Learning from the Pros

Fun and freedom-that's what actor Eric Roberts said the theater gave him as a youngster.

"I was a little boy," Roberts told a group of about 15 drama students at Rim High on Tuesday, "with a terrible stutter." What he discovered is that if he memorized what he had to say, he could speak perfectly.

"I did my first play because I could talk if I memorized the words," Roberts said. "I loved theater because I could talk."

It's not often that high school students have the opportunity to get sage advice from pros in the field in which they are interested. But that's exactly what happened as the group of students sat spellbound as Eric and Eliza Roberts fielded their questions.

Eric had shared his personal battle with stuttering in answer to a question about adversities he had faced.

What it really comes down to, he told the students, is it's all about luck-"meeting the right people at the right time for the right part," he said. "You have to be positive about yourself and what you're doing. An actor's life is very precarious."

"The system we grew up in is gone," Eliza Roberts told the students. "It's easier now." With cameras so readily available, people are making films across the country.

"It's about marketing," Eliza said. "Make sure your friends see any films you make. You have to be willing to be proactive and do it yourself. Actors are not as dependent on the system now; they can be self sufficient."

Eric joked about receiving calls from someone in Iowa, asking if he's available to do a film "if we pay you what you want to be paid."

"A lot of people are making movies," he noted. "That doesn't mean they're good but they're trying."

The couple agreed that today a theatrical release is really just a commercial for future use of the film, DVD sales, for example.

When asked how they prepare for a part, Eliza said when she and her husband were coming up through the ranks and training, "there was a lot of talk about character. Then that became a bad word. Playing yourself became the thing."

She pointed to Meryl Streep as an actor who is different in every role, while young actors like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are never different.

"Acting is listening," Eliza told the students. "The place you were when you were little kids, that's where actors want to be. You have to find your way back to instinct."

The two did an exercise where one repeated what the other said before answering the question or commenting. "When you repeat what the other person said," Eliza noted, "the line will always sound real."

"It will keep you honest," Eric added.

They also urged the students to observe people. Rarely do people do just one thing at a time, Eliza said. She recommended running lines while folding laundry or doing some other activity around the house.

"The lines become secondary," she said. "It adds depth and takes care of your nerves."

What happens, Eliza said, is "the character finds you. You're not forcing it."

"You want to be able to get up and brush that character's teeth," Eric said.

Eliza, who is a casting director as well as an actor, also had some auditioning advice for the students. "If you want to be remembered in an audition, and it's an intense drama, find a place to insert some humor. Personalize it, make it more real."

Both she and Eric find it helpful to watch people and watch other performers. They will note the little tricks other actors use to hone their craft.

SHOWING YOUR EMOTIONS

When asked if he needs to put his emotions into what he is portraying, Eric's answer was "the only emotions I have are mine. You really have to feel it, not just show it," he said.

Eliza added that "your own emotions will flow if you listen. Just feel it."

As to how he motivates himself to get up every day and do his job, Eric said it's like going to the gym. That's not something he had done until he made Runaway Train in which he played a boxer.

"I started going to the gym, something I do 330 days a year now," he said. "It lets loose my endorphins so I can absorb everything. It clears my mind. Something else-like baking-might work for you.

"Do you think I want to go to the gym?" he asked. "There are 100 days when I don't want to but I do."

As a young actor, Eric said, he was very serious and had no life outside acting. "Then I met Eliza and found a life. The two overlap quite nicely."

Eliza told the students she wasn't surprised they are an acting class. "I can see you are comfortable in your bodies. You have to work at that comfort. Start to observe; look at people in other walks of life.

"Your generation," she told the students, "faces so many distractions. You are expected to be in so many places at once."

The final question was about dealing with parents who may not be accepting of their children wanting to be actors.

"Tell your parents that you know they care about you," Eliza said, "and want you to be safe. Tell them you want the same thing and that you would love their support while you try this."

The couple then left the school to prepare for their two performances of Love Letters, presented by the Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company.