“Where Did All My Fucks Go?”

By lesly kahn | September 8, 2016

This post was contributed by Kahnstituent Maddie M.:

Where Did All My Fucks Go?

As I’m sitting in a private coaching with Lesly, about a year and some change from when I started at the Kahn, she looks at me and says “you fixed your acting.” I guess I should have been complimented, but I all I could think was: huh? I “fixed” my acting? Was it broken? After pondering this for awhile, I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t fix my acting so much as I fixed my idea of acting.

Before the Kahn, my idea of acting was simple: be cute, pretty, and blonde in EVERYTHING I did. Not only was I already those things, but I covered my acting in them. I was basically screaming at casting directors, “do you get it, I’m ADORABLE!!!” It was one big pageant; you were going to watch me do my dog and pony show and then I would leave. It didn’t matter what the reader threw at me, I was going to do the same audition every freaking time. And guess what? I never worked. After a few years of this, my agents were pretty much done with me, and I was done with me. I was resigned to the fact that I’d have to get a “real” job and that would be that.

Then triage happened and it rocked my world. On my to do list for 3 YEARS, I had been writing “take a damn acting class.” And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to take one. I knew I sucked and there was a reason I wasn’t getting called back, but I didn’t want to face it. My feedback was so consistent, it’s like all the casting directors in LA were calling each other: “She’s cute, but I don’t believe her. She needs to learn how to be a real person and have a real conversation.” Before I threw in the towel on acting, however, I decided to buck up and take one more goddamn acting class. So there I was, in the yellow room at Lesly Kahn, with this lady calling me on my bullshit for the first time. The first thing Lesly said to me was “I bet you think you’re so smart because you have a good handle on words and can say them quickly and articulately, but I know why you’re not working.” Naturally, I was like WHY? PLEASE TELL ME OH DIVINE ONE . Lesly looks me dead in the eye and says, “everything that got you into UCLA is ruining your acting.” Mic drop moment.

I’m sorry, you’re telling me that all those years of studying and working hard and being a perfectionist are RUINING my acting? Oh, hell no! To which Alison chimes in, “you give way too many fucks in your acting… and I’m guessing in your life.” They had pinned all the problems I’d been struggling with my whole life within the first five minutes of meeting me. God, they were annoying — and right. Boy, oh boy, did I give fucks everywhere: how long my hair was, what I wore, how much I weighed, how I said each line. Everything was about control, control, control. At the time, I wanted to be whatever the casting director wanted me to be, which was always cute, pretty, and blonde. So that’s what exactly I did; I acted cute, I acted adorable. Everything I said was punctuated with a headbob or my forehead. And the WORST part was my voice. Oh my god, it was this awful actory voice like Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain . Lesly told me, however, that I wasn’t a lost cause (thank god). She insisted she could get me working. So I was in; give me that Kool Aid. I signed up for Intensive on the spot.

Intensive left me royally fucked — now I REALLY believed that I sucked. But I was hooked; it’s almost cult-ish how quickly I liked everyone in my class. So without hesitation, I  moved right onto clinic with Tyler. And this is where things first started to click, in lovely, fleeting moments.  I remember working “Missy Fischer” in front of the class. Tyler kept having me reduce the final monologue until it was only images in my mind. It was literally the simplest acting I had ever done, and at the end Tyler said, “that’s the best acting I’ve seen you do.” What??? But I wasn’t DOING anything! I did, however, feel the difference. I fought it for months and months and clung to my line readings, but I eventually caved. I started settling into my voice, and acting from that deeper, more comfortable place inside. It was “less putting stuff on” and more “taking stuff away.” I got stiller and once all that excess shit started to come off, I started to realize, huh, maybe I am enough. Once that revelation sank in, I started to think gee maybe my thoughts are enough, too . I started actually doing the couch work, stopped memorizing my line readings, and instead focused solely on WHAT I THOUGHT in my given circumstances, genre, and relationship. If I found the threading particularly tricky at one place, rather than glossing over it to get to my next cute moment, I spent a shitload of time on it until it worked.

