Ask Alexandra – October 2008
First off, I’d like to congratulate you on your environmental awareness work. Thank you for giving this important cause a strong and peaceful voice.
My name is Benoit; I am french canadian. My daughter Claire is now 18 and has been involved in high school theater productions for a number of years. She has been wanting to become an actress ever since I can remember and her mother and I try to be as supportive as we can. Claire will begin a performing arts (acting) degree at York University in Toronto this September. Like you she is fluent in french. We are very proud of her.
I was wondering whether you’d have some pointers for her on how to prepare for auditions and whether you have an opinion on portfolios and what they should look like? Does work as a movie extra help a young carreer?
Your suggestions are greatly appreciated.Incidentally, my uncle and you share the same last name. He was born in Belgium.
J’espère que votre séjour à Vancouver a été des plus agréable. Au plaisir.
Thank you for writing! I am happy to give you what advice I can, although because I am not based in Canada, I cannot be as detailed as I would like.
I suggest that for auditions, she read some books on the matter. Go online to Samuel French Bookshops (www.SamuelFrench.com) and click on “Acting (technique and business)”. There are a lot of choices there! My friend and former acting teacher, Doug Warhit, has written several books on acting and auditioning (www.dougwarhit.com). I also recommend reading books on acting technique, as over the years of being an actor you will learn different techniques and use what works for you at different times. So the more you know about what techniques are out there, the better. I loved Bobby Lewis’ books, but I read them 20 years ago. David Mamet has one that I also enjoyed (totally different advice!), which is much more recent.
Acting teachers and casting directors come to Toronto to give workshops on a regular basis. Margie Haber is my favorite audition coach, and Larry Moss is an excellent scene study teacher. Google them and you can find out if they will be teaching in Canada.
Being on a set can only be helpful, so if Claire has an opportunity to be an background actor (aka “extra”), then she can do it once or twice for the experience. It helps learn a bit more about how filming works, but it is tough and often uncreative work, so I don’t advise her to do it too much. Being a stand-in for a lead actor is more educational.
A more effective way to be comfortable in front of the camera is to get a commercial agent and audition for commercials. It is often easier to break in that way that straight to theatrical agents.
A portfolio is for models. What an actor needs is an 8 x 10 headshot, or a couple of them that show different looks and attitudes. Don’t waste your money on lots of different looks, unless you are auditioning for commercials.
Claire is young, and she should start looking to work as an actor now, while she is in school. It might not be easy, but there is less competition among teenagers for roles than 20 somethings. She can wait until she graduates too, but it is certainly worth it to give it a stab now.
Never pay an agency anything above commission on a job you got while represented by them.
I hope this helps.
I would love an update on how Claire is doing!
Hello Alexandra…. Just a quick question for you…. I was wondering what type of exercise do you do? You look great !! Someone mention to me , that you do yoga is that true??
I have had a weak lower back since I was 18, and yoga keeps me painfree if I practice on a regular basis. I choose Hatha Yoga, and now I do it at home by myself 2-3 times a week, for an hour at a time. It is a terrific workout that strengthens your body and makes you more flexible. Some classes will have you sweating buckets from exertion! I recommend it for pretty much everyone.
I also do one hour of cardio every day, either swimming, riding the stationary bike or doing the stairstepper. Then I lift light weights about 4-5 times a week.
So there you have it, my workout that keeps me happy and healthy!
Thank you for writing.
I love, love, love all your Lifetime movies and hope to see you do more! My question is simple: what inspired you to care about protecting the environment?
Growing up in the country, where we had horses, hens, cats, dogs and a cow or two was a big inspiration for me. We didn’t watch tv, so what we did for fun was read books or play outside. West Cornwall, Connecticut (pop 1200) was really beautiful and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live in a city. I live in a city (Los Angeles) now, but I developed my appreciation for natural, unspoiled landscapes from growing up in West Cornwall.
My mom was also an inspiration for me. She cared for our animals meticulously. My dad was an animal lover, but my mom had a respect for animals that instilled in me an ethic that all creatures deserve to be treated well, that they don’t exist just to make humans happy. Because she grew up in England during World War II, she would not waste anything. She recycled before it was cool, and we had to turn off lights when we left a room. If we were cold, she didn’t turn up the heat, she told us to put a sweater on. It was not so much for the environment – more because she was raised having to conserve what she had – but I interpreted it that way anyway. Mom didn’t buy certain tuna because of the dolphin by catch, and she refused to buy iceberg lettuce because of the chemicals used on them that hurt farmworkers. My mom also boycotted companies she thought were doing unethical things, and that taught me the Power of One to make a difference.
The 1970s were an awakening of environmental awareness. The Endangered Species Act was signed; people were aware of toxic chemicals through Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring; Lois Gibbs stirred the pot with government officials over Love Canal; Save the Whales bumper stickers were everywhere; there were commercials on tv urging people not to litter. I was lucky to be 7 years 7-17 years old during that decade, a very formative time for a person. A time when our values and priorities and passions are decided. So for me it was the environment.
And so it remains today. Because although I believe we have made progress, the rapidly increasing human population has made every ecological issue worse. There are more endangered species, more toxic chemicals, fewer whales, and more waste to dispose of than 30 years ago.
I expect to be busy until I die, working on these issues.