I’M BACK from 6 weeks of working on a film in Odessa, Ukraine.
I have so many tales and insights to share with you.
Today, as I’m still a bit jet-lagged I’ll tell you about a most unusual meeting and training I had in a Long Island City Shopping Mall to prep for my role.
In the movie, I play an American who, out of college, was enlisted by Mossad (the Israeli spy organization). My character has lived a mundane life overseas and undercover. Not the James Bond existence he imagined his life would be.
The story captures the mostly dull day-to-day life of a spy. Imagine sitting in a hotel lobby for months on end waiting for something (anything!) to happen. In the movie, my character can’t handle the mundanity and goes rogue. I can’t say much more about the storyline right now.
So, why shopping mall training?
As part of my prep, the director set up a meeting with a real Mossad spy.
The meeting was veiled in secrecy and revelation. And ultimately provided some great acting lessons.
On the day of the meet up I received an encrypted message with the following…
(Note: Dov is my character’s name)
On my way to Long Island City, I hit terrible traffic on the Expressway. I pulled over and signaled through a third party that I was going to be 30 minutes late. I make a point to never be late for anything. But there were a series of accidents along the way. Result: armpits moist.
I received the following message…
I parked, raced through the mall, more sweat, bought a bottle of water, saw the Banana Republic bag, raised my glasses, and sat down across from the most ordinary man imaginable.
Someone you’d never notice. Just a guy – down to the Dockers. He started, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions for me, I will do my best to answer them, but I may not be able to answer everything.”
“Well, I’d love to know what your training was like when you first joined.”
“Funny you should ask. We’re going to do some exercises in the mall today. Your first training. Early exercises I was given to test my ability to work undercover and under pressure.”
“We’re gonna… whaaat?”
He pointed to a big brand sneaker store across from where we were sitting.
Your first mission is to go into the store, assess if anything is out of the ordinary. Then find a way to get someone who works there to swap out a pair of sneakers they have in the display window with a pair of sneakers that you choose. Be as unnoticeable as you can, but get them to change the display.
Not knowing what to do I approached the store. Interesting – the fact that I was on a mission already changed my reality. It changed my behavior. It changed the way I perceived everything.
Here’s how it played out…
I saw some old school leather Pumas.
I got an idea.
After looking around for the meekest looking salesperson, here is what I said…
“Hi, this may seem weird. I am meeting my son here in about 15 minutes. He thinks these Pumas are not very cool. He likes those colorful sneakers you have in the window. I know this is weird, but would you, as a favor to me, put these in the window display. That way when he comes I can show him that these sneakers are in fact really cool. It would mean a lot to me if he thought I was cool. Would you mind?”
“I don’t know…” The salesman said as he looked around the shop.
“I know it’s weird – but it would mean so much to me.” I pleaded.
Finally… “Ok, I’ll do it. But if my manager…”
“Thank you so much.”
The salesman swapped out the sneakers, and I was on my way. Mission complete.
I reported back to my teacher.
He ended up giving me three other missions in the mall. (Just leave a note below if you want to hear about the other missions.)
What this did for me was immerse me into spontaneously generating the behavior and experience of being a spy. This is something we must always do. If we can inhabit the behavior of a character we’re creating, that behavior will lead us to be spontaneous and creating from our body and impulses. And have no doubt, that truth and immediacy are what engages an audience today.
One last acting insight from the spy….
At one point he said, “You can only be convincing if you are being truthful. No matter what kind of undercover mission you are on – always use yourself – otherwise, you will be detected. Remember there’s always an old lady just peering out her window at life going by – and if you don’t use yourself – she will take notice as something being off. You don’t want that kind of notice. Don’t want to do too much, or too little. You want to be ordinary.”
There is something so beautiful in the ordinary. So often we strive to be so interesting that we miss creating from our truth. The truth is what engages casting directors, directors, and most importantly your audience.
I’ll definitely post a few other lessons from this job in the coming weeks.
Leave a comment below with your questions+comments+insights and let’s all learn from one another.
THE NEXT COMMITTED IMPULSE TRAINING: STARTS HERE.