I haven’t written in a while, but on this Thursday for Susan Batson Studio’s Industry Night, I met Joe Thompson, a commercial agent with Abrams Artists Agency. A revelation occurred for me — he was looking for likeability. Likeability in the 8 x 10 photo, likeability in the “hello,” likeability in the monologue, and likeability in the one-on-one exchange after the work. It occurred to me that likeability was never something that I sought. Talent is always the only thing I regard. For me, talent has intelligence, sexuality, generosity, and endless creativity. Is Sean Penn likeable? To talk about Sean Penn in terms of likeableness seems a bit perverse, because Sean Penn evokes superlatives like great and arresting. Likeable, absolutely not for Sean Penn. But, that was what Joe Thompson of Abrams was looking for from the actors at the Susan Batson Studio Industry Night – truly not something taught at the studio. Yes, if the character you are playing is likeable, then you must be likeable. It is NEVER taught to find the character’s likeability. The work at our studio struggles to explore the need, the public persona, the tragic flaw… in other words the humanity of the character. But, when Joe kept expressing the need for likeability – I tried to make peace with what he felt was needed to get a commercial agent and/or to get a commercial. And I started to add up some of the other things he was stressing along with the likeability such as:
- Make sure that your hair does not hide even a small fraction of your face.
- When in a close-up, be aware of your frame – be alive – but still. Keep your focus on to whom you are talking to.
- NEVER allow your gestures to cover your face.
- You must be connected but emotions should not dictate your work.
It was a relief to hear him speak about the actor being connected and him needing to connect to the actor and his work. So, likeability didn’t exclude the actor who connected; in fact, Joe would offer tissues and sympathy to those who went deep. For me, this was comforting but a bit frustrating – what exactly did this guy want? He wanted connection but he wanted this damn likeability?!
If the artist thinks about likeability then the artist is people pleasing… right? But, I kept on thinking that somewhere in the recesses of my artist’s soul that there was something to this likeability-thing. Is that what Pop means? Is that finally what Star Quality is? No! Star Quality is the radiance that shines from a talent with a huge generosity of spirit, boldness, intelligence, sexuality, charisma and creativity. I’m not talking about a Paris Hilton type celebrity – I’m talking about a Daniel Day Lewis and after seeing Oprah in The Butler, I’m talking about Oprah (not because I worked with her but because she IS Star Quality). I don’t know if Daniel Day Lewis is likeable and for sure I wouldn’t use that term for Oprah – I find them both formidable.
Actors, what do we do about this likeability – conundrum? I was acting in a film of my son’s, the great director, Carl Ford – the character was clearly insane, rageful and lost – his only direction was for me to smile at a specific point. When I saw the film that smile saved my performance. It didn’t make the character likeable, but it definitely humanized her. So after all of this torture, does it come down to Michael Jackson’s favorite song “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin. Now take a moment to consider Chaplin and Jackson – would you term them likeable? No! Perhaps each geniuses in their own right. One loved, and one wrote lyrics such as: “Smile though your heart is aching… You’ll find that life is still worthwhile – if you just smile.”
So I have concluded that every actor must find their inner joy of acting and the inner joy of their characters. Again, using Daniel Day Lewis – – didn’t he love telling President Abraham Lincoln’s anecdotal stories? Even though every other character abhorred them, President Lincoln/Daniel Day Lewis chuckled with a big smile and kept on telling his stories.
Likeability is a result, but joy is a truth that can shine if you allow yourself to be touched by it.
Always in the Art,