In the process, I started acting consistently; day in and day out. Before coming to the Kahn, the only time I “acted” was the hour before my audition when I would enter panic mode. Once rehearsing and acting became just another part of my day, however, auditions were NBD. But the type A in me was still like, where are the results, where are the credits??*  To which Tyler gave a metaphor that has stuck with me ever since: he said acting and rehearsing are like pushing sand into the bottom of a large lake. The “sand” is your good acting, and for awhile no one sees it because it just falls to the bottom of the lake. Your job as an actor is to keep pushing the sand and doing good work, because eventually you push enough of it and it starts to peek out of the lake. And then someone finally sees this tiny sandbar, or that glitzy guest star role you booked, but they don’t see all the work underneath it! That’s the logical fallacy of “overnight celebrities.” Most actors, who appear to blow up ‘overnight,’ have actually achieved their success from all the years of work they did pushing that sand.

*Qualifier: I still struggle with this. I still think to myself, what’s the point? No one is seeing my ‘good acting,’ I have no credits, yada yada. But the best thing you can do for your acting is to always show up, live through it, and keep doing good work. If you do these things, the results will take care of themselves. As Lesly would say, “why do you think you would bring 100% to your producer session first thing tomorrow morning when you’re only used to bringing 50% to class?” LE DUH.

So you’re probably thinking, “Great. If I learned all this stuff during Triage and Intensive, why aren’t I instantly amazing?” Lesly literally gives you all the “tools” you need on day one to be a great actor. So why the fuck aren’t we all great actors? Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s because listening and letting go is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s something that will ALWAYS have to be part of my process, so I had better just accept it. I don’t naturally give away my control and fly free in my scenes. The way that I feel most comfortable doing this is by being OVERPREPARED. Counterintuitive, right? If you’re so overprepared how can you possibly be free and live through each moment and let go? And my answer is that it’s the type of preparedness that makes the difference. Before, I prepared by memorizing all my cute line readings. And if for some reason I messed up one in an audition, the rest of my scene was completely fucked. Now my idea of being overprepared is doing the couch work and having rehearsed the scene so many different ways, that when I get up there I trust that the work will be there. BUT if I haven’t done the work, my mind still goes to You’re not memorized. What’s that next part? Shit, I forgot my line! and all those stupid bad actor thoughts that get in the way of the work.

So you’ve done your couch work, covered up the page, and practiced thoughts out loud — yay you! You’re not quite done though. The final piece to listening and letting go is to watch other actors fail at it, regularly. According to Malcolm Gladwell, surgeons learned the most from watching other people FAIL during surgery, not SUCCEED. Crazy, right??? Because if you watch other people do it right, your brain automatically thinks, hmm, that looks easy, I’ll just do that. Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s easier said than done. If you watch other people FAIL, however, your brain goes oh that didn’t work, I will NEVER do that. Same principle in acting. If you watch other people give enough line readings and then be readjusted with a thought, you eventually learn that IN ALL SCENARIOS, IN ALL GENRES, IN ALL GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES, your idea of the scene and your adorable line reading is NEVER as good as having a goddamn thought. So, eventually you think: shit! I’ll never do line readings again. And you watch enough people move around, indicate, and use their forehead, and you think: yep, I better not do that.  So it’s not enough to only do the couch work, you have to rehearse, coach, and work with other actors, too. Sorry, you’re not an island; not here and especially not in the real world.

So, to sum it up for you: I started giving less fucks in my acting (and as a result in my life), I started doing the work (the right way), and I did it all the fucking time. I watched other people FAIL, get back up, and do it all over again. And in the process I learned for sure what acting is NOT. Acting is NEVER cute, preconceived line readings. It is NEVER looking at a scene  and thinking “I know how this should sound and look.” Acting is NEVER waiting for your next line to speak and be darling. Acting is simply having a thought about whatever was just said or done in the given circumstances, genre, and relationship. And having a good fucking time doing it. BOOMTOWN.

And guess what, I’ve never worked more.