The following is based on an interview I did in 1996 with Joseph Bernard, an actor who supported the Nevada SAG Conservatory and local actors for most of his "retirement" years. Many of us took classes from the man, who also coached Jerry Lewis, was good friends and a trusted associate of lee Strasberg, appeared in dozens of television show (including multiple times in the original "Star Trek" and "Twilight Zone" series), was very familiar with the boards of the Broadway stage, and had a singular passion for acting and actors. Rest in Peace Joe. His Las Vegas Review Journal Obituary is worth a read.
Actor and Las Vegas Acting Coach on Cold Readings
A veteran of film, television and Broadway, Joseph Bernard brings to Las Vegas the skill of an artist, the patience of a teacher and the passion of a true believer.
Perhaps the most important skill for an actor to have is the ability to bring a script to life without memorizing it. The process of presenting a script in this way is called “cold reading” and applies whenever an actor still has the script in his or her hands. According to actor Joseph Bernard cold reading is a skill and part of what you need to know to utilize your other skills and talents and to land parts. The name we have given it is not accurate, because they are really “prepared lines. Lines you have worked on and asked what is it all about, what is the other person saying to me, where am I going with this and why?” Also a cold reading involves a real time chemistry and relationship with another actor or whoever is reading the lines with you. Even though it is not memorized, you must make it real and bring the script to life.”
“Put something under the scene, a motivation, which may or may not have to do with the scene. For example, think about this character having to go to the bathroom, being annoyed by a fly, or like my friend Rod Steiger, preoccupied with a little lint on his jacket, lint that is really not there.”
A veteran of what is now called Vintage Television, Joseph Bernard appeared in many television series including working for Rod Serling in several “Twilight Zone’s”, appearing on the original “Star Trek” series and many detective series and situational comedies. His film resume includes major films including “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “Ice Station Zebra.” He has many Broadway and West Coast theater credits and is a member of all three primary unions.
“The pension and health for Screen Actors Guild is excellent, it has saved my life and my pocketbook many times over the years. Anyone who is serious about acting must join and support their unions. They are why we can make a living and raise families in this industry.”
Besides his granddaughter, Joe’s pride and joy was in being a personal friend of Lee Strassberg and running the Lee Strasberg Studio, at first in New York and later in Hollywood. Among his former students, who he still coaches and mentors, are Jerre Lewis and local Nevada Casting Director Ray Favero. For over 20 years, until his wife’s death, Bernard has ran an acting studio in Las Vegas. He still teaches and coaches beginners as well as advanced actors.
When sound came to Hollywood the industry began to have actors read to see if they could act. As a stage actor used to memorize performances that could be confusing or even difficult, but it is needed. Bernard says that the quality of the reading reveals how much intelligence and sensitivity an actor has for the role. The more you know and the more you bring to the reading, the better your performance.
“Cold reading has become and actor’s bread and butter” explains Bernard, who relates about his friend stage director Gene Sachs (who directed many of Neil Simon’s works) believing that a good director can simply look at an actor and decide if they have what it takes, and that “the first moments of a cold reading either confirm that feeling or tell the director that the actor is not ready to work professionally yet.”
If you did your best work and did not get the part, don’t take it too personally. There are lots of possible reasons, and besides “rejection is a part of every actor’s life. Do not take it personally.”
Bernard says that the act of reading for a professional actor is quite different than for most people. “The psychology of what is in your mind has to do with how your read, how you deal with this in your mind.”
Look at and read the entire scene, not just the section that has your lines. If you have time and access, read the entire script and get to know the characters and the action. Figure out how you want to portray the character and then live that portrayal. “Never go in before you are ready, take your time and know in your mind that there is no one better for the role than you.”
“Instead of talking about the view, go in and see and experience it, look at the view. Take time before or between the lines to live and experience the life that is going in during the scene. And when you are done, don’t just end the scene, take another look at that view.”
A teacher and believer in Method Acting, Bernard believes that it is what you put behind you reading, your heart, soul, experiences and knowledge, that make it come to life.” Casting directors can sense who is just messing around.”
“Go into each audition with the attitude that you will do your best, that they are lucky just to see you perform, that you have something to give them and if they don’t choose you it’s their loss and not yours.”
“As Lee Strassberg said, ‘relax, they don’t pay for nervous actors.”
“Fear is the enemy” teaches Bernard. “There is nothing to fear. Fear defeats most actors. Fear of what? Will the world come to an end? Are they the sole arbiters of talent? No, there is nothing to fear at all. Are they going to put you in jail if don’t get the part? Will you starve?”
“When they call you, they need you. You already have the part and must approach the audition in that way. You have something others do not, use it and showcase it. There is only one you.”