In case you haven't heard the news, one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history happened today. Qualifier Dustin Brown (ranked outside the Top 100) beat two-time Wimbledon Champion, Former World No. 1, and all-time tennis great, Rafael Nadal, in the Second Round of the Championships. Dustin's game plan (as I saw it) was to play boldly on every single shot, on every single point. There was very little difference between his first and second serves; he was serving and volleying; he was chipping and charging; and he was playing the drop shot seemingly at every opportunity. Did he miss a fair number of these low-percentage plays? Sure. Or get burned for trying? Yep. But did he let that change his style of play? No. He was going to win, or lose, playing his uber-aggressive brand of tennis.
This is how I suggest actors should approach their auditions: with a "nothing-to-lose" mentality. Play to your strengths, be yourself, and be bold in the choices you make, because your talent will always match up to some casting breakdowns better than others. Dustin Brown made an interesting remark during his post-match interview. He said (though I'm sure I'm paraphrasing a bit here), "there are 300 or 400 other guys out there who are better at the baseline than [him]," so he wasn't going to get into the business of trying to outlast them in a long rally or let them get into a rhythm. That's why grass is such a good surface for him (and, incidentally, not as good for Rafa - the King of Clay). Likewise, I imagine that, for any audition I go on, there may be 300 or 400 other actors out there who "fit" the role better than I do (at least - at first glance - in the minds of the casting personnel) so I'm not going to beat them at their own game. I'm going to try to win with mine. The point is, your tennis game may or may not match up well against your opponent, and you may or may not be what the casting directors originally had in mind for a particular role, so you might as well take your chances and believe that you at your best will either be enough or it won't. Because, like competing in tennis, or auditioning for that commercial, your "game" will either match up well...or it won't. Either way, you'll always have fewer regrets being you, going for it, and asserting your own personality, than trying to win on someone else's terms. And some days you'll lose, but some days you'll win the biggest match of your life (and maybe, like Dustin, even pick up 20,000 new Twitter followers within three hours of that win).
Today, Roger Federer notched his 1,000th career win and added another title (Brisbane) to his already impressive resume. At 33 years of age, to beat an in-form Milos Raonic (who just turned 24, is ranked World No. 8, and is known to have one of the biggest serves in the game), what keeps Roger going against this talented next generation of tennis players? In a word: love.
Roger is heralded for many things, but one of the most underrated - or perhaps least touted aspects of his game, is simply his love for it. In tennis, if you have a really powerful weapon (e.g., a huge serve, a crushing forehand, etc.), you want to build your game around that. Likewise, if you have an unstoppable love for the game (or even an aspect of it) you should build your game around that unshakeable foundation.
People often ask how to play their weaknesses in tennis with more confidence or how to give a good performance with a script or character they don't like. The trick is to find one aspect of that troubling stroke in tennis or something about the acting role that you can like, or maybe even love, and pour all your focus into that. Perhaps you can envision the easy power that comes from a well-timed one-handed backhand, or the vulnerability of an antagonist in a plot. This will develop your feelings for the play and give you the confidence to hit that shot, portray the villain with humanity, and believe in yourself under any circumstances whenever you can find something about that situation to love.
In tennis, acting, and life, love is all we need to give ourselves the chance to win the point, the hearts of an audience, and enjoy our time on this earth every moment.
For this Holiday edition of my blog, I've attached a picture of my better half (who, as any of our mixed doubles opponents can attest, is quite literally the better half when it comes to tennis).
The other day when I was on set for my latest film project, I found myself adjusting my acting based on how close or wide the frame was on me. Likewise, in tennis, I adjust my strokes based on where I am in relation to the net.
So, if you think about the net as the camera, some general rules that will make you "play" better are as follows:
When you're framed for a close-up in film or positioned for a volley in tennis, keep your movements small. If not, you risk moving out of focus in film and being late in tennis by swinging on your volleys.
By contrast, when you're framed for a wide shot in film or behind the baseline in tennis, it's best to go bigger with your movements. Otherwise, your actions will fall short. For example, you can take a fuller swing (backswing and follow-through) from the baseline in order to hit the ball harder and deeper.
Of course, the speed of the ball in tennis or the lens being used on the camera may require you to abbreviate your movements no matter what the distance is between you and the net or you and the camera.
I keep seeing parallels between acting and tennis. What are some that you've noticed? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!
