BWW Exclusive: Preview of INSIDE ACT: HOW TEN ACTORS MADE IT AND HOW YOU CAN TOO- with James Earl!
Why do some actors make it and others don't? Ken Womble sets out to find the answer to this question, one that has fascinated and tormented him for years, in his new book, INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too (Hansen Publishing Group, 373 pages, $24.99). To celebrate the release, BroadwayWorld will be featuring chapter previews from the new book. Today, hear from James Earl!
INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too identifies what sets successful actors apart. For Womble it's about the inner choices, the inside acts of working actors acts that have propelled them to thriving careers in one of the most competitive professions on the planet.
James Earl was born and raised in Los Angeles. His first television appearance was on the Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh. Shortly after, Earl filmed his first guest-starring role on the hit television show ER. Following that role, he landed his first feature film, Gridiron Gang, starring The Rock. He scored a recurring role on NBC's Las Vegas and Fox's Glee. Earl has also guest-starred on shows such as CSI: Las Vegas, Crossing Jordan, Community, Cold Case, Bones, Weeds and No Ordinary Family. In between shooting, he spends time recording music with his group The Future III. He also mentors at-risk youth from his childhood neighborhood.
One Hundred Percent Comfortable in Your Skin
[The following is an excerpt from the James Earl chapter in Ken Womble's INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made It-And How You Can Too.]
Ken Womble: You booked a pilot called Awesometown for ABC. Do you think that attitude of, "Now I know what I'm doing and feel comfortable" affected that audition and helped you book it?
James Earl: Well, that situation was crazy because I did this show called Glory Daze and the producer was friends with the producer from Awesometown, and he was trying to figure out roles and he was like, "Hey, maybe you should bring James Earl in."
So they called me in and when I read the role I got it. The description was for a white guy, like it was totally opposite of who I am. But I learned to just be myself but kind of switch it. And when I went in, I didn't even know all the dialogue, but I knew the mentality and I knew the presence.
You know, if I was producing the movie, I have to be confident in the person that I'm going to hire. I have to make sure that I'm mentally confident and I'm mentally prepared.
Like sometimes before an audition I'll stretch, I'll breathe, you know, I make sure I get my breathing right. Sometimes people go to auditions and they're out of breath because they're nervous and their blood pressure's going up, heartbeat's racing. You got to get all your levels to zero and then go in.
KW: I've never heard that, "Get your levels to zero."
JE: Yeah, you got to be able to bring it down, so when you go in there, you can control what you're doing.
KW: Do you think that's affected your work and your booking?
JE: Yeah. Mainly the confidence though. Anytime anybody asks me for advice I'd give them on acting I tell them confidence. That's it. That's the main secret to acting.
I feel like the producers are our audience. They have the same mentality. So I need to make sure that they believe in what I'm doing even if I don't get it. That's my whole thing. Even if I don't get the job, as long as I go in there and I know I was confident, I gave my all and I was happy about it. You can't really get mad if you don't book a job. I mean, it probably wasn't for you, you know. Next job.
KW: That's great you've developed that attitude. I think a lot of people say that, but there's a big difference between saying it and actually doing it. It sounds like you're doing it.
JE: Yeah. I was on avail [being available for a commercial shoot] for a Boost Mobile campaign, and when I went in to audition, I went in as the character. At the end of the day I want them to understand that this is what I'm presenting to you, this is the character, this is my vision for it and if you like it, great! Let's do this! And if you don't it's all right. You have plenty of options out here.
KW: So, did you come in costume?
JE: Yeah, they wanted a genie, not your typical genie though. But what you think a genie would be nowadays. So I was like, "Well, let me be a hip hop genie." And so I put on a jacket with some shine on it and a chain and I made a kind of scarf little genie thing. And I went in and I had this calm attitude about it. I wasn't like, "Hey I'm the genie." I was like, "Hey, what's up?" you know? I just made it my own. A lot of times actors are scared to do that, but I feel like that's very important.
KW: How did you develop that attitude? How did you learn that?
JE: Trial and error. And I learned a lot from other people's mistakes. I'll go to an audition and I'll see somebody doing something and I'll be like, "Okay, I'm going to make sure I do not do that."
KW: You mentioned Glory Daze earlier. You were cast in your first role as a series regular on that show in 2010. Was that a turning point for you?
JE: Yeah. That was a major turning point. When I first went in for Glory Daze, the role was a big fraternity guy, a big buff guy, like the discipline guy at a fraternity, you know. And so I went in with the same mentality, and the director loved what I did. But they didn't know if the network would want me to play that role. So he was like, "I want you in this regardless. [So] I'm going to give you this role," which was like a two-liner role, just to put me in it. So I was like, "All right, cool."
