Perhaps you’re wondering why I keep saying “Shut UP!” Isn’t an actor’s job to speak? Sometimes. But, like I often tell my beginning improv students, “You do not have to be talking to be improvising.” Some of the best moments can come from silence, being committed to a moment and simply having an honest, human reaction. When an improviser gets too caught up with trying to say something funny, they usually just get in their own way, steamrolling their fellow players and missing the opportunity to find the truth of a scene.
Shut up and listen. Shut up and feel. Shut up and chop some broccoli. Show, don’t tell. Show us you are hurt, angry, amorous or confused by the way you chop that broccoli and you’ll never have to say, “I’m so mad!” We’ll know.
The movie Dreamgirls has one of my favorite examples of this. Eddie Murphy does some of his best acting work ever in this film. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know “that look.” There are some amazing moments throughout this film but “that look” is the one that stuck with me the most. It takes up maybe no more than 5 seconds of screen time but it’s a scene stealer. Eddie has spiraled into drug addiction, his friends are trying to intervene, someone says something to the effect of, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” The response could have been a monologue, it could have been a tear soaked rant of epic proportions. Instead, Eddie just gives a look. It speaks volumes and shuts his friend up. The monologue is in his eyes. He should’ve won the Oscar.
Another reason I say “Shut Up & Act” is that actors are so damn whiny! Myself included. I whine all the time. “Whhyyy didn’t I get that part?” “Whhyyy does nepotism trump talent or experience?” “Whhyyy can’t fat girls be romantic leads?” “Why? WHY? WHY!?!” Ughh. It’s exhausting.
The “WHY?” really doesn’t matter. If we could get answers to these questions they probably wouldn’t be satisfactory anyway. It’s a waste of energy to focus on “why?” Instead, I continually ask the Universe for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I cannot change nepotism. I can write roles for fat girls and create my own opportunities. I cannot control the choices made by the suits who hold the purse strings. I can choose to be happy to have even gotten an audition when there are literally thousands of people vying for any given role on any given day. I cannot change Hollywood overnight. I can accept that the acting biz is a numbers game and you just have to keep playing to win.
I can stop whining and stop complaining. I get to do what I love and for that I am extremely grateful every day. I still have goals I am working toward. Talking, talking, talking about what I don’t have won’t help me achieve those goals. What I can do, is shut up and act.