6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7. This was the entire script for one of the most dramatic shows I've ever had the privilege of watching. I'm talking of course about today's French Open semifinal for the ages between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The five-set scoreline obviously shows a close match, but it is the points played, the multiple deuces, the exchange of breaks, the nervous double-faults, the miraculous winners, and the unwillingness to yield that made it a true spectacle. So too in acting, you can have a good script, but if you don't invest in the scene with playable actions to give life to those words, the show won't live up to its billing. Action drives a play and reveals character. So when you're auditioning or rehearsing for a role in theatre or playing for a place in tennis history, focus more on what you are actively doing rather than what you are saying or, in tennis, worrying about the score. And if you are successful in that, you can turn any scene or even the numbers on a tennis scoreboard into something as timeless as an oscar-winning screenplay, or as classic as a work of Shakespeare! Thanks Rafa/Nole for an unforgettable match!
So the buzz at the Australian Open today (and around the world on social media) is about the controversial win by WTA #1 Victoria Azarenka over American upstart Sloane Stephens. Here's what happened: at 4-5 (VA leading) in the second set, Vika took a questionable 10-minute injury time-out on Sloane's serve to get off the court, while Sloane sat in her player's chair and waited. When Azarenka came back, she eked out a win by breaking Sloane's serve on her 6th match point to book a spot in the finals. I'm not sure what was going on with Azarenka - she's still one of my favorite players - but that was a "veteran move" on her part. Sloane, on the other hand, will undoubtedly learn from this experience; and she would have been well advised to stay warm during Vika's 10-minute walkabout. But she didn't. And what can we as actors learn from this?
At auditions, or in between takes, or long periods off stage, we are that athlete just before serving to stay in a match, who may be "iced" intentionally or unintentionally by the opponent or situation. Sometimes it's a legitimate injury on the other side of the net, sometimes it's a casting director simply running behind schedule, and sometimes it's a tactic employed by your opponent to make you think and get nervous about the moment and/or cool you off when you have momentum. In any case, you can do yourself a favor by staying warm, staying loose, jogging in place, taking some practice swings, etc. during this time.
If you feel you are being "iced" before a big moment, use that time to warm up and/or stay warm. If you're an actor waiting in the hallway of some cramp Manhattan space to audition or have to wait 15 minutes for your next entrance in a show: go to the bathroom and do the Crazy Eights exercise. Get your energy up! Because you'll need that whether you're auditioning for that next big role, serving for a place in the finals of a major championship, or just jump starting your day.
Because the more you're on your feet for a performance, the more likely the audience will get on theirs!
When Andy Roddick announced yesterday that he was retiring from professional tennis after this year's U.S. Open, every person I watched commenting on this did so, seemingly, almost on the verge of tears. Whether they were sad about the announcement, surprised by the timing of it, or, as Roger Federer put it, noting it as an occasion to celebrate Roddick's storied career, the announcement triggered an emotional response. For me, it was all three.
I'm sad that I missed the press conference where Andy announced his pending retirement, and I'm sad that I won't get to see him take the stage tonight against Aussie Bernard Tomic in what will be his first (but hopefully not last) U.S. Open match since his announcement. But I take solace in knowing the bigger picture to all this - whether he wins or loses tonight's match: that his combination of talent, hard work, and raw honesty (on and off the court) will not go quietly into the night. And as a fan, a tennis player, an actor, an artist, and a human being, it's good to know that all you can ever hope for is indeed within your control.
I had previously posted about the three-act nature of magic in tennis (see my earlier DramaLawg entry entitled The Prestige). Earlier this year, Roger Federer bedazzled us with that magic by winning the Wimbledon Championships and regaining the World No. 1 ranking after two years without winning a slam, and tennis pundits everywhere writing him off as past his prime: a former king-of-the-hill with nowhere to go but down. He answered with majesty.
Later today, he will seek to spark our child-like imaginations once again in the finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he will face off against the talent who was largely responsible for supplanting his position at the top of the men's game over these past two years, Novak Djokovic.
Sadly, I won't be able to watch this match, so I want to offer a few pre-match thoughts which - you guessed it - I will try to relate to acting.
Tennis, like acting, depends so much on your game-day form. Some days your timing will be there; other days, not so much. I did a voice-over the other day for the main character in a film project that I am hugely excited about (which I'll plug later/elsewhere) but I learned something about myself and how people in general, I think, respond to the weight of expectations.
