“Stop dreaming! We need to have a dream and to protect it, but a dream without work is just a vision and it eventually fades. Put your acting first!”
Interview by Joanne Kmaid
What was it like meeting Robert De Niro?
I met him through a mutual friend, Barry Primus; I was working for Barry at the time. I was a massive fan of De Niro growing up. Every time I saw him, I was like, “Oh my goodness, there he is right in front of me!” I still get excited today. You eventually separate the star ‘Robert De Niro’ from the real person that he is, but sometimes I watch his films and think, yeah that’s the Rob I know or yeah that’s him in character.
What is your most memorable L.A. experience?
Meeting Robert De Niro! (Laughs hysterically). I had amazing experiences, like meeting all these wonderful people that I grew up admiring. Other experiences weren’t so glamorous, but still memorable in a personal way; like being lost, lonely and destitute in some alleyway in downtown L.A. It’s easy to get lost in a big city and it can be a world of extremes, so some of my most cherished memories come from both ends of the spectrum.
Which Industry guru helped you climb the ladder?
Barry Primus – An amazing actor and director without a doubt! One of my first jobs was working as his assistant. Barry introduced me to many people, and he taught me the difference between being an actor in class and being an actor in the real world. It was Barry who taught me to love the craft of acting. I owe him so much, I can’t thank him enough.
You moved to L.A. to learn from the best, so why did you relocate to Australia?
My kids! Many factors lined up at the same time. You do get burnt-out from living in L.A. for 20 years – The smog, the traffic, the homelessness, finding new friends and losing them because they could not sustain a living in L.A. I have three children; my oldest son was 15 at the time, and I figured if I don’t move now, he will establish a life there and then I will never move. I don’t want to die in L.A., so I moved here so that my children could grow up in a real world, so to speak. Many people take ‘family life’ for granted, so I wanted my children to experience what I had growing up. Funnily, my oldest son went back to America and joined the army there. It’s his home after all. He has been there for about two years now and is stationed in Korea at the moment. Thank God, he got to live in a city that’s not all about the Industry, and he lived with his cousins and grandparents.
How does Australian talent compare with American talent?
I could spend 24 hours on this! The biggest difference is collaboration and fermentation of the work. We have great talent here, but we don’t work together in a collaborative manner. In L.A., they make it about the project. The team is on-set for one reason – THE FILM! Each person aims for excellence, because they know if the film does well, it’s great for everyone. If you take care of your project, you’re also taking care of the Industry, and they protect their Industry over there. Here, I find too many people are bored on-set or uninspired. I hear the same excuses – “Well if I was making millions, it would be different” or “It’s not my script” or “We have no time.” You must never lose passion, because that will heighten your levels of work.
In regards to ‘fermenting’ the work, we rush things here. Scriptwriters don’t re-write enough. Directors and actors don’t rehearse enough. I know many writers who finish their script and say, “I’m done,” and I’m like, “No you’re not, that’s draft one.” It needs to be draft ten, because you will always spot new things. It’s the same with acting. Al Pacino once said that he found his character during his 85th performance! We are talking about multi-talented Al Pacino! Sure, celebrities have more time and money, but you need to find the time to take it to a whole new level, and maybe then you will create a better product which might bring in more money.
Melbourne Actors Lab is your prized creation. Do you strive for more?
I strive for success for my Actors at the Lab. The first thing I tell people is that you’re not an acting student, you’re an actor and we are here to work! I want to create thinking actors, people with skills that can bring ideas to the table not just turn up and be told what to do. We have a solid group of actors who understand each other. Our goal is to get out there and generate work by finding writers and directors. Not for money necessarily, but to work and do SOMETHING! We take an active role in our careers not just wait for an agent to call. We have learned many tools over the years and I have many long-term students; now it’s time to make films.
How does it feel to watch your students flourish and score acting roles?
Like we’re on the right path, like the move to Melbourne wasn’t a waste of time, like all those hours spent every night at the Lab haven’t gone down the drain, like there is hope! And it inspires us all to get back in that room and work!
Is it common for a mentor to disconnect from students once class is over?
Yes it is, it’s what they call, “acting teacher guru bullshit!” Many teachers do it. Part of it is a marketing ploy to add mystery to the instructor, so that the students are left wanting more. Stella Adler was an amazing teacher yet you could not get close to her on a personal level, but when she spoke to you, she did in fact speak to YOU and connect with you. Don’t get me wrong, she was tough, brutal in fact, but it was all about the work, and it was all done in a supportive manner to help you. I don’t do the guru thing – I meet up with people over coffee and we talk about life, but it cannot come at the expense of work. We have an understanding that when we enter the room, it’s time to work and they respect me as a teacher. In return, I give everything when they’re on that stage, even if it means we gain 2-3 hours overtime.
Funniest student memory…
I have two that always stand out. One guy had never done a monologue and I asked him to do one. He started reading both roles of the scene and it was over the top, but he was trying so hard that it was brilliant! We all applauded him. My second one was a student that got a job on a film. He wasn’t an actor, but he managed to get this job, so they gave him a 7am call. The following day, the 2nd AD called him up and asked, “Where are you?” He responded, “I have been up for hours waiting for my 7am call!” I love that one!
How does one survive this competitive industry?
STOP DREAMING! We need to have a dream and to protect it, but a dream without work is just a vision and it eventually fades. Put your acting FIRST! Some people will claim they are actors, but there’s nothing really going on. They put their acting off any chance they get – I’m tired, I’m sick, I have a social function, I’m not inspired – Yet they don’t see the immediate consequence. You can’t spend 5 hours a week on acting and expect a life changing outcome. You need to have a real schedule and dedicate 2-3 hours a day on your craft. Inspire yourself and accept that you are alone on this journey. You’re not in a band and you will go from project to project, so you must push forward especially when things don’t go your way, which is most of your acting life. It’s easy to boast and post things on social media when you get a role, but many times you won’t, so you must learn to pick yourself up and not compare yourself to others. No more IF excuses – IF I had more money, IF I was in L.A., IF I had one audition with that director, IF I was taller or shorter. They’re all excuses that stop us from doing the work. The musician, Sting, said it nicely, “It’s not an even playing field, but you just keep going.” It is a competition out there, so DO NOT LET ANYONE STOP YOU! Ultimately, the person who will stop you from kicking goals is YOU!
This interview was submitted by Cinema Australia contributor Joanne Kmaid. If you have an article or interview you would like to submit for our consideration please contact us today.