In recent news, it is reported that “Theatre” is one of the top most useless majors for college students. As a college theatre professor and actor, what is your stance on this issue?
-I think that is bull. In the acting core that I am teaching in Hollywood, the majority of the students I get are people that have already started their regular life. They are lawyers, doctors, business owners, and one of the things we get from people who are in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and up that start to learn acting at academy is that they feel like their life is empty. They feel like they are missing something. They feel like they are denying a fundamental aspect of themselves and that they’re just worker bees in a machine and that they are living, but not really alive. This is a step in their reclamation of some deep aspect of their life that they’ve lost. So to say that [a] theatre major is not useful is ridiculous to me.
Storytelling is a fundamental part of human existence and connection is a fundamental part of human existence. Do we need it to survive? No. All you need to survive is food, water and shelter, and that can even be arguable. But, in the end, we are talking about the quality of life. We don’t need air conditioning to live; we don’t need gourmet food to live. So there are so many things we don’t need but we have and believe are important because they enhance the quality of life. To me, that’s what an actor’s journey provides a lot of people. It’s not about whether you are going to get an Oscar or become a millionaire as an actor. That happens to some people; [that’s] just a part of the thing. What we are asking people to do over and over again is to reclaim themselves — to get in touch with who they were meant to be… let go of the idea of who they were supposed to be in order find out who they are. And the person who I am stealing this from is Bernie Brown, who isn’t an actor at all. She is a researcher and she researched connection. So people with training leave with the feeling of some kind of ownership of themselves, with a stronger sense of conviction. Right now, because of all of this access like the Internet, who cares what you have to memorize for an exam? Like, why do I have to learn all these stupid facts and then get tested on my ability to memorize them, when I am not going to retain it? Chances are that the professor hasn’t retained it either, because we can “Google” that. What’s important these days isn’t the amount of knowledge you possess, but how you process it and what you do with it. Your ability to process knowledge in a unique way is going to require you to be open to [whom] you are. How does this move through me? What does this mean to me? I say it over and over again the thing that I feel like I am offering people, or I am asking people to get to, is conviction. I feel like that is lacking now more then ever. I know I sound like an old man, but I’m really not that much older than you guys. But I see that; that’s what’s missing over and over again. So, in the end, you don’t have to take an acting class to live, but hell, I didn’t have to take a freaking Biology class to live, but I was required to anyways. I was forced to take all kinds of stuff that I don’t use, so to argue that learning a sense of conviction and what you have to say in this thing called life that you are experiencing is less valuable than geometry, [which] I never use, is absurd.
A lot of people have a fear of being a theatre major, because of the stats that they are presented with. The odds that they are going to make something of themselves are extremely slim, so many people become so discouraged with even being involved in the theatre field.
- I can understand the fear. You look [at] a theatre major and you wonder. What am I going to do with that? What are you going to do with a psychology major or a business major? What are you going to do with that? – walk into a business and be like, I have a business degree, and get a job? You know what’s going to make or break you in the interview? – their ability to connect to you, not just the knowledge that you possess. That’s very important, but their ability to connect to you is going to definitely weigh into their decision-making. People often times hire someone that they believe they can spend eight hours with over someone who is the smartest candidate who is the most knowledgeable candidate that they don’t believe that they can spend eight hours with. That happens. And that has to do with acting. I don’t think people should become theatre majors because they are destined to become Maryl Streep. I think, to a great extent, everybody should be exposed to these kind[s] of things. It blows my mind that they’re not – that they can go through life and not get exposed to these fundamental things that are also foundations to what an actor’s work is. It is the stability and the fear of not feeling safe, and a theatre major does not concretely provide me with that, but neither does a business major or biology major. So I don’t see the difference.
How did you end up getting a part in the new Will Ferrell movie “Casa De Mi Padre”?
- I had no idea that it was a Will Ferrell movie when I went into the audition. It was “Untitled Comedy.” And I was like, what the hell is this? Some I don’t know low-budget movie? Who knows? Anyways, I’m glad, because if I had gone in there, and they had said “Will Ferrell Movie,” I would have probably made it more important. Maybe it would have made me a little more nervous about it. Will Ferrell is really nice and he was really awesome on set. We talked a little bit, but not too much. He is the lead in a movie in a language that he does not speak. So his work was definitely cut out for him. But we were working on my stuff and from the periphery [of] my vision there’s a hand that comes into view, and it’s Will Ferrell’s hand, and he’s like, “Hi, I’m Will,” and, you know, gave me some nice compliments, and I shook his hand, and I was like, yeahh, uhh, I know who you are.
How often are you rejected?
- Oh my god, all the time. Well, I don’t know; I don’t think it’s rejection. People have such a misperception of that. I don’t even like calling them auditions. We are redefining this. I don’t even like calling them scenes. Who the fuck does a scene in life; thats a conversation. The terms that we use we strip away the humanity and we are not here to make this thing clinical. So an audition… what the freaking hell is an audition?! It’s a meeting to see if what I am fits with what you are. So I don’t go into an audition feeling unempowered, like they are judging me. I am going in there, and I am saying: hey, this is what I got to sell. Well, I am a gamer, so this is a terrible metaphor: I’m selling ninja stars, and if you want ninja stars, you’re going to buy ninja stars, but if you want nunchucks, then why would I pretend this ninja star is a nunchuck? Why would come in here and lie to you [and] try to convince you when it’s so obviously not that? I am going to come in and going to be exactly what I have to offer with conviction and serve the story. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then take me, and if not, it’s not rejection; it’s just not fit.
Photography by Kennington Cung