Buck and Believing...
Warning: This is a very different kind of a blog post for me. It's not my usual "Actor Tip" post. But that's okay, it contains a profound acting truth and it's a very special post to me. Curious what you think. Feel free to comment and, if you enjoy it, please share it…
|Buck's acting head shot|
I asked him why he was starting this acting business so late in life. He said “you want the truth?” I said “always”. So he told me that he had a form of lung cancer and his doctor had given him "no more than four or five years" to live.
Wow. He looked perfectly healthy and in fact seemed to have a real joy of life. I think if my doctor had given me that kind of news I would have wasted three years feeling sorry for myself. But that’s not Buck.
I asked how he had come to call on me. He said when his doctor gave him the news the first thing he did was to sit down and make a list of all the things he had always wanted to do, but hadn’t. Then he started doing them. One of them was to act in a film. That’s why he tracked me down. Incidentally, this was several years before the movie “The Bucket List”.
In the nearly eight years that Buck was my student I never once heard him mention his 'death sentence' to anyone. Nor did I ever hear any complaints from him.
He’s now done two or three plays and a short film or two.
He argued with me in class constantly– but never about HIS work, always about others and always saying that I was
being too negative and that he really liked their work. His hearing sucked and
he would bleed very easily but when we did physical exercises he was often the first
to volunteer and always one of the most committed and physical participants. He
told long, sloooow stories
that – if
you’re patient enough – always payed off with a great big laugh. He
threw a hell
of a wrap party and although I learn from my students on a daily basis,
he taught me more about life than any student I’ve ever had.
He’s now done two or three plays and a short film or two.
|L. to R. Blade Rogers, Buck Ashford, Shane Thomas, Tabitha Jade in "The Lt. of Inishmore"|
So, what’s the point? Why am I sharing all this? What does this have to do with acting?
Admittedly, not much.
But I honestly believe that if Buck had gone into acting instead of law he would have made it. Big. I honed his skills and taught him the craft of acting but he already possessed that rare child-like ability of being able to immerse himself in a role; To believe, to some extent, in the imaginary circumstances. Or as Sanford Meisner summed up the art of acting, "To live truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances." He also, at let’s say 65+ years old, never gave a damn what people thought about him (a great trait for an actor) and he could learn lines better than my twenty or thirty year old students.It's been my experience that most actors attach less importance to using their imagination than they should and instead, pay more attention to memorizing lines (than they should). To illustrate the value of imagination in your work, I'll share part of a critique of Buck's work in one of his early classes with me.
One word of caution. Buck sometimes used rather “colorful" language so if you are easily offended by what I have to call his 'Straight Talk', stop reading. I just wouldn’t feel right changing his words.
BUCK - Monologue
“GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER” by William Rose
SCOTT: Good job. I only have one note but I think it will affect a number of things. First, what was your objective - and I want you to say it in 5 words or less.
BUCK: (Thinks for a minute) They’re assholes. I’m not.
SCOTT: Okaaaay…, that may be true, but that’s just 2 facts, not an objective. I want to know what you want. And preferably what you want from the person you’re talking to.
BUCK: I want to be treated with respect if our children get married. I’m not such a burn out after all.
SCOTT: OK, So three words – “I want respect”.
SCOTT: Ok, so what’s the obstacle to that? What's getting in the way?
BUCK: They’re assholes.
SCOTT: Okay, and how did it make you feel when they disrespected you?
BUCK: Like shit.
SCOTT: I’m looking for an emotion…
SCOTT: Good. Exactly right...except you didn’t actually feel mad in the scene, did you? (He thinks about it, smiles and shakes his head, sheepishly, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.) I think that would have helped you. If you are really trying to get respect and the people disrespect you – THAT causes you to actually feel an emotion, in this case mad. You see if you can’t state your objective clearly and concisely, it's more difficult to actually go after it and that is what drives your scene. That drive was the only thing missing from your work tonight. But I’ll bet it won’t be missing next time.
(To the class) Did you notice, just past the middle of his monologue, he messed up his lines? I would almost call it severe. He kept talking so it wasn’t easy to spot. I always look at the eyes because often, when something unexpected happens- that’s where the actor comes out. But I didn’t see that in Buck's eyes. I simply saw his character deciding what to say next. Some actors have to work years to be able to do that seamlessly; Buck just does it naturally. But that’s exactly what you want to do—react as the character and stay in the scene. Good work, Buck.
[Postscript] In 2007 Buck bought a boat in Portugal. He began to sail it home to Hawaii (another item on his 'bucket list'). He was injured in a fall in the Canary Islands (I mentioned earlier, he's a bleeder). He continued sailing to Antigua where he was airlifted to a Florida hospital. But that didn’t deter Buck. He met the boat on the Island of Hawai´i and sailed it back to Honolulu.
|Buck, as I'll always remember him|
In 2010 Buck passed away. He lived almost twice as long as they had said he would. He went to work every day and took me to lunch every couple of weeks. Speaking to me from the hospital, two days before he died, he told me he was planning his next voyage—to Tahiti…
Everybody dies. But not everybody lives.
Buck Ashford Lived.