Giving advice to actors in Los Angeles ain’t easy, even for Oscar and Emmy-nominated actors like Alfred Molina, Demian Bichir, Olivia Munn and Abigail Spencer. In a crowd of people gathered to hear your secret for breaking into the biz, you’re either bound to disappoint by not being specific enough, not telling them what they want to hear or telling them something they already know. Sure, there are a few young, hungry thespians out there ready to absorb every word, and the above actors tried to connect with those individuals in a personal but very funny “Coffee Talk” at the Los Angeles Film Festival Sunday afternoon.
Here are the highlights:
Olivia Munn is not Tom Cruise, and her mom won’t let her forget it.
Both Olivia Munn and Alfred Molina discussed how their parents were less than supportive when it came to their career choices. Molina spoke of his father, saying “he only became really impressed when I pulled up to his house in my own car.” He was also told time and time again he just didn’t fit the mold of your stereotypical actor. “People like you don’t become actors,” Molina recounted. “You have to be good looking.”
Yet it was Munn who really put things in perspective. The good-humored and gorgeous star of “The Newsroom” discussed her past living in a military family with a mother who repeatedly told her “no.” “I was never encouraged at anything I’ve ever done,” Munn said half-jokingly. “I learned early on to keep my dreams inside.” Instead of asking for help or joining the theater, Munn looked to the library for reading materials on acting. At one point when she brought up the subject again with her mom, she said, “Only one man can do it. Tom Cruise. You’re not Tom Cruise.”
Her story did have a happy ending, though, even outside Munn’s success as an actor. After getting her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Munn worked for an NBC affiliate for a few years before getting up the courage to tell her mom she was moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting. This time, her mom said okay. “I thought, if my mom’s not going to be disappointed in me, then why not?”
Never tell a director the truth. If you do, you won’t get hired.
Alfred Molina was discussing how actors desperately want to work, and how producers know it and often exploit it during the casting process. To even the playing field a bit, Molina believes in one constant.
“I only ever told a director that was interviewing me the truth once, and I didn’t get the job. He asked me to read for a film I’d read four times and he wanted me to read again. And I said to him ‘I’ll happily meet, but I won’t read again.’ He said, ‘Alfred. I did a movie with Robert De Niro, and Bobby read for me 12 times.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re either thinking of me in the same breath as Robert De Niro, for which I’m deeply, deeply flattered, or you don’t know a good actor when you see one.’ I was out of that room faster than hot shit off a shovel.”
“I’m never reading again,” Munn concluded. “Fuck you, directors. Check my reel.”
Demian Bichir was forced to become an actor when his dream of playing professional soccer wasn’t working out.
While Munn and Molina had to work to get their parent’s approval, things were different for the Oscar-nominated star of “The Bridge.” Though he loved playing soccer, his father told him at a young age, “I know you love soccer, but never forget the theater loves you more.”
Then, when he was about 14 years old, he started getting work as a child actor. He still pursued soccer, and even invited his coach to an opening night party with all his acting colleagues, some being quite famous in the area. The next day, Bichir’s coach pulled him aside at practice and told him, “Listen, it was really, really impressive what I saw last night,” Bichir remembered. “I went home and I wanted to ask you, do you know who Pele was?” Bechir told him he did know of the famous soccer player, who came from nothing to become the greatest player to ever play. “Exactly,” his coach told him. “That’s my point. You’re a great actor.”
What was your career-defining moment?
Each actor briefly discussed a moment that made them feel like they’d finally broken into the industry. Abigail Spencer, who was a late edition as the panel’s moderator, said she knew it after appearing on “Mad Men.” Molina told a heartwarming story about shaking Steven Spielberg’s hand after sweating profusely into his own before auditioning (he still got the part in “Raiders of the Lost Arc”).
Then Bichir, who formally credited his role as Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” as what changed things for him, told a story about his first day on the former Showtime series “Weeds.” He was cast as the lead’s (Mary Louise Parker) lover, and his first scene involved a little light S&M. He was told to spank her, and specifically to hit a pad protecting the actress from too much harm. Only when the scene began, he couldn’t find the pad, and Bechir had to make a decision. “No pad. No mercy,” he said, and proceeded to do exactly as he was told, scene after scene.
“Her butt was as red as a red onion. It was purple,” Bechir said.
“And that was your career-defining moment?” Munn quipped, getting a big laugh from the room.
REAL advice for young actors:
“This is something I think every actor should know,” Munn said. “Just because you want it, just because you have a dream, just because you work really hard, doesn’t mean it works out. So you have to work as hard as you can. You have to keep your head down. Say ‘thank you’ as much as you can. Nothing is too small.”
“I think it takes three things,” she continued. “Innate talent, working really hard, and then just hoping all the stars align at the same time, right underneath you.”
Molina, who agreed with Munn, also had some more succinct advice. “Love this job. Eventually it will love you back.”