I recently worked with Nicole Kidman on a movie called The Family Fang directed by Jason Bateman.
My first day Nicole was topless – and Jason’s direction to me was… “Just respond naturally.” That handled that scene.
But as we got further into the process there was a more complex scene between Nicole and me to unfold.
Before we started shooting that scene Jason and I were sitting around as Nicole was getting ready. I asked him what it’s like to direct Christopher Walken – who is also in the movie.
And, yo, if it seems like I’m name dropping – I definitely am – because I am constantly amazed at who I get to work with.
Jason responded “I don’t really think directors pull performances out of actors. I act more as a guard rail. If things veer off too far in one direction, I help to bring it back. The thing about Walken is he knows that comedy is drama that is pushed to a place of discomfort. And there really is no difference in how he plays dramatic roles vs. comedic roles.” He went on to say “Comedy only works when no one tips their hat or winks to the audience – or signals that ‘this is funny’.” He paused then said “ I think really my job is to keep everyone out of their minds.”
Nicole walked in overhearing that last statement and added, “Yes, staying out of the mind. Oh God, it’s all about that.” Then she added to Jason “ You really helped me with that in the scene we shot yesterday.”
Since getting out of one’s head is one of my favorite areas of exploration, I wanted to know more. I asked Nicole how Jason did that.
Nicole responded, “Well, Jason said for me not to believe anything the other character was saying to me. Just know you are being lied to, and that got me out of my head. Before that I was trying to really believe everything.”
“OK, Let’s rehearse,” Jason said as he gave a little clap with his hands. The chit chat session was over. We bumbled through the scene a few times. Initially it felt like I was doing my idea of the scene and Nicole was doing her idea of the scene – but it wasn’t unfolding spontaneously at all. We tried some different blocking. The scene still felt a little wooden. I got in my head thinking, “Shit, I am a fraud! I knew it.”
Jason threw out some different ideas to us, and initially I could barely hear him because I was so in my “I suck” thoughts. “Who am I to work with these people.”
Then I had an “I’m Back” moment and I focused on what Jason was actually saying to me. I breathed. I felt my feet on the floor, I really saw Nicole. And we continued exploring. The camera crew came in to watch the scene, and we kept exploring. They lit the area, and then we started shooting.
Nicole and I got to a place where every take was different, and every take was truthful, and Jason was excited by what was happening.
I’ll end my story there.
Now, it’s your turn…
I get so many emails from you guys all the time letting me know how you’ve used the CI tools to get out of your own way.
Now it’s time to be brave and share that in the comments.
I’d love to hear an insight, big or small about how you made it out of the mind-swamp so you could access your creative channel and do your best work.
Or, if you’re struggling with that – let’s talk about it below.