We were delighted to welcome Rose Byrne to atyp recently, to lead a workshop for young actors on screen techniques. One of Australia’s leading acting talents, starring in recent blockbusters Bridesmaids and X-Men: First Class, Rose’s acting career started out at atyp and so it was great to welcome her back to our boards. Fresh Ink 2011 writer Carolyn Burns went along to the workshop, and you can read her report below.
The young actors gathered in the lobby of the ATYP on Saturday afternoon seemed a little bit nervous. One asked another, “Do you think I should ask her for a photo before we start? I mean, what if she leaves before I get the chance to ask her?” The other had similar concerns: “Do you think she might sign something for me? I brought a pen.”
The actors’ anxiety could be forgiven; Rose Byrne has played her share of intimidating film and television characters recently, from her starring role as sharp litigator Ellen Parsons alongside Glen Close in Damages, to Helen, the icy rival of Kristen Wiig’s Annie, in recent blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids. Within minutes of the class in Studio 1, however, the actors were at ease; Byrne chatted with participants, played along with the name game and even admitted, “I’ve never taught a class before.”
Rose Byrne started at the ATYP when she was eight-years-old, and was cast in her first feature film at fourteen by a casting director attending one of her ATYP workshop performances. After picking up several film and television roles in Sydney as a teenager, Byrne continued her training at David Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company. Since landing her first major role in a Hollywood film, in Troy (alongside an impressive cast including Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brendan Gleeson and Peter O’Toole), Byrne has racked up an impressive list of independent and mainstream movie and television credits.
The sixteen participants of Saturday’s master class ranged from their mid-teens to early twenties, and the session, facilitated by ATYP tutor Kathy Burns, focused on auditioning for screen roles. The afternoon began with a range of exercises focused on breathing, vocal range and facial muscle isolation. Once the actors had warmed up, they were briefed on a number of important technical skills for acting on stage – starting with walking into frame and hitting a mark.
After everyone was able to hit a mark without looking down at the ground (something which is harder than it looks), the actors were separated into small groups to prepare scenes for individual auditions, selected from episodes of Buffy, Gossip Girl, That 70s Show, Friends, Merlin, Heroes and The Bold and the Beautiful. Performing their lines to camera, the actors were offered individual advice from Byrne. She suggested that the actors always try to figure out who holds the power in each relationship, and to always try to find the humour in the scene, as comedy and drama often come from the same emotional space.
During the exercise Byrne offered the group several more general audition tips: try to use the adrenaline from nerves to add energy to the reading, learn to take direction quickly, and always keep it simple. If in doubt about what the audition requires by way of acting out written directions or selecting from possible eye lines, don’t hesitate to ask the person conducting the casting. In the rare cases that casting directors advise that they would like to see improvisation, Byrne recommends marking up the script with notes of any potentially relevant character features and motivations for action.
Agents always stress the importance of physical appearance in auditioning for roles, but Byrne emphasised that the actors shouldn’t worry about changing themselves, but rather that they should always try to put their best self forward, relating an occasion where she was asked to re-audition after making minor changes to her hairstyle (she got the job).
Byrne also took the opportunity to acknowledge the competitiveness of auditioning for screen roles, speaking candidly about the difficulties of life as a professional actor, from finding an agent to losing out on jobs. “The whole industry is rejection,” Byrne advised, and acknowledged that for young actors the hardest thing can be “getting used to ‘no’.” Considering these challenges, Byrne said she is “proud to be a working actor.”
In the light of these difficulties, Byrne suggested that actors reframe the auditioning experience as an opportunity, urging the class members to think of auditions as “one moment to do the best that you can.” “Go for everything you can,” she advises, “at the age you guys are at it’s good to just throw yourself in.”
While Byrne started out giving advice based on her experiences, the question and answer session quickly diverged into a more wide-ranging conversation: favourite television shows and actors were discussed (everyone loves Mad Men, with a sizable portion of the room nursing a crush on Don Draper), the participants shared their experiences with auditioning, and Byrne was amused when one shared a friend’s unusual confidence trick: she walks into every audition telling herself that her shit is made of gold.
To one of the actors about to leave school, she advised to audition for drama school and audition for all the jobs he can in the meantime: “Train as much as you can, work as much as you can,” but adds “try to have fun.”
Asked about her favourite actors, Byrne lists Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman and Sean Penn, alongside her favourite Australian actors, Toni Colette, Nicole Kidman and Judy Davis. When asked for specific performances young actors could learn from, Byrne suggests Carey Mulligan in An Education and Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson.
After the session Byrne stayed behind to pose for pictures with the group, patiently waiting for retakes and signing autographs.
At the end of the day the participants left the wharf with new technical skills, a great indication of what talent and persistence can achieve, and a photo with one of Australia’s most accomplished young actors.
You can also read an exclusive Fresh Ink interview with Rose on this blog next week.
Carolyn graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s in Literature and Modernity in 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a BA (Hons) from the University of Sydney, where she is a PhD candidate in the Department of English, conducting research into adaptation and twentieth-century lyric drama. Carolyn is one of our 7 Fresh Ink 2011 writers
During her time at the University of Sydney, Carolyn has been extensively involved in student publications, writing regularly for Honi Soit and The Bull. In 2010 she was an editor of Hermes, the University of Sydney Union’s annual literary anthology.
Carolyn’s play, Careers for Attractive Ladies, was selected for the 2010 Sydney Fringe Festival. She has recently developed and pitched a television comedy about a high school debating team, and is in the process of producing a pilot episode with the production collective she co-directs, The Spinster and the Whippet. Her new play, Mongrel, premiered at the 2011 Sydney Fringe Festival.