Tom: We’ve often talked about that intangible quality that certain stars have.
Austin: The It Factor.
Tom: Exactly, and I’m not sure it’s something we can define - we could probably make a million bucks if we could - but maybe we can narrow it down.
Austin: Let’s go for it.
Tom: What are some of the qualities that stars have? What is “that thing” that some possess?
Austin: Great question and you’re right: if we had the short answer we’d be millionaires! I think one thing to state – and maybe it’s the obvious – but that “it” is in the eye of the beholder. Right?
Tom: It is to a degree, but why is it that the public keeps shelling out money to see certain actors? What is it about Jennifer Lawrence that makes her so arresting? Or George Clooney? Or Adam Sandler? What on earth do they have in common?
Austin: First off, I think on one level they all have some fine skills. But I’m curious – before we get too deep into this conversation – if you think that once that “it” is discovered, is it then capitalized and broadcast to the masses and that is what “it” eventually becomes? Or is it that there is something magical within that person and their abilities?
Tom: Really good question, and I think I’m leaning to the former. It’s not just looks – although those can help – and it’s not just skills – although those seem like a necessity. It’s also finding the right role(s) at the right time. I think of John Wayne. He’d been playing supporting characters in B westerns and not making a name for himself. Then he did Stagecoach in 1939 and wham! His career took off. He’d been acting plenty before, but he nailed that role and became associated with it and played that type of role from then on out.
Austin: That’s a good example of the “it” factor he possessed, and it also displays how that was then put front and center, so to speak.
Austin: So getting back to what started this conversation, then what is a young actor’s recipe or equation? Can it be explained so simply? And how does a young actor discover their own IT factor?
Tom: I like the word recipe a lot. Of course, the tricky thing is that it might tempt young actors to want to copy someone else’s recipe, and I think that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
Tom: I think each actor’s recipe is different - and rightly so. I guess I would start with the word “authentic.” And if you’re a young actor, ask yourself, “What makes you authentic? What do you do that is genuine and different and unique and honest … and authentic?” Because that’s not something you can fake.
Austin: Man, now you are speaking my language! That is so true. You know, I always tell actors that all this career stuff and your IT is a lot like dating. I spent many years before I met my wife trying to be what I thought girls wanted. I tried to be something for them and all the time never staying true to who I was for me. As a result I ended up in unsuccessful relationships because there was an element of falseness where there should have been truth. That truth of who you are carries over into SO many aspects of life and I think here is a prime example of where the truth IS the truth!
Tom: I love that. And it explains a good deal of my unsuccessful pre-marriage dating. The difficulty is - the TRAP is - that actors are always asking themselves, “What does the director want?” Well, the director may not actually know what they want.
Austin: Very true.
Tom: Or they may think they know, but you can change their mind. Because what they REALLY want is an actor to be authentic, who comes in the room with an attitude of, “I don’t really need this job, but I could nail it if you wanted me to, because I know this role, and I can bring something to it no one else can.” It’s that confidence. That authenticity. Which, as you say, is a lot like dating.
Austin: Once again I think we are coming back around to balance!
Tom: Of course – doesn’t it always?
Austin: I think of it as trying to do what I want to do with a role while at the same time KNOWING that I’m going to and WANT to mold my performance WITH the director. BUT! I don’t show up waiting for the director to tell me what they want. I will discover that through trial and error … once again much like dating! HUZZAH!!
Tom: Man, you and the dating. But you’re exactly right - it’s not waiting for the director (or the teacher or the producer or the casting director) to give you your life. It’s you making those choices. There have been so many examples of actors giving breakout performances when they reached that point of, “You know what? I’ve been at this for a while, and I’m tired of the BS, and I’m just going to do what I do best.” And that often translates into fantastic performances, because they’re no longer trying to please. They’re allowing their true selves to come out. Like … dating.
Austin: You see? Now you’re catching on!! You know, if I can take this analogy a touch further…
Tom: Oh no…
Austin: …by bringing up a word you used earlier: confidence. Like dating, there’s a point where you have to have confidence in who you are and that there’s someone out there for you ... who will dig you for you! Now some might disagree with that, but it goes back to the actor making that breakthrough because they have confidence in who they are and what they bring to the table and not taking all of it too personally to let it crush them. If magic happens, it does, and if it doesn’t, then it will the next time. Does that make sense?
