Emily Belcher, an ASA artist who has been with us from the beginning, will soon be starring in 'Trap', her first film. She was cast out of 360 applicants.
I just had a chat with her mum at the supermarket, and I had to share her story, because all young artists can learn from it - and it reinforces the ethos and work of ASA.
After she was cast, Emily got a call from the director to chat more about the film and her character. The director added that he actually cast her as a result of a moment in her self-tape where Emily’s character talks about how she’s a 'bitch'. (I can't show you the entire screen test, but this image shows you the marvelous subtlety of her work.)
Now, just what did the director see that he liked?
Listen up, young actors: he said that Emily was the only one who played the scene… differently.
How? Before looking at that, let's ask: what was the mistake all the other young actors made? Think about it: you’re in a scene where you play a bitch. Are you thinking: “Oh, she’s a bitch - this will be fun! I can suck in my cheeks a bit, glare at my partner, and then say my lines in a cruel, bitchy way - because that’s what they’ll be expecting.”
What did Emily do?
Emily has been trained that she doesn’t play ‘bitch’. Emily showed a bit of sadness about being a bitch, a bit of the isolation that comes from being ruthless, which gave it a different dimension. She plays the internal conflict going on, but she’s not playing the emotions.
When the director saw her self-awareness and subtlety, the director knew that Emily would be able to hold an audience through the whole film. And after a long dry spell (and her tenacity makes me well up with admiration) Emily was cast.
What can we learn from this? The young artist has to find her own voice.
Most actors don’t have their own voice - they’re desperate to get cast so they make a simple, fatal mistake: they try to use the voice that they THINK the director thinks that they should have. But directors can spot this a mile away. Why? Because the actor is not being self-aware or honest, they’re not being natural, they’re not being true to themselves. They’re being one-dimensional, and they give a consistent, cardboard depiction of one attitude. They’re simply playing a part, whereas the ASA artist has been trained that they NEVER play a part - they play themselves. And that's where, as Michael Caine said, "Acting is bl**dy hard work."
ASA represents the current ethos of actor training. Our training works because we stop young people from behaving like child actors - to put it bluntly. We don't give you a bag of emotional tricks, we give you an introduction to your own identity, your individual voice, and then we give you the skills to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances - and that’s instantly noticeable and refreshing to somebody in a casting director, as they watch a unique, complicated individual struggling, which the viewer then cares about.
That’s what I noticed after the ‘Listen to Me’ showcase of monologues from our recent graduates. I myself was astounded as I watched 15 different actors who had their own voice, which came from a recognition of their own soul.
And Emily herself is fascinating! - just like every young artist who’s reading this. Emily surprises me every time I see her, she's got huge backbone and tenacity, and she’s learned to put THAT into her work.
But if you're wondering: how can I be honest, if I'm playing somebody else? Consider coming to an ASA taster and you might be on the way to approaching your own voice.
Bryan Bounds is the founder and head of education at The American School of Acting, which offers 12-week autumn courses in 21st century classical acting techniques for serious young artists.