It's easy to lose your timing when you're trying too hard. Unforced errors in tennis are often caused by a player trying to go for too much or trying to cut the margins too thin when, for example, they respect their opponent too much. So too in acting, one can be tempted to over think, overcompensate for, and over act their lines if intimidated by the producers in the room or, in my case from the other night, the recording studio. If nerves are getting in your way because you're trying to summon absolute perfection from your routine, try allowing yourself to play at 90% and see if that allows you to relax enough, yet play with enough focus, to pull off that illusion called brilliance, and to achieve that magic trick where being loose makes your performance tight.
I recently posted a casting notice for a new short film project I wrote, and was amazed at the insane number of responses I got. So many, in fact, that it was logistically impossible for me to see even a small fraction of the people who submitted given my schedule. Of those who I did see, all of them were uniquely talented, well-trained, and tenacious -- much like any competitive tennis player you'll encounter across the net. I can't imagine what the response (and odds) would be if I were casting, say, Transformers 3. Point is, it's impossible to get the part you're auditioning for all the time (or even most of the time) no matter how good, or "right" for the role, you are. So, to state the (perhaps) obvious and confirm what we've all suspected about "making it" in this industry: it boils down to being in the right place at the right time. How does this relate to tennis?
You give yourself the best shot of winning each point by always being in the right place at the right time to strike a ball. In a word: footwork.
In tennis, most of the balls you're going to hit are going to be no more than a few feet on either side of you. So when you're moving to the ball, you want to take little steps so that you remain balanced; are measured for your stroke; and able to easily change directions for your next shot, if necessary. To actors, I suggest the same thing. Keep making little adjustments/taking little steps toward your goal(s). Think of each class, or audition, or student film as a little step toward finding that role in your wheelhouse.
Sometimes in acting, in tennis, and in life, you have to take giant steps just to have a chance. But those usually wind up being desperation shots. The consistent player adjusts, and grows, and maintains his balance through little steps. And when you get in the habit of doing that, you'll find that you'll increasingly be in the right place at the right time.
Tennis and acting, as with most things in life, can be broken down into two basic tasks: sending and receiving. Like life, because there are so many other things that you could focus on, it is sometimes deceptively hard (or easy) to focus on the task at hand. When you strike a ball, your focus is on nothing but the point of contact (until you've finished your follow-through). In other words, you are focused only on sending. Once you've sent the ball, you then focus on receiving: you split-step when your opponent contacts the ball. Likewise, in acting, when you deliver a line, you focus only on the specific intention behind the words you send; and when you're done: listen (and allow yourself to take whatever they give you). Indeed, you must always do both. Because if you stop sending or receiving, you'll lose connection with your scene partner and, in turn, the audience, and you'll lose connection with the ball. So next time you step onto the stage or a tennis court, focus on simply sending and receiving...and you'll relish the moment when you've got mail!
So says the oracle at Delphi, and my thought for the day. Whether you're an actor or a tennis player, you need to know what kind of player you are. Are you an ingenue or more of a character actor? Are you a serve/volleyer or a baseline grinder? As actors, we all want to think that we can play any role we want - or, as tennis players, that we have an all-court game. And that's fine to aspire to and train for - but at the end of the day, who you are (and what you're best at) is your strongest asset and will give you the best chance of getting cast or winning that match day in and day out. Rafael Nadal, in his press conference before this year's U.S. Open final, rolled his eyes as he joked that he would need to employ a serve/volley strategy to beat Novak Djokovic for the title. He knew that his game was not matching up well against Djokovic of late (having lost five straight championships to the man from Serbia) but the man from Mallorca also knew that playing his game, the way he knew how (and the way he knew he could), was the best chance he would have. As we know, Nadal wound up losing that match, but fast forward to today - when Nadal clinched for Spain a date with Argentina in the Davis Cup finals - and the world was reminded of the strength of Rafa's personal brand of tennis. So remember, for every hard court loss, and every time casting decides to go another direction, there will be other venues and projects and opportunities where your style and your skills and your type will be the best - whether that's a red-clay bullring tennis court, a film set with a boom-mic and close-ups on you, or a certain choice of career. Your best chance for success lies in those opportunities that match who you most naturally are. As an actor, would I love to play the military action hero in a big-budget motion picture? Sure; but notwithstanding my real-life U.S. Army background, I would never get cast for that. Instead, I've carved out a professional niche for myself by playing the soft, quirky romantic. Would I like to build my tennis game around an explosive 130 mph first-serve? Okay; but I don't have it. I have to try to counterpunch. Point is, both acting and tennis are numbers games; and you play the percentages when you play your own style (and brand) of acting and tennis. Because this above all: to thine own self be true and success will be sure to follow.