Tom: Absolutely! And I think as we talk about confidence and authenticity, it’s probably worth saying – I don’t know if you agree with this or not – that maybe early on in one’s training, we should forget about the “it” factor. Forget even about confidence and authenticity. Work on the craft. Polish skills. And then, at some point, before you know it, presto: you will have confidence and you will have developed something authentic. It’s like a writer discovering his/her voice. It’s not something one should consciously strive for; it happens over time while trying to improve.
Austin: I agree. As a matter of fact, that dovetails into something I’ve been thinking about recently and that is the inconsistent flow of confidence. How do you get it and how do you keep it?
Tom: The $64,000 question.
Austin: You just touched on the most successful way to build confidence by actually fulfilling your talent over time. But how do you keep that going or healthy? Because I truly believe that confidence is built and grows and you have to keep it in check so it doesn’t change into arrogance.
Tom: And now we’re back to…
Tom: Indeed. Confidence is such a tricky thing … and a necessity. And you’re right; we don’t want it to become arrogance. (I always like the phrase “quiet confidence.”) Actors grow their confidence from classes and/or work. It doesn’t matter how it grows, as long as it does. As a teacher, I wish it were that easy to say, “Be confident” to a student and it would be so. But of course, it’s more than that. It’s the actor doing the work, and then believing in that work, and accepting the results. How about you? How do you encourage confidence in young actors when they don’t seem to have it for themselves?
Austin: That’s a good one, and I’m not sure – this is just thinking out loud – but I wonder if you can? Or should? Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that the best work and the true growth of confidence comes from strong encouragement, but I think it’s simple encouragement within the range of their own willingness to develop.
Tom: I see what you’re saying.
Austin: No teacher or director can “give” or “make” a student confident. At some point, we all have to take that up ourselves and we’ll do it when we are good and ready. Now we might fake it until we make it, so to speak, but at some point we all have to come back to that honest place in the dark where we make a decision. We choose to be confident or we choose not to be.
Tom: I like that.
Austin: Let me ask you this: do you think there’s a difference between confidence and bravery? Or does confidence lead to bravery?
Tom: That’s a good question, and one I’ve never thought of before. I certainly think bravery can lead to confidence, and probably the other way around, but I see them as slightly different. And you’re right; no one can make us confident. BUT. Outside influences help.
Austin: For example?
Tom: I can remember occasions in the past when I didn’t believe in myself and I needed others to give me a kick in the pants. Then I could believe in myself. And there are times as a teacher where that’s reversed: where I’m the one who can say to the actor, “You have some skills here. Don’t take those for granted.” But you’re right: ultimately, it comes down to the individual themselves. Haven’t there been people in your life who have given you confidence?
Austin: Oh, every day!! Hello – vain, insecure actor always looking for approval!! No, you’re absolutely right. Outside influence is VERY important in the development of confidence. For me, it comes down to someone “believing” in me because I think that’s a very palpable sensation.
Austin: You can feel it! It makes your skin stand up. And in the classroom, when I see something in an actor that’s just hiding behind insecurity, I want them to feel my belief – because that’s the only way to get them out in front on their own. But on the other hand, that need to be believed in or validated can turn against you. You don’t want your confidence to be dependent on that outside belief. At some point, you have to – again – find that balance between the outside and the inside of how you truly are.
Tom: Amen! And if you’re too dependent on that outside validation, then you’ll start trying to please and nothing good comes of that. So if you want to create your own “it” quality, you have to do the work, and then believe in the results, gaining that quiet confidence.
Austin: Right. And I think you just have to have faith that you’re going to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Finding your IT factor is also about being patient that your true self is in there and is going to show up … even if it takes a little while to get to the party. Some of that is just perspective and maturity, and I don’t think that’s bad at all! If you’re in this business for the long haul, then you have nothing to worry about.
Tom: That’s a good place to end, especially since we’re talking about eggs and omelets.
Austin: These lunches always make me hungry.
Tom: And I love how you sum it up: if you’re in it for the long haul and doing the work, things will take care of themselves. They will.