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Acting 101: Ten Tips From Jeffrey Tambor’s SXSW Workshop

Acting 101: Ten Tips From Jeffrey Tambor's SXSW Workshop

“You should be president,” someone in the audience said at the end of Jeffrey Tambor’s acting workshop in Austin, Texas yesterday. “I have never felt so inspired… And I don’t even work in the film industry.”

While presidency may be a stretch, it was hard to argue against the inspiration that was Tambor’s 90 minute workshop. Met on stage at the Austin Convention Center by the stars of Bryan Poyser’s “Lovers of Hate” – Chris Doubek and Heather Kafka – Tambor continued an annual tradition at SXSW, by taking two actors from a film at the festival and getting them to reenact a scene from the film. What resulted was a partly hilarious, and at times surprisingly affecting experience for the audience, and for Doubek and Kafka.

“I think there’s one side of you that’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms, and the other part is – can you forgive me, it’s gonna get you a little bit – a little cynical,” Tambor said to Kafka at one point – which actually resulted in Kafka breaking down in tears. “I usually find that cynical people have the biggest hearts and they get in trouble with their big hearts.”

Tambor also gave a wide variety of tips on the acting profession, that could honestly be applied to any part of life in most instances. Here’s some highlights:

Try doing it badly.

“Henry Miller said that his teacher said ‘I know how it is when you do it right… when you try to be good. Now try to do it badly.’ And Henry Miller said that’s when he found his voice.”

Learn to love destruction.

“You have to shatter the work to get it. And then pick it up. You have be willing to destroy it. I have four kids at home. I have two five month old twins. I have a three year old and a five year old. That’s why I look this way. And they are willing to build but they are also willing to destroy. They love destruction. And we lose that. We just go ‘Is this good? Is this right? Do they like it?’ Let’s fuck it up first.”

Don’t over-rehearse.

“I am coming from a place where I used to rehearse two or three hours before I even went to rehearsal. Which is analogous to cleaning your house before you clean your house. It’s a sickness. I’d argue against it.”

Don’t be afraid of being afraid.

“When you’re scared, and when you’re afraid… It means that you’re in a new area and it’s good for you. It might me that you’re just excited. If you don’t get afraid, well, it means you’re dead. So of course the amygdala’s going to off saying ‘a-woo-ga, a woo-ga’ but you gotta learn to dance with that baby. Just say, ‘oh good, it’s here.’ That’s how you find you’re loved ones, that’s how you find you’re great project.”

Come to the set with ‘a sense of play.’

“I goof around on the set. I bring stuff to the trailer that makes me happy and loose, you know… Lots of drugs [laughter from audience at what we assume is a joke]. Stuff like that. You know, I goof around… and I think of life. I walk on the set with a sense of play. And I find that most actors do that.”

Be open if you want to be confident.

“This game is a confidence game, you know that. And so confidence is not really an acting technique. Confidence is born out of the ability to say ‘I want to do exactly that’ and the ability to actually do that. And you have to be lighthearted to do that. You can’t be closed.”

Do not teach acting on the set.

“Directors: Do not teach acting on the set. I beg you. Just take care of business, and take care [of the actors]. They need nourishing.”


“Mike Leigh – I believe – prints the first take and he asks them to go overboard and makes fools out of themselves. And he has film in the camera. He promises not to use it. [To Doubek and Kafka] Go on with what you’re going, and go overboard. Don’t worry…”

Take your personal losses out in your art.

“Losing a love is what’s terrible about being a human. Losing a cat, losing a dog… You understand? But what’s great about what actors do is that we get to use it on our art. And we get to have them live again, without them even knowing. If you don’t bring your life, we won’t get it.”

Feel the love.

“It’s a personal game. I mean, I just have to tell you – around the tables on a film I was doing the other day: You could just tell the love and concern. You were safe. You were safe to fall. Actors should be protected. It’s very, very improtant. I don’t like people who yell. I don’t like tyrants. I don’t peacocks. You know a peacock is a director that’s all about him.”

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