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An acting method that goes off script

August 19, 2007|Susan King

Eric Morris

An acting teacher for the last 46 years, he operates the Eric Morris' Actors Workshop in Los Angeles. He's also an actor and author of six books, including the upcoming "The Diary of a Professional Experiencer."

Job description: "I mix my levels [in class]. I have beginners in the same class as seasoned professionals who have done 100 movies because I work with everybody so individually, related to their own issues and own problems. Everybody learns from everybody. I teach three classes each week.

"People come to me to work on material, scripts. I have had people fairly high up on the success chain, actors who have come to me with scripts. Like I have worked with Aaron Eckhart on a couple of movies. I worked with Johnny Depp a number of years ago. People come to work on particular issues with scripts. I make a very good living, but it is the actual fulfillment that I get that keeps me going by teaching all of these years."

First liberate, then act: "I graduated from Northwestern University, and I taught at USC for eight or nine years in the film department. But when I studied with most of these [acting] teachers, every time I would say, 'How do you do that?' they couldn't answer on how to approach and fulfill a piece of material. I alienated a lot of teachers.

"Then I got to Martin Landau -- he was a devotee of Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio -- I always say that I got the ABCs with Marty. I really believe you have to liberate an actor before they can act, so a lot of my work is therapeutic, instrumentally behavioral, modifying. In order to be free to become an experiential actor, you must be free to do that. In my early years of teaching, I was considered controversial because I did work at liberating people to be free. . . ."

Contemporary students: "When I first started teaching, I used to teach until 1 and 2 in the morning, and people would jump up on stage filled with energy and excitement. But now -- it doesn't happen with everybody -- but people will leave class early.

"In the old days, in the '60s and '70s and maybe into the early '80s, people were committed to art and creativity -- that was their thrust. Now the consciousness is 'making it -- how is [this class] going to help me to audition and get the part?' People come up to me and say, 'Eric, tell the truth. How long is it going to take me to do this work as a craftsperson?'

"I tell them: 'I have a measuring stick. It's going to take you, if you work very, very hard, it's going to take you three years to become a journeyman craftsperson. It is about the same time it takes you to become a black belt in any martial arts technique. To become a master craftsman, it takes a lifetime.' "

Why train?: "There are a lot of good actors out there who have never taken a class, and they function. But this is what I say: What would they be like with years of training? How much better would they have been if they were trained?

"Let's take Dustin Hoffman, who is a wonderful actor, I think. But he was very technical up until the time he did 'Kramer vs. Kramer.' I think he reinvested in some kind of training because his work from 'Kramer' until the present time is totally different and deeper and more organic than his earlier work. It's freer."

Those who can, do: "I have quietly accumulated about 100 films [as an actor] -- television included -- and I have done 90 Equity plays. After Northwestern, I went into the Army for two years and I was in Armed Forces Radio and Television. Then I got out here and I started my professional career Jan. 3 or 4, 1957. Actually, I have a manager and I am on the job market. I work when I get a job. I'm a good actor. I have been training for 55 years."

Becoming a teacher: "I was in Marty Landau's class for three years, and then he got a part in 'Cleopatra.' He left the States for a year and I was without a teacher. One morning I got a call from a student in Marty's class and she said, 'Eric, have you found a class?' I said, 'No and I'm going crazy. I may have to go to New York.' But I couldn't afford to.

"She said, 'Why don't you start a class? I learned a lot from you while I was in Marty's class. Don't you think you can promote your own growth becoming a teacher?' Those were the magic words to an ego of an actor. So I started teaching and found it was a calling. It was totally visceral."

Resides: Hollywood Hills

Union or guild: "I have been with the Screen Actors Guild since 1954. I have gotten to a place where you don't have to pay dues anymore -- once you reach 70 you don't have to pay dues."

Age: "I'm 75. I will be 76 Nov. 19. I have a 45-year-old body because I work out three times a week. I've been a vegetarian for 35 years. If you ran into me on the street, you'd say I was 60!"

-- Susan King

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