Thoughts from a Master: Jonathan Prince on the Business

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Jonathan Prince—co-creator and Executive Producer of The Cleaner, actor, writer, and dedicated father—speak at The Actors’ Network. It was one of the better talks I have seen. Ever. If you ever get a chance to see Jonathan speak, run don’t walk (insert bad “break a leg” joke here) to do so.

Fortunately, Jonathan talked about a lot, but I have tried (not very successfully) to boil it down to the most important advice he proffered.

Be a good person. #1 take-away here. Jonathan more than demonstrated this. From the way he so respectfully talked about his ex-wife to the clear love he has for his son to his dedication to being a father to taking a significant amount of extra time to answer our questions, Jonathan exuded a remarkable sense of humility, care and respect for others, and desire to help. I guarantee you these qualities have as much to do with his success as anything.

Love what you do. Jonathan clearly loves what he does. This business is too hard and too cutthroat to be having a bad time. Be passionate. Love your life. It’s contagious.

Be excellent. Ask yourself seriously, do you strive for excellence? You should. Surround yourself with excellence. Look for it, you’ll know it when you see it. Emulate that. Bring excellence into your life. Yearn for it. If you do this you will die at peace with yourself.

Be likable (combine those first three). Do you know anyone who is a good person, loving what they’re doing, while striving for excellence who isn’t likable. If so, I’d like to meet them because I’m super curious. Remember, people are just people. They hire those who they want to be around. As Jonathan put it:

“Be the kind of person who people want to chill with around the craft services table.”

Whether it’s at the audition or on set, being someone others enjoy spending time with is tremendously important, and will be a deciding factor in your getting more work. Jobs beget jobs…if people like being around you.

Be patient. Be tenacious. Jonathan boiled my post from the other week down to 4 words (though he didn’t mention marshmallows): Be patient. Be Tenacious. As I’ve mentioned here before, it takes a long time to make it in this business, so you must remain patient. People who expect fame and fortune in a matter of months or even a couple years are setting themselves up for failure. It could take twenty years. You have to be ok with that.

However, if you are too patient you risk becoming complacent. Tenacity is the best counter to this. You must be vigilant about your career. Don’t take no for an answer. Work harder than the next guy. Kill it. And while you’re doing that…

Be Audacious. Ask for what you want. What’s the worst that could happen? Be respectful and gracious when doing so, but gifts are given to those who ask. Call that director you admire so much and invite them to coffee. Send a letter to the actor you’ve always wanted to work with. Write and perform your own show. Whatever!

The added benefit to being audacious is that it demands a certain confidence. Even if you are not feeling fully confident, when you do audacious things you appear—and more importantly become—confident. In this business confidence is everything. And while you’re being audacious…

Find the people. There are 8 doors (read: people who are key to your success) open to you now. 3 you can name off the top of your head. 2 you will think of in the next couple days. And 3 you have access to (think facebook, twitter, whatever) but need to figure out.

Hunt these people down. Make the ask. Be as polite and tactful as possible, but be willing to cross boundaries. People are just people.

What are you doing when you’re not acting? This is an incredibly important question. Jonathan talked about this a lot, and for good reason. You have to find something outside of the business. You must find a way to be creative. If you do not you will wreak of desperation. You will note be confident.

What feeds your soul? Seriously, think about it. Now imagine walking into an audition having just done that thing/talked to that person/whatever. How confident and alive are you compared if you just came from the dry cleaners? Now go find those things. Put them in your life. Invigorate yourself.

Have a point of view. Be articulate. People want to be around interesting people. What makes you interesting? A point of view. A take on the world. A unique lens of viewing things. How do you get this? Live. Read. Talk to people. Give a shit. My Dad says that “a take” is the key to comedy. I think it’s also the key to being someone people remember.

Realize that you are solving their problem. Not feeling confident? Remember that the casting directors have a problem. The don’t know who is going to play Suzy Q Waitress. YOU ARE THEIR SOLUTION! You are doing them a favor. Be polite and gracious, but remember that you are a solution to someone else’s problem. Not a menace. Not a hassle. Not an annoyance. A solution.

Have people in your life who “get it.” I have previously quoted this from The Simpsons “showbusiness is a hideous bitch goddess.” You need people in your life who understand this. Who really get you and what you do. Moreover, if your significant other doesn’t understand, you’re in trouble.

“You don’t get bonus points for the struggle.” This is such an eloquent phrase I’m not sure I need expand more. It takes time to build an empire, and you have to be willing to struggle (particularly in terms of money). It’s like a poker game: how long can you stay at the table, especially when you get dealt crappy hands? Remember, though, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. No amount of misery is worth it. Which is why you must (vigilantly!):

Have fun! If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, it’s impossible to be successful. Life is too short to be miserable. Sure, we all have bad days (and if you find yourself down in the dumps Jonathan recommends Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Rilke, which he said will change your life) but the vast majority of your time you should be having fun. Jonathan also said that the best piece of advice he ever received is to remember that even if (when!) you’re the star of a TV show, “you’re only 7 1/2 minutes in between orange juice commercials.”

Artists are blessed with the opportunity to find and create transcendent “moments of grace.” You know what I’m talking about, those moments every so often when a performance is perfect…even for an instant. When an audience is brought to tears. A fellow performer is awestruck. I call these moments “ephemeral nirvana.” Seek them with a vengeance…and bask in their glory when they happen. Actors alone get to partake in these events. Directors don’t. Writer’s don’t. Casting directors don’t. They can only watch us as they happen. Remember that. You are blessed. These moments are what it’s all about.

Don’t take life—or this business—too seriously. Be gentle with yourself. Enjoy the ride.

Audition Tips

Beyond the advice and wisdom on the business on a grander scale, Jonathan gave some auditions tips. Remember, he is the person who gets to say yes. He’s been in “the room” a bazillion times (actual number). His advice is golden.

Be excellent. Be memorable. If you accomplish these two things, you win. They (CDs, producers, whomever) will love you. This is HUGE. Use the 30 seconds at the beginning or end of your audition to make a connection and be memorable. Give them a reason to want to hang out with you at the craft services table.

Props. Be interesting. Have a character. Give that character behavior. Perhaps use props (nothing crazy there Hondo, but maybe glasses, a water bottle, a cell phone, even a pack of cigarettes…normal stuff people always have with them) to give your character…well, character. Maybe they’re texting someone right before the dialogue starts. Maybe they clean their classes when they’re nervous. Whatever. (Just don’t light the cigarette.)

It’s a date. Auditioning is just like dating. Your first audition is your first date. Be your first date self. Remember, you want them to desperately desire a second date. Be charming. Don’t be crazy. When you walk out of the room if they think “Hey, she’s a real person, she’s cool” you win.

Be appropriate. Remember, it’s a date. Use your noggin’. Don’t talk about your bunions or awkward bowel movements.

Be sincere. Ask “how are you?” and mean it. It’s a date doofus. Have good manners. Oh, and be nice to the reader. They can make or break your audition.

Get the molecules moving. Move around. They’re tired of sitting in a cramped room. They’re hungry and thinking about the delicious tacos they’re going to have for lunch. They’re bored. Imagine watching 3 minutes of your favorite TV show…47 times. It gets old.

Stand up. Walk around. Bring energy. Get the molecules moving.

Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.