Website 5th Anniversary feature: On Acting & Teaching...

April 3, 2009
A MichaelTyloOnline Exclusive

Do you use some specific acting technique or method?

I use Ivana Chubbuck, The Power of the Actor. Besides working with me she works with Charlese Theron, Halle Berry and all those people. It’s a terrific technique.

If you compare acting on stage and acting in front of a camera, what are the main differences from an actor's point of view? Do you prefer one over the other?

when working in front of a live audience, there is an instant communication and you know whether or not they are caught up with your performance. It really is a lot fun and I enjoy it a great deal.

I also enjoy acting in front of the camera because you do what you do in a play, except that you only have one hour to prepare for it once the set up has been made. It goes more on your instinct, you’re more on your first impression. It's very exciting, it’s like a tennis match. I like them both for different reasons. I just like acting, period.

Memorable plays you've been in? What made them memorable?

I played Iago in 'Othello'. I love that play, I love doing Shakespeare. Also ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. I played Algernon in it. I love not only doing these plays, but directing them as well. It's a living art, and every time you go back to it, you get something new out of it. So for me it's very gratifying.

You just finished doing 'The Cradle Will Rock'. How was that? Have you done musicals before?

It was exciting because I hadn't done a musical in 25 years. I had to sing and I didn’t know if I could still do it. It was an incredible experience. The play was directed by Robert Benedetti who is a two-time Emmy-winner for movies that he made, like Miss Evers' Boys. He also was the former head of the Yale acting program. It was exciting to work with someone I had admired and studied over the years. We had a great retort. The cast that I worked with was top drawer and he [Benedetti] said it was the best production of that particular play he's ever done. It was a lot of fun.

The last musical I did before that was '1776' and I played John Dickinson, the only guy who didn't sign the declaration of independence.

(I didn’t know you could sing) I didn’t know I could sing either. I have a kind of a Rex Harrison approach to it, speak singing, but if I have to carry a melody, I can. I worked with a wonderful music director and we were able to get it. Sometimes I do go to places that have karaoke, and I sing 60s songs. I'm a big fan of the Big Bopper, so we'll sing things like Chantilly Lace.

Why do you like teaching?

I think teaching is a tradition of giving back and giving students things that I have learned professionally that they can't get out of a book. I want to inspire them to become more passionate about the field they've chosen. And I always take delight in the fact that some of the students I have taught have gone on to have Broadway and film careers. It's exciting to know that I contributed to that success.

What topics do you most enjoy teaching about?

Of course acting and directing. I also like teaching theatre history. Most importantly, addressing the question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art. I'm more of a concept teacher as opposed to facts and figures. Facts are important, but if you don’t understand the history of what brought you to where you are today, you have a less of a chance of succeeding.

How did you get into teaching?

When I was married we moved here [Las Vegas]. I didn't have an acting job or anything that particular time and I was more of a Mr. Mom, so I just called up, came down, talked to the head of film [at UNLV]. He didn't have anything, but after 45 minutes of conversation he decided to give me one class. One class led to two and that led to three and now I have a fulltime teaching position in both theatre and film. So I kind of earned my spurs.

(You taught some classes in Pennsylvania once, right?) Yeah, I set up the TV and film component of performance there, helped putting together the program. Helping raise money, helping design the studio. Then recruiting the class, and I have to say that the first class of 15 students that I recruited, all but one of them are working in the business as we speak.

What have you learned while working as a professor?

Patience. Patience to get these kids to tell us what they think. Their opinions are just as important because acting, directing, that sort of thing, is based on the individual's own truth and what they can bring to it, their own life. I always use the example, if you get Monet, Manet and Renoir and you say, ‘ok boys, sit down and paint that tree’. You're going to get three different impressions of that tree. Now the tree is the truth, the tree is the script. They're all different, but does it mean all of them are wrong? No, because they believe in it. And that's what you have to do with students. You have say, ‘ok this is Hamlet, this is what you’re doing, bring your truth to it’. That’s why we look at films and we go, ‘oh that’s Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet or that’s Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, when you can get them to bring their truth to the role, you've succeeded.

Are you planning to stay in Vegas and continue teaching at UNLV?

I'm always looking for other positions. I love the east coast, but it all has to do with what they have to offer me. And also how it will affect visiting my children. That’s always a consideration.