character wants or needs, therefore action must then be taken in order to try and fulfill that need. The stimuli or cause triggering the human need is sometimes inspired by some stimuli in the environment. I’m cold, I put a jacket on in order to fulfill the human need to warm myself. I’m warm, I take a sweater off in response to the need to cool myself. Stimuli in the environment very much includes what comes to us from the interactive space between us and the person we’re interacting with. Someone says something to you, that piece of dialogue inspires a response in you which then CAUSES you to respond verbally with a reply. In any case, all action is more rightly a re-action, a response, to something that comes before. That thing that comes before, the stimuli is the CAUSE that provokes or inspires a response (EFFECT).

By focusing on the cause, the stimuli, the why, acting becomes an organic process of inevitable response/reaction. This change in focus from the how to the why results in a much more authentic portrayal of life because when we focus on the why the how takes care of itself. Acting is no longer an intellectual process of choice making, rather it becomes an organic one where actors don’t play choices, choices play us.

This new generation of actors are also of the mistaken belief that learning their lines the way they’re written in some way robs them of their spontaneity. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I don’t know my words backwards and forwards, up and down, right and left and all around, when I play, my fear of forgetting my next line keeps me thinking/wondering what is my next line. If that is the case, I’m still in service of the actor’s obligation and objective to remember my lines. Which means there is no place and space inside me for the character’s objectives. And if I’m in service of the actor’s obligation to speak the lines, the words lose their meaning because that is not the reason they’ve been written. Learning our lines backwards and forwards frees us from having to think of them. What most actors never learn is that on the other side of familiarity is freedom, a new kind of spontaneity. It’s only when I know my lines/words backwards and forwards that I can then let go of them, freeing myself to then be found by them.

Another issue I encounter is many young actors believe it’s okay, even their duty, to paraphrase their words as written. If a line feels uncomfortable in their mouth, they re-write their lines to make them feel more comfortable/natural. This represents a grievous error. First of all, most of us are not better writers than the writers we’re working on. Writers spend days, weeks, months, even years perfecting the way a character needs to express themselves. How a human need translates into the expression designed to achieve that objective. Good writers have figured out exactly and specifically how the character needs to express verbally/physically in a way that is compatible with the underlying human need that proceeds it.

But the other equally important reason why paraphrasing is an absolutely mistaken idea is because when a character we’re playing is speaking in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable to us, in fact feels downright foreign to us, this is a good thing. It is a powerful illustration/indication that the person speaking is not the actor, it is the character. So when an actor feels uncomfortable with a line that is given to him to speak, that actor should embrace closely that discomfort knowing that it is only a helpful reminder that it is not the actor’s words/needs being expressed, it is the character’s .

Another great review for FALLING…

http://divineexploitation.blogspot.com/2015/07/falling-2012.html

Hope you’ll watch it at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dinstant-video&field-keywords=Falling

or

https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Falling?id=3QGyggR2Rf0

FindFalling Key Art below a sampling of the Amazon User Reviews about FALLING…

“Wow what an achievement to pull off! It was both funny and heart breaking.”
“Great little film with superb acting. I highly recommend it.”
“Brilliant work. The script and story are extremely engaging and personal. It took me to emotional places where not even the biggest films in this industry have.”
“One of my new favorite movies!”
“I wish more films would look at this one and realize that this is what good filmmaking is all about.”
“Loved this film! Great actors and excellent director!”

Listen to podcast I did with Jordan Gregory of yourhollywoodpro.com

http://www.yourhollywoodpro.com/features/podcast/michael-zelniker/

The NYFA blog site just published an article about me.

https://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/a-look-at-acting-instructor-michael-zelniker/

Check it out.

Winner of Indie Fest USA International Film Festival’s Best of Festival award, FALLING… marks the directorial debut of award winning actor Michael Zelniker. FALLING… brings together 10 self contained, independent short film scripts and weaves them seamlessly into a feature length story. Joe Montague of Riveting Riffs magazine described Falling… as “a masterful indie film that speaks to the heart.” “it is brilliant, evocative and touching…” “Falling is an incredible cinematic experience.” Written, produced and directed by Michael Zelniker, FALLING… is an experiment in narrative filmmaking, as it follows an entirely novel formula of feature film storytelling. Co-written by and starring Celeste Chute, Sharon Elliott, Maryanna First, Paige Gibson, Christina Gudjenovia, Matthew L. Hart, Richard Perry, Samantha Sergeant, Sarah Wahl and Elizabeth Wubishet. FALLING… is being distributed by Anderson Digital and is available for viewing at:

Amazon:                                                                                                             https://www.amazon.com/Falling-Matthew-L-Hart/dp/B00OO79MU4

GooglePlay:
https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Falling?id=3QGyggR2Rf0

Vudu:
http://www.vudu.com/movies/#search/Falling

Sony Entertainment Network:
https://store.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com/#!/en-us/movies/falling/cid=UV0134-NPVA96413_CN-0000000000245119

Visit us at: facebook.com/fallingthemovie?ref=bookmarks

Watch the trailer on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-m_XTFzqm0

Perhaps the biggest challenge I face in working with young actors is convincing them of the importance of emptying themselves of what they impose upon themselves in being themselves. Biting a lip, rocking a foot, furrowing one’s forehead uncontrollably, picking at one’s nails, etc. All idiosyncratic behaviors that many young actors have no control over, no ability to master. In fact these behavioral qualities have mastery over them and as a result find their way into their work.

Characters have no other means of expression except with the actor’s body, voice and inner emotion landscape. Unless an actor takes the time to untie themselves from the obligation they impose upon themselves in being themselves, when said actor approaches a piece of fiction, a character, so heavily laden down with their own personal idiosyncrasies and behaviors, the only possible result is that every character will look like them, sound like them, feel like them, will be them.

I think of characters as disembodied spirits floating around the cosmos just waiting for actors to pick them. A character in written form, on the page, has no body of their own, or voice or emotion landscape. These must be provided to the character by the actor. Without such permission willingly granted, the character cannot find expression. Serious minded actors understand that in choosing to be an actor, we have made an agreement to share ownership over our body, our voice, our inner emotion landscape with the various characters we play. This is the earnest decision, the sincere necessity, that every serious minded actor must commit themselves to. Characters have no body, no voice, no emotion landscape of their own. In fact, characters have no life whatsoever until/unless an actor breathes life into them.

All of art, in some way or other, is about transformation. Transformation of a piece of stone or clay into a beautiful sculpture. A piece of sheet music into a symphonic sound. A blank canvas into a mesmerizing portrait or magnificent landscape. Perhaps the most demanding creative transformation of all artists is the one the actor must engage. Transforming himself, his body, his voice, his inner emotion landscape, into the character he seeks to play. Not only is this indeed at the heart of the actor’s work…it is what’s fun about being an actor. Getting to be another person. Getting to walk in someone else’s shoes, experience what it’s like to live someone else’s life.

In simple terms, it is the actor’s primary responsibility to fine tune the instrument, (the body, the voice, the inner emotion landscape), in order to master its utility, so that whatever the fiction/character require of the actor, he is capable of portraying it. Stanislavksi speaks of the preparatory principle and practice of “minimum effort, maximum effect, using only the muscles necessary.” How does the actor create his own version of the blank canvas so that when he approaches a piece of fiction, a character, it is with an instrument worthy of the transformation he seeks?

If we observe ourselves closely, we see that we have our own unique way of taking action, whether it’s physical action or vocal/verbal action. Sitting, standing, walking, talking, laughing, crying, etc. All of it performed in our own uniquely identifiable way. As it should be. We are our own unique individualizations of human expression. As we look around, we see that everyone has their own way of individualizing/expressing their own unique version of humanity in them. As it should be.

Does not every character we play deserve, even own the same opportunity? Is it not the actor’s obligation to provide such a possibility to each and every character we play? Of course it is. How then do we develop an instrument worthy of this kind malleability, mold ability, adaptability? The truth is we are already incredibly adaptable organisms. Whatever we immerse ourselves in, whatever we surround ourselves with, over time, the principles and properties of whatever that stimulus is will slowly and inevitably influence and affect who we are and how we feel.

If the actor has done his preparatory work well by emptying himself of himself, then this malleability is made so much simpler. When we approach a character so heavily laden down with our own personal stuff, the stuff that makes us who we uniquely are…those personal qualities serve as an impediment, a barrier between us and the character. If, however, we have learned to empty ourselves of what we impose upon ourselves in being ourselves by embodying the idea of minimum effort, maximum effect, using only the muscles necessary, we begin to perform action, physical and vocal/verbal, in its distilled/purified form, replete of the extraneous/unnecessary personal qualities that we layer on to action.