And so I go to the table read and one of the producers came up and he's like, "We want you to read the Turbo role and the other role." And this is with the network, like a hundred people in the room. So when it was time I just gave it my all-boom! You know, I just took off and I was real energetic with it and I kind of used that nervousness and excitement as energy to help me get through it and they loved it.
So after I left the table read, they were like, "Okay, you're not going to do that role, you're going to do the series regular role."
KW: Wow. That's a great story. So, was that role also written for an African-American guy or for a white guy?
JE: No, it was written for a white guy.
Patrick Welborn: Talent Agent
Ken Womble: James told me that his first TV role was on Nickelodeon's Josh and Drake at seventeen and that kind of started his career. His two-line role became a short, recurring role. He got upgraded his first time on TV. It seems like they really liked him.
Patrick Welborn: I don't know that he's ever been on a set where he hasn't been really liked and adored and part of it is also he's the fish out of water, and comfortable being the fish out of water.
On the set of Glee he was standing next to this blonde chick and everybody was kissing up to her. And they were sitting there talking and she really liked rap, and James likes rap, so they went into this conversation. And finally he had to look up who it was because he didn't know. He'd spent all day with Gwyneth Paltrow; he had no clue. And now he and Gwyneth are hip hop buddies.
KW: Soon after Josh and Drake he got an even larger recurring role on ER.
PW: Yeah, on ER he did a four or five episode arc, which was brilliant because it was the season cliffhanger and then opened the following season. And it was art imitating life. It was a kid who grew up in the projects who was taking care of his brothers and sisters because his single mother was working.
KW: And in Gridiron Gang about two years later he portrayed a high school football player. That it was his first audition for a movie and he booked it. What does that say about him?
PW: It says his agent is a genius.
KW: Of course!
PW: No, I'm just kidding. It does say that he's one of a kind. I mean he's a rare, rare find. It's the combination of being a tough inner city kid, yet being emotionally available and with sense enough to act. And I don't think you find those traits come together often. I think that he goes in and he does it better than anybody else.
Matt Floyd and Naisha Arnold: Talent Managers
Ken Womble: How important a role has type played for James? And does he have a clear idea of his type?
Matt Floyd: He knows his type and when they're looking for the African-American guy in his mid-late twenties, bigger guy, we can get him in.
The initial type is always important; that's what casting's focused on. But when you get to a creative point with the producers and the writers some of that changes. Not always, but it can.
Naisha Arnold: I think it was Al Pacino [who said], I might be misquoting it but, "You're wrong all the time until you're right all the time." And you can see James is already doing that. He's basically right for everything because that's how good he is.
KW: So the talent sort of trumps type at that point?
MF: Yep, that's it.
KW: Which leads to my next question; how important a role has talent played for him?
MF: Everything. I mean if he wasn't talented, he wouldn't have gotten where he is. Type is one thing. You know, if you fit the bill for a role that was written a certain way and you have the talent to back it up, it's pretty hard not to book that person.
And if you're a likable person too; he can go into a room and make friends with everyone. That's the gift, he can go in there and blow them away with his performance and then they'll want to take him out for a beer after.
KW: How important has his belief in himself been for James, his confidence? And have you had a personal experience with him that illustrates that belief?
MF: I think he's just self-aware. That's the confidence that he has. He's told me, "I'll go into a room for a half-hour comedy, and I know how to do that, and then later in the afternoon I go into a drama. I know where I am and I can dial it down." I think it's just because he doesn't care. He's always in that competent mindset. It's kind of who he is.
NA: I think that in this business you have to have that self-awareness and that self-confidence because it's just such a hard thing to do.
This pilot season he was a newer client of ours and it was amazing to see the way he handled each audition, the way he handled going in somewhere people are thinking that you're not right and you're proving them wrong.
Ken Womble interviews actors Debra Monk, Eric Ladin, Krysta Rodriguez, Tony Yazbeck, James Earl, Gary Beach, John Tartaglia, Robert Clohessy, Jose Llana and Richard Portnow about their inside acts, the important choices of their acting careers. The interviews explore the intriguing journeys that have led these actors to successful careers, and to Tony, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards, the most prestigious acting awards in theater and television.
Actor interviews are followed by interviews with two of each actor's success team, the agents, managers, directors and coaches who know them well. Womble then identifies the actor's most frequently used actions, skills and beliefs the keys to each actor's success.
INSIDE ACT is available as a paperback and as an ebook. Each actor chapter is also available as individual ebooks. Click here to purchase now!