Thursday, 13 September 2012

Giving: Where Established Actors Share With Today’s Students

There are actors who are focused on nothing but their current work and their next gig. And there are actors who carry a strong identification with those who are following in their footsteps and are willing to mentor and educate students of acting, the stage and filmmaking. Fortunately, there are many who have achieved stardom who find there is no reason they cannot do both.

Who are the “givers” among actors of stage and screen? A place to start looking is the list of actors, directors, producers, casting directors and screenwriters who speak and sit on panels discussing films, the industry and careers at one of the 14 campuses of the New York Film Academy. Based in Manhattan but with classes taught in Los Angeles (at Universal Studios), Orlando (Disney Studios) and multiple locations in Europe, China, India and Australia, film school movies are discussed alongside blockbusters (many of which involved NYFA alumni, in front of and behind the camera).

For example, younger actors the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt met with a packed screen room of students in 2007. He discussed his own training as an actor (before and after his well-known turn on television’s “Third Rock from the Sun”), the pros and cons of studio films and filmmaking versus independent productions, how to choose scripts and the balance of making money and staying humble. Gordon-Levitt’s credits include Mysterious Skin, Brick, Stop-Loss, (500) Days of Summer, The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe.

Janeane Garofalo , comedic actress and sometimes-radio host, shared with NYFA students (in 2004) about her big break from a chance meeting with Ben Stiller at a deli, her start in standup comedy, her movies (The Truth About Cats & Dogs, The Cable Guy, Ratatouille, Reality Bites, Wet Hot American Summer, 200 Cigarettes, Clay Pigeons and Dogma) and her real first success, winning a competition sponsored by MTV while still in college.

Oscar-nominated (Frozen River) and 2011 Oscar winner (The Fighter) Melissa Leo discussed her films and career with students in 2011. Included was how she transitioned from her work in television to films while cast alongside Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in 21 Grams. Her other films include Treme and Lullaby.

Frankly telling students that a big start in one’s career can run into pitfalls, Sean Young (Blade Runner, No Way Out, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) gave a frank talk with NYFA students at the Universal Studios campus about her career mistakes and how they might be able to avoid some of the problems that plague the entertainment industry.

Speaking also at the Universal Studios campus (in 2010), Frank Azaria (The Birdcage, Grosse Point Blank, Tuesdays With Morrie) provided a view of acting for film, TV and being a voice for The Simpsons (characters Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum and others). His television credits include “Friends,” “Herman’s Head” and “Mad About You.”

In a world perceived as consumed with fame and money, it may not seem like a good use of time to meet with 50 or 100 or 250 students over the course of an hour or two. That perhaps is the biggest gift these known actors provide – a look at the real people who are willing to give with little expectation about receiving something in return.

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