Alumni reflect on Ed Golden's lasting influence
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Even successful actors have lean years and bad luck.
Jeffrey Donovan ’91 once spent an 11-month stretch jobless and essentially homeless, living out of a suitcase and couch-surfing. Rob Corddry ’93 once bombed an AFLAC commercial audition when he made an acting choice to fling a prop backpack he was given, and it turned out to actually contain someone’s laptop.
While they are both successful artists these days, they both vividly remember the times when they struggled with their chosen path and the clear-eyed perspective those times gave them on what they do and how they view their success. They shared these stories and other thoughts about success and perseverance with students at a career Q&A on Oct. 21 that was moderated by fellow alumna and actress Marissa Matrone ‘95.
The event, the last of three scheduled during the Ed Golden Scholarship weekend, was open to current department members only, giving students a chance to pick their renowned guests’ brains about making it in a field that can be hard on people.
Early on in the talk, Corddry urged students to think about what “making it” really means to them.
“My perception of success has evolved,” he said. He recalled that one of his early gigs paid $300 a week. “I’m getting $300 for doing this? When I’ve done it for free? I’ve made it!” Even years later, as he has notched up many great jobs and bigger paychecks, he values the feeling of success he experienced in that moment.
“Don’t manage your expectations so much,” he continued. “Appreciate the success you have at every moment.”
Matrone amplified Corddry’s point. “Be present with who and what is in front of you. Don’t think too far in the future. Take it in.”
Corddry spoke of another time in his life when he used misfortune as a spur to make his own project. After his stint on The Daily Show, he moved to Los Angeles to star in Seth McFarlane’s first live-action sitcom. “That’s never gonna get cancelled, right?” he joked. It did. However, Corddry took his experience as an actor, and as a writer on The Daily Show, and turned to new media, creating a web series called Children’s Hospital that ran for seven seasons on Adult Swim and won him a number of Emmys. His guiding principle, these days, is that “I want to do great things that I love with people who aren’t jerks.”
Donovan pointed out that even Bryan Cranston, the award-winning star of Breaking Bad, has a Preparation H commercial in his credits.
“There’s no secret formula, it’s just hard work,” he said. However, “my hard work and Rob’s hard work and Marissa’s hard work are all different.”
All three agreed that in the early days, when they were desperate to notch a success, it was tempting to compromise or overcompensate, to be “something that I wasn’t,” in Donovan’s words. They spoke about how they’d overacted in auditions for commercials and how they’d copied others instead of developing their own styles. They each eventually came to the realization that they could only be successful when they auditioned and acted authentically.
“You get to a point where you’re going to have something to give,” Matrone said. She noted that being a successful actor involved a commitment to going out for parts. “Auditioning is just like working out in a gym. You’ve got to keep showing up.”
Corddry, Donovan and Matrone all have varying degrees of experience with film, TV, and stage, and said that there isn’t as big a shift between the acting for all three as some might think. Donovan said the difference was less about the actual acting and more about the technical details of capturing said acting with a camera. He and Corddry mimed a bit about how many times an actor might have to walk through a door on set to capture the moment on camera, deal with technical glitches, etc.
Corddry agreed, and pointed out that big difference is in a changing sense of scale. This is already something students have to deal with as actors in theater speaces. “If you’re in the Rand you have more space to fill than when you’re in the Curtain,” he said, “and when you’re doing film or TV, you just feel that the space is smaller.”
“My trick was to think the crew was the audience,” Donovan said.
“Me too!” Corddry said.
They dished just a bit about the business.
Corddry’s currently working with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and laughed at students’ audible relief when he told them Johnson was a good guy in real life. “You can’t be that magnetic onscreen and not be that magnetic as a person,” he said.
Donovan shared the story of his time on the set of Sicario. He wasn’t looking for a project but took a small part because he and the director had long wanted to work together. Donovan adlibbed a bit of dialogue during one scene and so amused the director that his part was expanded.
Finally, all three alumni had nothing but good words for UMass. Fitting to the theme of the weekend, Corddry recalled that seeing Donovan act in a play directed by Ed Golden (Playboy of the Western World) was his spur to get serious about studying theater.
Matrone described UMass Theater as a place “where I felt seen, and understood, and heard.”
And Donovan urged students to appreciate where they were. “Take advantage of the fact that you are in the safest place you can be as an artist,” he said. “Fail now. Make choices that are risky.”