These personal affectations, many of which we do unconsciously, because we’ve done them for so long, so repetitively, also find their way into our work without us even being aware. These qualities are natural to us because they are the behavioral qualities we inherited both genetically and environmentally. They have become a part of who we are as individuals. When we place ourselves in front of an audience or a camera, as much as anything, we are trying to feel comfortable, relaxed, natural. In that attempt to feel natural and relaxed, we find ourselves reverting to those unconsciously repetitive, idiosyncratic behaviors because those idiosyncratic behaviors make us feel natural and relaxed. Those behaviors are what feel natural to us because those behaviors are what we’ve been doing for years and years. As a result, those behaviors will undoubtedly find their way into our work, thereby interfering, blocking, impeding a character’s attempts to express through us.

Even as we look for character…even as we must seek to find character, we do not find them. By looking for them earnestly, by seeking to find them sincerely, we provide the conditions that allow character to find us. Emptying ourselves of ourselves…eliminating the barriers between us (the actor) and them (the character) encourages/inspires this process immeasurably.

In a sense, the actor must become a cipher, a chameleon, capable of adapting and reshaping into whatever the character/fiction requires of us. Physically, vocally, emotionally. Even as this is the foundational obligation, the humbling privilege, that every actor assumes in choosing to be an actor, it is also the true joy. Getting to be another person.

Any time spent with the king is time well spent. This is a phrase I coined some years ago in response to my delightfully enriching experiences working on William Shakespeare. As a classically trained actor, I spent much of my three years at theatre school learning and performing Shakespeare. Even then as a young actor, I had a great appreciation for his work, even though I had only a passing understanding of what is so deeply profound about Shakespeare’s words and plays.

Aside from my own personal experience working on and playing Shakespeare, some of my most memorable, early theatrical adventures were as a member of the audience at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. During my summers off while at theatre school, my classmates and I would journey to Stratford to see as many plays as struggling students could afford. We would go for 3 days and see 5 plays. I had the good fortune, for example, to see Brian Bedford play Richard III and Malvolio. I have never seen an actor in greater command of an audience then Brian Bedford as Malvolio in the tree box scene in Twelfth Night. The Festival Stage seats almost 2,000 and Mr. Bedford had every one of us laughing so hard we were crying.

Then in Richard III, perhaps the most memorable moment I’ve ever witnessed in the theatre was at the end of the Lady Anne seduction scene. Bedford’s performance as Richard was so devastating as to inspire Lady Anne, (Martha Henry), to reach out and touch his withered arm as she exited. The entire audience of 2,000 gasped with horror and disbelief. During three memorable summers those trips to Stratford also included seeing the likes of Maggie Smith, William Hutt and Jackie Burroughs. I was exposed to some of the greatest Shakespearean actors working during this period. Pure, unadulterated pleasure and joy!

I spent a year at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa where I did four plays including Henry V. At the time, the National Arts Centre was recognized as the national theatre of Canada and there was a resident company of which I was a member. The National Arts Centre is a beautiful facility with three awesome theatres. When I was hired to work there, I was filled with so much excitement. Unfortunately, in most senses, the experience turned out to be disappointing, because of the person who ran the theatre. Despite being offered a second season, this is the one and only job I ever left before completing my contract. But even this disappointing experience taught me an important lesson: Just how deleterious it can be when a director demeans and abuses the actors he’s working with. Even though I was never the subject of the artistic director’s misdirected, humiliating rage, the environment created left all of us feeling unsettled and insecure. To me this is the greatest responsibility a director has – to create an atmosphere where all the various members of the creative family feel safe enough to challenge their own creative limitations in order to seek and find those transcendently artistic opportunities that make doing theatre a profoundly worthy exploit.

On top of some amazing early training with the likes of Victor Knight and Michael Macgowan (Artistic Director at LAMDA at the time), later on I got to work with Tina Packer (Shakespeare & Company) and Kristin Linklater (Freeing the Natural Voice). I also learned a lot from John Barton’s (Artistic Director of the RSC) videos titled, “Playing Shakespeare”. Those are just a few of the wonderful artists who have inspired my learning to play Shakespeare well. It is absolutely impossible to recount all I learned from these noble men and women.

As a classically trained actor, I always had a dream to read all of Shakespeare’s plays aloud. Dramatic literature is meant to be heard because it is the very sound of the words that in part conveys their meaning. This is even more true with Shakespeare. And as actors, we more than others, need to come to understand this. When I moved to Los Angeles, I found another actor, Emilio Borelli, willing to take on this challenge. Over a number of years, we read all 37 plays out loud. I cannot measure quantitatively just how much I learned from this experience.

Finally, the years I’ve spent in class with young actors trying to help them facilitate their own work with and appreciation of Shakespeare. We teach what we need to learn and this has been especially true for me when it comes to my developing an understanding of how to play Shakespeare.

