Before I had my son, I had been told countless times that I would experience a shift in perspective that would impact my acting career. What my peers were referring to was a re-prioritization in my life that would make each casting session less precious. Instead of “Would you like to see it another way,” it would be “You good? Cuz I gotta bolt, my sitter is pissed.” If someone can help me get off-book at a Little League game, great. Otherwise it will likely happen in the restroom at CBS Radford 10 minutes before my appointment. No more time to “wait by the phone.” I can’t even FIND my phone.
But these things only have to do with the life of an actor/mom; they do not address the actual acting part or the work itself. When I took the time to examine how motherhood has influenced my actual work, my process, and my experiences on set or “in the room,” I came to an amazing conclusion: My child is a fantastic acting teacher.
For example, I will never forget one of my son’s earliest sentences, uttered while he was teetering on his bathroom stool, attempting to brush his teeth. “What’s the matter?” I asked him, when I saw an uncomfortable grimace sweep across his little face. He answered simply: “I’m mad, I’m jealous, and I’m angry.” Naturally I did not like that he was having those feelings, and my inclination was to want to do something about them. But what really struck me the most was this: he knew exactly how he was feeling. In that very moment. And he had no interest in sugar-coating it, suppressing it, or being remotely polite about it. Something had affected him and he expressed it then and there with complete and utter honesty.
In our daily lives, most of us are taught to AVOID our feelings, dodge our discomfort, and seek alternatives that will alleviate the inner or outer conflict that those feelings create. It is the breaking of those habits that makes up much of our journey as actors. After all, people don’t go to the movies or turn on their televisions to watch people be considerate and side-step potential struggles. An audience wants to have access to characters who are authentic, unpredictable, and penetrable as they navigate their lives. Our work as actors demands unfettered and genuine performances that have an impact.
However, when it comes to getting “back to the basics” and experiencing the nuts and bolts of being truly present and self-aware, I need look no further than the toddler, second-grader, or perhaps one-day teenager standing right in front of me with his uncompromising point of view. “I’m angry.” “I need you.” “I want this.” “I’m scared.” “I don’t like that.” “I’m frustrated.” “I love you.” “I’m happy.” Unfiltered. Unrestrained. Unapologetic.
At age three he may have expressed each of the above feelings over a period of 75 seconds. Now, at the age of eight, I might get three or four different emotions in a five-minute time-span, depending upon what impacts him in a given moment. He hasn’t learned to avoid and suppress what he feels, and right now it is a gift for us both. It can be high-drama, terror, farce, fantasy or adventure, but it is completely truthful. Because no higher stakes exist than those arising within him that very second. And if I dare to stand with him in those big feelings, I get to experience the impact they have on me. What a workout. Of course, it can be fucking exhausting. But being human often is. Motherhood: Acting 101.
Amy Stewart is a working actor and writer, part of our BGB Community, and of course, a Mom. Recently she starred in episodes of THE AFFAIR, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, and CODE BLACK. More on Amy.