Chuck Palahniuk said it best in his novel Fight Club with: “We are a generation of men raised by women.”
Truer words were never spoke. Call it a generalization, but if Marlon Brando met 85% of the male actors I work with born after 1980 he’d punch them all in the face.
It’s an inherently difficult concept, balancing the sensitive nature of our emotional process and the utter necessity of representing a strong, masculine presence on camera and on stage. The Male Actor is asked to both “feel deeply” and “rise above”, but more than that, he’s asked to visually represent what our society deems a “Modern Man” to look like.
I find, by and large, young male actors of my generation (born after 1980) can be classified into two separate archetypes:
1) The “Nice Guy”
2) The “Bucket of Douche”
The “Nice Guy” is the poet. He feels deeply, he lives near tears, he observes humanity, dissects it’s tragedies and triumphs and by and large separates himself from it. He watches the folly of other actors around him as they fall, again and again for the “Bucket of Douche” archetype. He’s a shoulder to cry on, he’s a kind word in a hale-storm of self image issues, he listens, he writes you into projects and he will never, ever rise above enough to legitimately, directly tell you how he feels or ask you for what he wants. He’s incapable of taking ownership of his work and life because he apologizes for his existence (whether he realizes it or not) with every single breath he takes and in every second he spends on camera or on stage. The “Nice Guy” doesn’t happen to life, life happens to him.
The “Bucket of Douche” is hair gel. He’s loud, he’s crass and he’s arrogant. His arrogance is not a by-product of ability, or belief that he’s capable of anything. Quite the contrary, his arrogance is the direct result of his deepest insecurity, the very insecurity that almost 100% of actors share; the sneaking suspicion that, perhaps, everything we’re doing is bullshit. He’s loud, overly physical and exactly as transparent as his counterpoint, the “Nice Guy”. The “Bucket of Douche” will step on you to get ahead, but he’ll also forget that grudges are made easily and can be carried a long way.
Here’s the thing though: They are both exactly as weak as the other.
The finest male actors I know can be described as a third archetype:
The word “Gentleman” has become a relic, a ghost of another time. A time when men wore suits, drank Manhattan’s, smoked cigarettes and stood up when a lady left the table. The definition of “Gentleman” is: A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man.
The word I want to focus on most here is “Honorable”.
The key to being a man and representing it in your work as an actor is what I call Realization of Consequence. It’s having the foresight to look at the decisions you’re making, understanding fully the consequences your actions may have and making the choice anyway because it is the right choice for you. If you can look at your life, your career and your level of ownership over material through those eyes, you will walk into every audition, rehearsal and performance with the confidence, respect, daring and class that will make you the envy of every actor around you. But most importantly, it will make you elastic, it will make you a sponge. It allows you to own your choices and your presence while accepting other people’s artistic ideas and opinions from a position of respect and collaboration without compromising the key truths in yourself that were the birthplace of your choices to begin with.
So, here is what I’m calling The Male Actor’s Kit Bag: Essential items and character traits for the working Male Actor.
1) A tailored black and gray suit. 2 buttons please, the 90’s are gone, please let them be. Never underestimate what the feel of a well tailored jacket will do for your posture and presence. A good jacket changes you, makes you more. Think of a suit as a suit of armor. If you’re auditioning with one, you’re going into battle, and trust me, you don’t want to go into battle wearing chainmail you picked up at Value Village.
2) 3 tailored button down shirts. We should be able to see your physique. You’re not a fat accountant, don’t dress like one to auditions. Easy on patterns please, but don’t be afraid of colors that go beyond the “Vaguely Light And Inoffensive Blue” every actor seems to be so fond of.
3) A well fitting tee shirt in the following colors: Black, white, gray, blue and another soft color of your choice. Again, we should be able to see your physique.
4) A strong and lean physique. Your body is your resume. You’re not required to be a steroid jockey, but it is expected that you keep yourself lean and defined. You should never find yourself in the position where if you have to take off your shirt for a role you’d be self conscious about it. GENERAL RULE: If you’re spending more money per month on alcohol and eating shit restaurant food than you are on body maintenance and exercise, you’re fucking up. For further information on this please contact Colin Campbell at the following link: http://myodesign.com/
5) A pair of well fitting, boot cut dark denim jeans. Don’t buy these from Wall Mart, they will be your best friend, you wouldn’t pick up a best friend from a low grade crack den.
6) A decent pair of dress shoes, boots and sneakers. Keep the flash to the minimum, but choose something that reflects your personality.
7) A gray tie and a black tie. Keep the patterns to a minimum.
8) A vest, not a sweater vest, but a proper, button up vest. This will be your best friend when auditioning for anything set Pre-1960.
9) A cologne your 12 year old self wouldn’t buy. When you smell like a man, you feel like a man. I recommend Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford.
10) A well fitting and broken in leather jacket. This will serve you to no end.
Gentlemen. Take ownership of your masculinity. Hold doors, pull out chairs, speak with respect and dignity, approach your life and work with a clear head and with a keen eye for the outcome of your actions. Figure out what masculinity is to you, every Male Actor will bring something different and unique into how he holds himself. Bring that level of ownership into your homework, then look at the actual truth of the character and build their insecurities and flaws working from that blueprint.
BOTTOM LINE: No writer looks at a male character in a project they’re working on and says to themselves, “How can I make this man as much of an unlikable, weak and whiny little twit as possible?” Even if a character is weak, he’s aware of it, and in turn he’s aware of what he wishes he were but isn’t. Male characters are flawed, but they are men. So are you. Stop apologizing for it.
Up Next: Taking ownership of The Feminine. Stay tuned and thanks for the read.