Simply put, Kate Winslet is the business. She has six Academy Award nominations, with a win for Best Actress for The Reader in 2008. She has won an Oscar, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Grammy, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, an AACTA Award, three BAFTAs, four Golden Globe Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Empire Awards. She also has a Commander of the Order of the British Empire from 2012 for services to drama, so you know, she knows a thing or two about this old acting caper. In 2016, she had a chat to the lovely people at BAFTA about acting and I have compiled the best bits for you!
It’s so important to let the preparation go – you can get stuck in this tunnel of who you think the character is, but the reality is you need to leave blank spaces for other people to fill.
A great teacher once told me, ‘prepare don’t plan’ and I think this cuts straight to the heart of what Kate is talking about here. Know the pants out of your lines, but have no idea how you are going to deliver them. Allow yourself space and time to naturally react to your other actors and the advice of the director. If you go into a production with all of your choices set in stone, inflexible in your decision making you are going to have a bad time.
If I am playing a role based on a book I will always read the book, it becomes my armour, my friend.
Winslet goes onto say unless she is instructed otherwise by the director she always reads the book, but I think this is a great point. An author, or other written material about your production can give you so much insight into your characters inner-life which can be extraordinarily useful on set. A lot of creating a character comes down to making informed decisions and mining the text for useful information. Any adjacent texts that can help you to do that are worth their weight in gold!
The biggest challenge is staying focussed, sometimes the craziness of an on set environment can be so intense…knowing it’s okay to step off into a quiet corner and remember what it is you’re trying to do.
Film sets can be extremely full on, especially big ones. Heaps of people running around doing stuff, you are always working against the clock to get everything done, people are fixing your costume, your hair and producers and directors are throwing advice around, DOP’s need you to move three centimeters to the right and in the midst of all of this you have to do your scene. Kate’s point here is a vital one, and a slightly scary one for young actors. If you need to step away for a second and get your head together do it, it will save time in the long run if you are as prepared as you need to be in that moment.
Be very accepting of everyone, actors can be quite weird. It’s such a privilege to see how odd everyone is but at the same time it can affect your day and how you’re playing a role, be accepting and enjoy them for who they are.
This is a point that transcends acting. People are weird, Jim Morrison famously said “people are strange, when you’re a stranger” and never has a statement been more true. Especially when combined with the pressure cooker environment of a set and the confronting nature of some actors process. I worked with an actor once, who before every take would let out a guttural, powerful, primal howl at the top of his lungs. Between each take. Safe to say it was hard not to get distracted by that. So heed Kates advice folks, accept people for who they are and don’t let their process distract you from what you have to do.
The experience of making a film can be very, very hard… and then low and behold the thing will come out and it will be fantastic, more than you could have possibly expected.
This is a similar idea to what Hugh Jackman said in our other article here. Being in front of the camera can be a very uncomfortable experience, and just because you don’t feel great about it – doesn’t mean it wasn’t great. There are a lot of factors that go into film making and it isn’t always about how you the actor felt in any one moment! Trust the director and the crew know what they’re doing and enjoy that finished project when it arrives.
It is difficult, it is definitely a hard job to do and you do have to keep working at it, you do have to keep practicing things you have to allow yourself to make mistakes.
Folks, acting ain’t easy. The life of an actor can be an extremely tough one. Everyone here at StageMilk has had moments of living on the smell of an oily rag, desperately poor, tired and exhausted – but Kate is absolutely right the only way to get better and to get through those tough times, is to keep working at it! If you want to keep working and practicing in a safe space that allows you to make mistakes and learn from them, check out our online scene club.
Try not to look in the mirror too much, you rehearse a scene in front of the mirror and you like the way you have said something or done something, and you will keep picturing yourself doing it the way you liked rather than being present in the moment! No mirrors, not good!
Practicing in front of a mirror is always tempting, then you can finally see what you are doing with your face and body during the scene, however Kate is spot on – this can lead you into rehearsing in choices that will feel very planned, plotted out as the scene progresses. As opposed to giving yourself space to react naturally to the stimulus the other actor provides.
You have to keep at it, if it’s the thing you really want to do with your life you just have to keep going and keep yourself busy! Don’t wait for the phone to ring! Fill your life in other areas – the more you enrich your life, the more you will enrich your life as an actor and as a person.
Persistence is absolutely key, the day you give up is the day you’ve given up. A teacher of mine once said, always have five projects on the go, that are giving you focus and direction and adding to your acting life. Larry Moss says you should be doing 2 hours of creative work every day, be that writing, acting or reading. Both of those ideas feed into Winslet’s here, keep yourself occupied, fill your life with enriching activities! Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring!
There you have it folks, some great pieces of wisdom from one of the best actors we have ever seen. Kate Winslet is an absolute legend and her advice here was really useful for me! Hopefully you found a few nuggets of gold in there too and if you’d like to check out the full interview you can see it below!