In this episode Leigh visits with renowned acting coach Terry Knickerbocker. Terry is a graduate of the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU, where he is still a member of the core faculty. He trained as an actor and a teacher with William Esper, and in 2015 he founded the Terry Knickerbocker Studio, a two-year Meisner conservatory in Brooklyn. Terry has coached actors including Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina, Boyd Holbrook, Natasha Lyonne, Leslie Bibb, Emmy Rossum, and many others on hundreds of films, television and theater projects. He also has consulted with playwrights and screenwriters on their scripts.

Terry kicks off the episode with one of the best summaries of Meisner training you’ll find anywhere. He explains the importance of getting comfortable with the basics of acting technique – much like a pianist would first master scales before tackling a Beethoven concerto. He then dives into the importance of imagination, or “what could be.” Terry and Leigh then discuss how actors can think outside the box when it comes to bringing their own ideas into characters, and how Sam Rockwell worked some of his ideas into recent roles.

Terry also talks about how even if you don’t win a role today, if you leave a good enough impression with the casting director you’re setting yourself up for future success. Terry gives his thoughts on interesting actors versus uninteresting actors, and how the former are similar to children in how free they are and the ways they love storytelling, play, and imagination.

Other key topics in the conversation include preparation for auditions and roles, actor bad habits, laziness, and how critical it is for actors to take care of their instruments, AKA their bodies, voices, and minds.

Quotable Moments

“At the end of the day, nobody cares where you trained or what method you trained. All the great acting methods lead to the same thing: really good acting.”

“A self-conscious actor is not a free actor.”

“As an actor, you’re only as good as your ideas.”

“The worst thing an actor can do is look at a scene and think, ‘Okay, I get what this scene’s about,’ and then do that. What’s your contribution?”

“You often as an actor have to turn shit into gold.”

“You will excite the casting director when you do something that is valid, but not necessarily what the other 40 people before you were doing.”

“Nothing you make is precious.”

“You’re not really auditioning for the part, you’re auditioning for the next part.”

“There are at least 15 people on that show [The Sopranos] who you haven’t heard from since, because they didn’t invest in themselves as actors.”

“If you do really good work, the career will take care of itself.”

“Sometimes people come in and they’re red hot, and you see it right away, and sometimes people need to grow and find themselves in the work.”

“If you are a good actor but you don’t know who you are, or you don’t know how your voice works, or you don’t know how your spine works, I think you’re limited.”

“Actors are weird, but the best actors are reliable and take care of their instrument.”

“You definitely need to be in therapy, because unless you had perfect parents, you’re fucked.”

“If you don’t understand every nook and cranny of your body, your voice, your psyche, you can’t act it. Your study has to be mankind.”

“Everyone in an audition room is dying for someone to come in and do it great. They’re rooting for you.”

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