Briefly, in the end, it always comes down to comprehension. Underlying any communication is the need to be heard, to be understood. Elizabethan english is a foreign language to we speakers of contemporary english and it needs to be approached as such. First and foremost, the actor seeking to play Shakespeare must understand what the character is seeking to convey/communicate. All the same rules apply to performing Shakespeare as when performing contemporary dramatic literature. The actor must know what is the character’s underlying objective/motive in speaking their words. What does the character want by saying what they’re saying and to whom they’re saying it? These questions must always be at the forefront of any investigation/exploration.

A good working knowledge of iambic pentameter and scansion are necessary, but for only one reason. Applying/utilizing them assists in our playing Shakespeare the way he intended. It helps with comprehension. As does breathing more effectively and deeply than our common use of contemporary english requires. Shakespeare’s language is dense and rich and demands more fuel, more breath. Remember, our breath is the very fuel that animates our muscles and gives sound to our voice.

One of the great lessons I learned from Tina Packer (and then repeated by John Barton) was to breathe at the end of each line of blank verse. Shakespeare was originally performed at an outdoor theatre (The Globe) in front of audiences that didn’t take kindly to not being able to hear the actors. In order to be heard and understood, approximately 10 syllables of speech, which is generally one line of blank verse, are all we normally have enough breath to project into/onto so that an actor would be heard by a rowdy Elizabethan audience in an outdoor theatre. It also means not breathing in the middle of a line of blank verse, even if the punctuation and/or a change of thought suggests a breath. The change of thought in the middle of the line does not require a new breath even as it should inspire an inflection change confirming the change of thought. This may seem odd to the uninitiated, but what it does is create a momentum forward that refines/defines the actor’s rhythm while  holding the audience’s attention. These simple understandings concerning breath create a different, more compelling emphasis/stress system along with a driving momentum.

It takes much time and study and patience to fully embrace this idea of breathing at the end of each line of blank verse, but it absolutely works. I know this from my own personal experience experimenting with it for many years and from sharing it with my students in teaching them Shakespeare. Those who actually persevere with it learn over time that it does improve/increase comprehension, both on the part of the actor and the audience. And the key must always be comprehension.

Finally, perhaps the greatest challenge and joy that working on Shakespeare offers to the actor is getting to play with the extreme, heightened circumstances contained in his plays. Where in contemporary literature will you find a character (metaphorically) making love to a woman whose husband he has murdered and lies dead in the casket sitting between them? (Richard III and Lady Anne).  Or a character who must choose between her sacred vow of chastity and her brother’s life? (Isabella and Claudio in Measure for Measure). These are just two examples of the extreme depth of circumstance an actor gets to consider when living in Shakespeare’s plays.

A little of what I’ve learned from the many years I’ve loved working on Shakespeare and the absolutely undeniable brilliance that is woven into the fabric of his words and plays. it’s no wonder I often say, “Anytime spent with the king is time well spent.”

Live in the life and the life will live in you. When I coined this phrase some years ago, I had no idea how deeply and widely its application would resonate. How succinctly and precisely it captures so much of what I’ve learned about how to do our work as actors effectively, specifically related to our quest to embody the widest range of characters imaginable.

An aspect of Carl Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious” has a specific application for the actor seeking to understand more clearly the processes and potential when it comes to character development. The idea that within each one of us lies all human experience/human expression in some latent or dormant state, depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves, is what sets in motion the possibility that a well trained, experienced, determined actor is capable of portraying any character truthfully and believably.

In life, depending upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we are capable of manifesting absolutely any behavior imaginable: The most benevolent and empathetic acts of kindness and/or the most heinous and horrific depravity and violence. Take any peace loving, happy go lucky person and take them out of the life circumstances that inspire this behavior response and then transplant that person to some war torn part of Syria or Afghanistan or the Gaza Strip. In order to survive the violence transpiring there, that person will be left with no choice but to become violent too, if only to survive the prevailing circumstances of the particular location/situation. Same person – different circumstances, different characteristics exhibited, different character. So we see that under the influence of different circumstances, gradually the peace loving person exhibits the behavior response that reflects the stress and strain that this new environment with a different set of circumstances contains, that person’s survivability in jeopardy, eventually learns to become violent.

