I’m intrigued by two new how-to books for actors, one very serious and businesslike and the other upbeat and pretending to be jokey - but actually just as businesslike.
Published by Oberon Books, Dee Cannon’s In-Depth Acting offers a dynamic, hands-on approach to the Stanislavski technique. Senior acting tutor at RADA for 17 years, Cannon writes in a very straightforward, practical way sparing the reader the finer and more abstruse points of Stanislavski theory.
She begins by pointing out that children are uninhibited extroverts who experience every emotion. A skilled actor has to get back to that stage within him or herself. You need to know the character you are playing as well as you know yourself and Cannon’s 47-page section on character development — the heart and longest part of the book — tells you exactly how to set about achieving that.
Unusually for a method book of this type, she also offers useful advice about how to decide whether acting is really for you, what you can expect at drama school and how to prepare for auditions. This is, therefore, a useful book not only for young actors already in training but also for school students (and their parents) trying to make informed careers decisions. I hope it will go into secondary school libraries and be recommended by drama teachers and careers advisers. In his foreword Pierce Brosnan, who was taught at Drama Centre by Cannon’s mother Doreen Cannon, calls it “the gift of this great book.”
In a completely different mood — but in its way, just as useful — comes Andy Nyman’s The Golden Rules of Acting that Nobody Ever Tells You, to be published by Nick Hern Books on September 6. Presented in large print with jokey soundbites, occasional speech bubbles and stylised on-page annotation, it too covers drama school, auditions, agents, directors, dealing with reviews and various other aspects of living an actor’s life — with wit. “Remember the best part about drama school is that you get to spend all day acting. Cherish that, you may have to wait a long time until it happens again,” opines Nyman wisely.
I liked his well-made point that success in this business is a sprint, not a marathon. Samuel L Jackson was 46 when he made Pulp Fiction and Morgan Freeman 52 when he starred in Driving Miss Daisy. Nyman’s advice about having a decent website and keeping a record of everyone you meet with a note of when and where is sensible too.
It’s a little book and it’s fun. If you get only one useful nugget it will have paid for itself. I think it’s probably worth the cover price for the quotations alone. Threaded through the book are gems such as Michael Caine’s “I’m a skilled professional actor. Whether I have any talent or not is beside the point” and Mark Twain’s “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”