While casting Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex’, The BGB Studio’s Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun discussed vulnerability, sexuality, and the indispensable part each plays in achieving your best work.
BGB: Vulnerability seems to manifest itself differently depending upon whom you ask. What does it mean to you?
Steve: “To me, vulnerability means allowing yourself to be fully affected by the people and circumstances within a scene. It’s leaving yourself alone, allowing yourself to discover how you feel, and then expressing that within the context of what you want.”
Risa: “What’s interesting about the work, both in the classroom, the audition room, and once you’ve gotten a job, is that when you really are emotionally connected to what is happening in you – triggered by the circumstances, the scene, the other characters, your point of view – it’s so powerful. You create an openness, and an allowingness in other people. The audience doesn’t usually understand what’s really happening – they can’t analyze it and say, I see vulnerability, but they feel it, they’re moved, and it makes all the difference.”
Why is it so hard for actors to embrace this side of themselves?
Risa: “It’s scary because actors are such sensitive creatures, and to allow that crucible to open is frightening. And then to walk into an audition room and to expose oneself in that way and risk being rejected is even more dangerous. But to be able to do that, to be able to take that risk, is hugely powerful, incredibly brave, and necessary!”
How does one make the strong choices that are necessary to build a performance yet still remain beholden to the power of the moment?
Steve: “It’s a three step process. You make really bold, personal choices, trust that those choices will resonate in you, and then allow yourself to be affected by what’s happening in the moment. Then it’s this beautiful, organic dance shared by the preparation and the moments. Back and forth.”
What if you’ve done your work ahead of time, but are then given little to no direction at an audition? In essence, you’re left out in the rain!
Risa: “Then you have your umbrella! Look, if you are available to be directed, great; collaboration is ideal! But if you come into an audition, or even onto a set, waiting or needing to be directed, then you’re giving up the only control you have, which is to make a strong choice that is specific and personal to you. Once you do that, you’re far more likely to be directed because you’re bringing so much to the table. There are so many actors who come in saying, I don’t know what to do! Tell me! Help me! Unfortunately, there’s no time for that. The casting director, even the director, cannot do your work for you. Nor can they be your teachers.”
Nudity is certainly something that can trigger vulnerability within us all, but how does an actor prevent it from doing the real work for them?
Steve: “I think that anything you do in front of the camera or on stage has to be done for a very specific reason. It’s not enough to just be emotionally vulnerable in the same way that it’s not enough just to take off your clothes. You have to want something in the scene, desperately, and taking off your clothes is a tool you’re using to get it.”
Risa: “If nudity has to do with the story you’re telling, if it has to do with your experience in the scene, then there is intention and storytelling behind it. That makes sense. But if it feels gratuitous or extemporaneous, then it becomes only about the nudity. That’s just sensationalism.”
What is it about the topic of sex that proves so squirm-inducing for most people, actors included?
Steve: “I think people are taught from a very young age that their anger, their sadness, and their sexuality are aspects of themselves that will probably bring about disconnection. Which is why people often fear those three elements of the human experience so much”
Risa: “We’re told: You should be pretty not sexual. Sexy not sensual. Very confusing for girls and boys who aim to be confident sexual beings as they grow up.”
Steve: “We live in a world where women in particular are told what their sexuality should be. There’s this template that is thrust upon them and that doesn’t allow for unique sexual expression. So just like with anger and sadness, you can play “at” them or you can ask yourself, where does sexuality live in me in this scene or moment?“
Risa: “And ‘Masters of Sex’ is about that, finding where your sexuality lives and how it’s evolved. And of course, identifying the difference between love and sex. All of this ties into vulnerability. How are you vulnerable in your sexuality, etc? How are you brave enough to explore that truthfully? We have women audition in masturbating scenes. That’s pretty darn exposed. But in the end, a truthful, vulnerable, personal journey wins, no matter what the scene dictates.”
Do you think that setting limits – for instance saying, I will not do this, or I draw the line at that –can be considered making a strong choice?
Risa: “When I hear that, I think, What are you protecting? You show up on the set of ‘Masters of Sex’, and you’re supposed to take your shirt off because you’re in bed and the scene is about a character who is giving herself permission to be sexual for the first time. But suddenly there’s a lawyer negotiating your nudity rider for this small role in what is clearly a sexually intimate scene. You’re missing the point.”
“At the same time you have to know that there are people there to protect you. In the case of ‘Masters of Sex’ that’s really important to the women who run the show – and to me personally – but it isn’t always the case.”
Steve: “Women are often taken advantage of in certain situations in the business and if they have insecurities or shame about their sexuality, they can get defensive about sexual expression on film.”
How do you prevent that?
Steve: “If you’re not willing to do it, don’t do it. But all the same, every actor should explore their sexuality for themselves and for their work. It’s important to have done the work so that every actor is clear on her or his boundaries beforehand.”
Risa: “Set boundaries for yourself. Know what your limits are and be respectful of your own decisions. But if you walk on set and suddenly get cold feet, it’s not fair to anybody, including yourself. Most importantly, know where all this lives in you, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and get used to being in the practice of bringing that forth, if it means opening up your heart, and where appropriate and comfortable, your bra.”
Any advice for actors about how to maintain the hyper awareness needed to excel at their job without becoming hyper self-conscious?
Steve: “It starts internally. You have to get yourself right on the inside. I’m an advocate of adding breathing, stretching, and meditation to a workout practice because I think that they each train the inside. If it’s all about the outside, you’re gonna end up obsessing at some point. Oh, his abs are better than mine! or, She’s got better arms than me! And that doesn’t serve the work. All that said, it is a visual medium and if you’re in a certain category, there are expectations in this town. It’s not right but that’s the way it is.”
Risa: “We just saw a number of women come in for a role where clearly, a lot of time, money, and energy was spent to look a certain way because the character was a specific kind of woman. But then they had to walk into the room, sometimes hobble in very high heels, and the work was either there or not. If it’s about the fur coat, or the pearls, or the shoes with the eight-inch heels, than something’s wrong. If that helps you feel a certain way, great! You want to feel good as an actor in your body and your heart. And some shows, ‘Masters of Sex’ included, require a feel for the time period. But the real work is not in the outfit or the hairdo.”
Steve: “And it’s important to note that if everyone was all about the visuals, runway models – or whatever the paradigm of beauty is – would be the only actors in town. And obviously, they’re not.”
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