While actor Jeffrey Tambor’s primary reason for being in Austin for SXSW was to promote the forthcoming new season of revived, beloved comedy Arrested Development on Netflix, he set up an acting workshop as a part of SXSW Interactive, and schooled two young actors in the art of being raw.
What appeared to be farcical ended up being diligent and professional, taking the audience and actors Lindsay Burdge (A Teacher) and Michael Stahl-David (The Bounceback and the short-lived, Austin-based and shot ABC drama My Generation) by equal surprise.
Reading and performing from a script by English playwright Harold Pinter, the two ran through the scene as Tambor directed, redirected and mentored. The result was like a master class in letting go and being bold. The top five things we learned about acting from the session:
1. You have to take it seriously.
Stahl-David spent a lot of the first few minutes stalling: he cracked too many jokes and laughed off most of Tambor’s direction (probably because he underestimated how serious Tambor was about helping him). Tambor made it clear: you have to be willing to do what it takes.
2. “So wrong it’s right” is exactly right.
“Overact!” Tambor commanded Burdge. “People overreact in real life!” There’s a keen difference, Tambor asserted, in being actorly and acting like a real person.
3. Acting is not a rational act.
Tambor had the duo jump in place as they read their lines; to slow them down, to make them stop over-thinking their performances.
4. Be bad.
As in, surrender the fantasy occasionally and let yourself seem like a bad actor. It’s more honest and realistic. “Now you’re drunk!” Tambor yelled at Stahl-David. “Now you do it in a French accent!”
5. Your life is at stake, not your career.
Tambor was hard on Stahl-David, who has indeed had a career so far marked by a handsome blandness, telling him to act like it was his last day on earth. At the end, both actors looked tired, flustered and oddly enough, game for more.