What does an acting coach do?
I get this question a lot: "What does an acting coach do? Do I need one?" The truth is, some actors do, and some don't. Some actors hire an acting coach right before their big audition, and some hire a coach to work with them on set after they book the job. I do both, so I'm going to give you the ins and outs of my job so that you really understand the crazy world of acting coaching.
It's 10pm on a Wednesday night, and you get an audition for Orange is the New Black with 15 pages of sides for the next morning. Cue panic. You can either go at it yourself (fingers crossed), or call a coach and give yourself the best possible chance of booking the job. Do you need coaching for that one line co-star audition? Probably not, as it's going to be more about type. But for a big on-camera audition with lots of dialogue, action, and emotions? It can really give you an edge. A good audition coach can really help you make strong choices, get over your nerves, and feel grounded and confident before the audition. A coach discusses every aspect of the audition with the actor, including clothing, hair, makeup, body language, memorization skills, and most importantly, gets the scene to a place where it feels like it's second nature. I never give line readings, and I never tell anyone where to gesture. I take the actor's natural choices and enhance and simplify. The best kind of coaching is when the actor seems "uncoached," raw, and real, and their natural talent is brought out beautifully and seamlessly in their audition sides. Some specialize in theatre, and some specialize in film and TV. They can help you work the scene many different ways, really understand the circumstances, visualize the surroundings, be specific about the relationships, and offer an honest perspective of what you are doing and how to make it better. Think of an audition coach like a trainer who pumps you up right before you go into the ring, or on the field, and gives you the tools and confidence to really knock it out of the park. I come from an acting background, so I really like to "act" the scene with my students and get it to that very realistic place, so the actor knows what it "feels" like to truly be immersed in it, even if the casting director is giving them nothing in the room. I also like to throw curveballs and give quick adjustments, much like a casting director would, and explore all the possible ways to do a scene, and help make an educated decision on which is the strongest and most appropriate choice for the character and tone of the show, while also incorporating the taste of the casting director. If I'm taping, I have full control over the performance, and can start rolling the camera before the actor gets in their head with the scene. I want the actor to be ready, to feel so at ease in their skin and with the script, that nothing will faze them when they walk into the audition (not even 20 producers in the room). I always tell actors that I am the one who helps sprinkle the magic dust on their audition and really helps to bring out their essence, which will make them stand out when dozens of actors are reading the same script. When an actor leaves an audition coaching, they should have an unshakeable confidence in their audition preparation, with no room for second guessing, but be open to adjustments in the room.
An on set acting coach works a bit differently, and can be very exciting, as you are working alongside directors, writers, producers, and show runners. This is what I have done for the last three seasons on "Blue Bloods," and most recently when I coached Aziz Ansari for his new Netflix show. An on set coach acts as a liaison between the director and the actor. An on-set acting helps the actor prep their lines, understand the scene, and make sure they are focusing on the acting when there are a million other things going on around you on a film set. Sometimes the coach is paid for by the studio, and sometimes the actors hires their own coach. Actors have so much to think about when they are working on set (hitting marks, continuity, points of focus, line changes, "last looks," camera moves, remembering their lines, their cues, listening to the director), that the acting is sometimes pushed to the side in favor or just "getting through" the scene. I've seen this with newer actors, and actors who have been on dozens of film sets. A good on-set coach makes sure the actor is hitting the right emotional notes in a scene, as often times the director doesn't have that time to spend with each actor, as they are focused on so many other things. If the director is doing a closeup of the actor, and isn't getting what he wants, he will sometimes ask me (the on set coach) to step in and help the actor. A good coach understands the actor's journey, and can get through to them quickly, as there is usually only one brief rehearsal before the actor suddenly has to perform their crying scene in a closeup with another actor they have never met before (but has to "seem" like they have been married to that person for 10 years!). A coach will prep them beforehand while the director is setting up shots. As with audition coaching, the best kind of on-set coaching is when the actor seems like they have never been coached before, and their natural talent is blending seamlessly with the writer's words in a convincing, interesting, realistic way. It's an exciting, demanding job, and when done right, can really elevate an actor's performance.
I love coaching actors in all aspects of their careers, and find that each actor is very different, and needs different things. I also know that everyone has a natural talent churning inside them, and it's up to me (the coach) to help push the roadblocks (both big and small) out of the way so that the talent can really shine through in their work and they can deliver their best, most original performance possible.