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One Actor’s Path

Born and raised in Southern California, Ian Alda grew up sure of only one thing: “I didn’t want to be an actor.”

Young Ian knew more than most kids about the acting profession. Both his father, Antony, and his uncle, Alan, were working professionals, and as a kid he even appeared in a small role alongside his father in a holiday episode of Days of Our Lives. “Although I loved growing up surrounded by people in the business, I always felt like it was too unpredictable a career. I think there was also an element of pushing back against what people assumed about me.” While Ian was never pressured by his family to pursue an entertainer’s life, his big personality and tendency toward talkativeness (“I would never shut up in class”) persuaded many of his friends and teachers that he was destined for the “family business.”

By the time he finished high school, Ian had come around to their point of view. A drama teacher there encouraged him to continue on to theater school after graduation. He enrolled at the Conservatory of Theatre

Ian Alda on HBO's Silicon Valley.

Ian Alda on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Arts at SUNY Purchase and went on to begin his professional acting career in New York. Now back in Los Angeles, Ian cites comic roles among his personal favorite credits. He appeared on stage in Martin McDonaugh’s raucous black comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Mark Taper Forum and had a recurring role on HBO’s Silicon Valley, a show he loved even before he was cast on it.

As a performer in MediaU’s Auditioning & Casting Mastery for Directors & Actors course, Ian had to step into a part of the process that some actors dread:the audition. But Ian says he finds auditions generally enjoyable. “When it’s a role I feel like I can relate to and really wrap my head around, I’m often excited to go in and show them what I have. Those are the auditions I usually do best at. When I’m excited about it. “

I asked Ian if he swore by any particular audition techniques. “I tend to approach comedic and dramatic auditions differently, with more emotional character work for the dramatic stuff and more technical work with the comedy,” he told me. “For every audition, I just make sure to be very comfortable with the lines and the beats of the scene, and I often practice my auditions in front of a camera.“ Other than that, he eschews any pre-set methods or rituals. “I always worry that anything I do repetitively will diminish the newness or spontaneity of the audition.”

While he loved the training he received in theater school, he found that the focus there was almost always on exploring a character as if you already had scored the role. The audition, a required step on the way to any working actor’s gig, was rarely covered. “Conversely though the audition process often feels devoid of any of the work done in theater school.” Instructor/Director Peter Marshall was able to meld those two elements on the Casting! set. “What I enjoyed about working with Peter on the course was that he was able to create an environment that felt like both an audition and an exploration at the same time.”

This fresh perspective is one of the things Ian feels students will gain from taking the course. “For actors, I think they will greatly benefit…by learning that the audition process is not a test. The casting director and anyone else in the room is rooting for you, and they don’t always know exactly what they are looking for. Be prepared, but be malleable and open to surprise yourself.”

For directors, learning how to create the ideal audition environment for their actors can only work to the good of their projects. “I know so many actors who are excellent actors once they have the job, but terrible auditioners. By learning how to make an actor feel comfortable in the audition space and giving them your full attention, directors can have a better chance at seeing better work from actors in their auditions.”

Though most actors’ paths into the business don’t mirror Ian’s (and, of course, everyone’s path is different), any working actor is just trying to give their best to the role at hand. This, in part, is why Ian appreciated Peter’s advice that directors treat the auditioning actors as if they already have the part. “It takes away the feeling that the actor is just the lonely person on the other side of the desk having to prove themselves and allows both actor and director to briefly explore what it’s like to work together.”

 

 

 

 

Marissa Flaxbart

Author Marissa Flaxbart

Marissa Flaxbart is a writer, creative, and development consultant for film and television who lives and works in Los Angeles.

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