I used to have this impression that every high-level artist is the same. They function in this beautiful interesting way where they turn it on and you can just see the work flowing.
For instance, I thought every great actor, would have an approach and work ethic in common even though their presentation on camera was different.
I got a chance to see very clearly how wrong this thinking was.
I was cast in a TV special called White Hot Holiday. Taraji P. Henson was the star. Taraji reminded me of my wife in her style of work. Even though she’s intense and fierce in some of her roles, she was super super sweet to everyone on set and maybe a little nervous in anticipation of her scenes, then showed up very precise. Nailed everything with consistency and awareness, then went back to her chair to prep for the next scene. This is how I thought everyone would be.
Terry Crews came on set like Wayne Newton. He was smiling, high fiving people, joking, and prepared. Sets are usually pretty quiet during setups and it’s a lot of clatter of things moving around. There’s communication, but it’s mostly very practical and polite. Terry changed the room. It was like, “Hey we like doing this stuff, and isn’t great Terry’s here. He’s everyone’s friend. I don’t remember him looking at the script. He was ready, loose and dependable. Not as precise as Taraji, but not really a bad take.
Tyler Perry was amazing. He had a gravitas to him but was very friendly and ready to act. He was asking for lines, he was going wherever he wanted. He was changing the lines whenever he wanted, he was wild. I think one time the camera operator couldn’t follow him. He was funny and fun and off the rails.
Each of these people were doing amazing things. Each of their performances were powerful and useful to the production. They were acting. They were doing their jobs really well. As well as you would hope. I’m sure many directors and editors and other crew would usually prefer that all the actors have the same workflow, but that isn’t how people are. There’s no factory that outputs entertainers. We all come from our own paths and bring our strengths however we learn them.
This moment on set with some greats wasn’t about how we all bring something different to the arts. It was about how we all bring the same thing ( in this case stellar acting ) in different ways. When I find someone else’s method or their career daunting to me and feel like I’m doing it wrong, I remember that there’s no wrong way.