Human beings are porous organisms. Literally. Our skin, our largest organ, is made up of tens of thousands of pores. As a result of this porousness, we are inclined to adopt the principals and properties of whatever we immerse ourselves in and/or surround ourselves with. We are truly adaptable. After a few hours in a smoky bar, your hair, your skin, your lungs will feel the effects and reflect those effects. Your skin and hair will stink like cigarette smoke and your lungs will feel as if you’ve been smoking. Want a yellow hand? Dip it in a vat of yellow paint for a couple of hours. You will certainly have a yellow hand. And it will remain yellow until you slough off those layers of skin. We take on the principals and properties of whatever we immerse ourselves in or surround ourselves with. Ever hear of Stockholm Syndrome? If you want to learn to play tennis, go spend a few hours every day on a tennis court hitting tennis balls. After six months, you will be playing tennis much better than you did when you started.

Human beings are truly adaptable organisms and over time we have the predisposition/inclination to be influenced/infiltrated in a sympathetic fashion to whatever we surround ourselves with or immerse ourselves in. This is what we mean when we say, “Live in the life and the life will live in you.”

As we then go back to Jung’s theory that we are capable of exhibiting any kind of human behavior, depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. When I did the movie, BIRD, among the most important aspects of my preparation was to learn how to play trumpet as well as possible. At the very least to make it entirely believable  that I was indeed playing. I had my teacher, Uan Rasey, go through all the music that my character Red Rodney plays in the movie and write out every single note. As I don’t even read music, I then went through every note and wrote down the corresponding finger positions. As there are three valves on a trumpet, there are only eight possible finger combinations. After writing out all the corresponding finger positions for every note, I then memorized the finger positions. Yeah, it was hard work. But I believe that we actors have no right to ask an audience to go on any journey with us unless the fundamentals of who our character is is completely credible. Making believable to an audience that I was one of the great bee bop trumpet players was my unassailable responsibility.

My learning to play trumpet well enough to make it credible caused me great anguish and made me feel really insecure. I remember the day I had to play this really complicated solo, (16th notes non-stop), when Charlie Parker (Forest Whitaker) comes to hear Red Rodney (me) play in a club as a prelude to invite him/me to tour with him and his band. I was beside myself with insecurity…it was painful. It wasn’t until a couple of months after the shoot that I recalled the answer the real Red Rodney gave me during the 2 week period we spent together before filming began. When I asked him why he became a junky?, he said that when he first started playing with Bird (Charlie Parker), he felt so unworthy to be on the band stand with Bird. Eventually he concluded that if Charlie Parker slams heroin and plays the way he does, maybe if Red slams, he might play like him too. His insecurity about his playing was so acute, he started using heroin.

As the actor, there is no way for me to have the identical experience of insecurity and inadequacy that Red Rodney felt playing with Charlie Parker. But my quest, my commitment, to play trumpet in a convincing, believable manner gave me my own version of that feeling of insecurity and inadequacy. At the time I was so entirely inside the experience, because I was determined to create a believable characterization of Red Rodney…I was so fully living in the life that the life began to live in me. As a result of my quest to live in the life of Red Rodney by trying to be the best trumpet player I could be, by making believable that I was actually playing, I found myself riddled with my own version of Red Rodney’s feelings which then contributed undeniably to my playing the character more truthfully than any conscious effort could’ve achieved. And I didn’t even realize this until months after we finished shooting.

Each one of us is capable of any human experience and therefore any piece of human behavior. Depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves, those circumstances will produce different responses in us that are compatible with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I justify this bit of Jung’s theory with a theory of my own: If we trace human life back to the original male/female human. This original male/female human then procreated producing more human offspring who procreated and so on and so on. Thousands of generations later, here we are: The progeny of all human life that has proceeded us. So we carry the legacy, the very DNA of those that proceeded us…they are our ancestors and as such their life experience is tatooed to the very fabric of our being. Somewhere in some recess of our psyche resides all human experience, all human behavior in some latent, unexpressed state. Unexpressed because the current circumstances in which we find ourselves inspire a response in us that is compatible, commensurate, with the circumstances of this present moment. But somewhere inside us, tucked away we carry all human experience and the responses that accompanied those experiences, in some deep, dark, subconscious place.

When we live in the circumstances of our characters, when we live in the life of our characters, the unexpressed, latent part of us that lines up with the character’s circumstances, that is compatible with those character circumstances, will begin to find their way out of us because they are the harmonized expression/response to those character circumstances. This is what makes us capable of the most benevolent acts of kindness and the most horrific acts of violence, both in our personal lives and our creative ones. It is our natural, human adaptability that makes this possible and even necessary for those of us actors seeking to understand and play the widest range of characters.

But that’s okay. Isn’t this the most enjoyable aspect to being an actor? Getting to be other people, if only within the context of the story we’re telling. I know for me, this is among the most potent aspects to the intoxicating force that is the creative thrust to being an actor.