Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview with Eric Sheffer Stevens Part One


Welcome to Day One of my interview with Eric Sheffer Stevens! This incredibly talented actor of stage and screen was kind enough to sit down with me (via phone) a couple of weeks ago for a wide-ranging conversation, which will be shared over the next few days on my blog. Today, we talk about the differences between film, stage, and TV, how acting is like writing, and how his creative process has changed over the years.

One thing I noticed as I was looking at your resume, you’ve worked in all the major areas of acting – primetime, daytime, stage, film, commercial. Just wondering what’s different between them for you, or is there a difference, in terms of the way you work or the experience you get out of it?

Yeah, there’s a pretty big difference. This last project, SILENT HOUSE, that I just did, there was a month of just sort of being immersed in this “thing”. There’s so much waiting – you’re not really being hugely productive, because film is a lot of lighting, and waiting for them to set up the shots. So you’re sort of immersed in the world for a very long time without actually producing anything or capturing it on film. So it feels different, and you have to learn how to fill that time to be able to plug right back into that story when they actually are ready to go.


You had mentioned on the radio show yesterday that it was all done in one shot.
Yeah, that’s a very cool project. It’ll be good to see how that’s going to play out. That’s very unusual. Very unique, film-wise. It was a lot of rehearsal, for a week and a half or two weeks, without any film crew. Well, we were with the DP, the Director of Photography, because he was very much in the whole dance. We had to choreograph him into everything so that you never see him. And it’s in a sort of dark house, so we had to rehearse how to light ourselves with lanterns and flashlights. It was pretty technical and ultimately really interesting work. I enjoyed it a lot.

As far as your other question about the differences between them, each thing is very different, even within the genres, so it’s hard to say. Theater is very much being immersed in rehearsing a scene over and over for an hour and a half and then you move on and you try and work on the next one and then you put the whole thing together over four weeks or five weeks just so you can do it in front of an audience and feel confident about it, feel like you’ve really fleshed it out. You don’t do that at all in TV. TV is also fun for that reason.

There are a lot of people, I think, who prefer one over the other, and then some who feel comfortable going in between them. I feel very comfortable going in between. Doing TV, you use a completely different part of your brain and your creative process and you just have to make very quick decisions, and if you’re good, hopefully the decision will be a good one. And then you’re stuck with it.


A lot of times what happens, which is kind of funny, and it happens in both film and tv, you work so long that day, and then that night in bed you go, “Oh, shoot, THAT was the way to solve that problem.” And you so wish that you could have had another go at it because you feel like you found something really interesting in the scene that you didn’t get to (do) because you just are spending that day, one day, in it. In theater, you can have that thought and then bring it back to rehearsal the next day. And, you know, keep building on that performance.


Tied in with this a little bit – in writing, we refer to it as plotters or pantsers. Whether you plot out every detail in advance or whether you just kind of fly by the seat of your pants. And wondering if there’s something similar in your acting, or does it depend. Like with theater, you can look at the role and decide where you’re going to go with each different scene, but when you’re thrown into something, like in daytime, where you have one day to walk on and do the work, is that more seat of the pants?

That’s very seat of your pants there, doing the daytime stuff. You’re really hanging out there.

Do you prefer one way or the other? Do you prefer having the time to immerse yourself in the character and the script or do you like the challenge of just jumping feet first?
More and more I’m liking not knowing what’s going to happen, and not having thought it out. I’m to a point now where I know what I need to do preparation-wise and then find the things in rehearsal (or actually while you’re taping, as is the case for daytime)…
I think I used to, especially when I was younger, I tried to plan things out too much. Just because I wasn’t very comfortable trusting that something would come to me. And also I didn’t want to suck.

I don’t have that anymore. I’m not afraid to suck.

I don’t care, or I care much less, about what people think about what I’m doing. And that frees me up to actually rehearse. And then you make mistakes and you look stupid, but if you don’t care that you look stupid, then it’s okay. Then you can move on to the next – actually reach something better than if you were playing it safe and caring about what people are thinking of you.

That especially applies to theater, where you’re rehearsing and you care about what your colleagues think, and you want them to trust you and feel like you’re going to get somewhere with this performance, but you have to spend usually the second week and the third week just feeling like crap. Because you have a tenuous grasp of the lines, and you’re not quite where you want to be character-wise, and it’s in that time that you kind of figure it all out, and everybody’s really familiar with that period. So as you do it more and more, you trust that something’s going to come, and you arrive there a lot faster than when you’re younger.

It’s similar with writing, people talk about the “sagging middle”. You know, the first couple chapters, everything’s great, you’re just flying along, and then you hit the wall, and it’s the worst thing ever written in the history of the universe. It just totally sucks. And you just have to work your way through it. And the more practice you get, the more you learn to trust your own skill.

Yeah, right. And you’re going to be able to write your way out of this hole and end up somewhere.


22 comments:

wanjasc said...

Really love this! :D Great questions, and I can't wait for part two!

Aldi said...

Great first part! Enjoyed both questions and answers very much - it's always so interesting to hear actors talk up close and personal about their work process and how they approach different genres. And he gave really in-depth and thoughtful answers, go him!

Hahahah, my favourite part is still "And also I didn’t want to suck."

Awesome job, Kate! I especially liked your parallels between writing and acting. Looking forward to the rest :D

Kate Davies said...

Thank you both! I'm glad you liked it. Eric was a fantastic interview subject - so articulate and interesting. It was not a challenge to get good quotes!

And yep, even better stuff coming up tomorrow. :)

Notoriouslyunique said...

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee! The interview is here!
It's kinda weird to read an ESS interview where he's not trying to skirt poncy questions!
I love hearing about his process and how he approaches each role, and I can't wait for the other parts :)

traci said...

I read this last night, but frankly, I should NOT have commented (ahem...wine), so I waited until this morning.

I loved your questions, and his answers, actually. I think folks have asked him before about the differences working within the genres, but either they didn't ask it clearly enough or he didn't answer it thoroughly. In your interview, he really seemed to be much more specific about his thoughts. He really seemed to be at ease and honest in your interview, which I'm sure is attributed to the interviewer! :)

I'm really looking forward to the next installment!

Bhumi said...

Awww this first part was great! I loved getting a more in depth idea about what he feels the differences in genres are!

They were great questions and now I CANNOT wait for the next part!

Thank you! :)

Miss Ripley said...

Absolutely lovely!

Miss Ripley said...

Absolutely lovely! Wonderful questions. As a writer like you, it was really interesting to compare the techniques of writing [oh how familiar am I with the sagging middle xD] and acting.
"I don't care if I suck." Lol. He's too cute.
Thank you so much, BB! <3

bluemirror144 said...

Excellent interview! I always find Eric to be articulate and honest. Your questions gave him space to be fully himself. He's such a fascinating artist. Thank you.

colleen said...

Enjoyed the first installment. Am grateful that Eric does not or I would not have met so many wonderful folks;-) I look forward to the rest.

Kimberly said...

Kate:

I absolutely loved reading this first part of your Interview with Eric. I am so looking forward to the next parts.

Your questions were incredible and as someone else commented they had been asked before but in a different way or not as clear so we didn't get great answers from Eric. His answers now were wonderful. Really shows how much he cares about what he does and how the outcome is either on screen or on stage.

I quoted a few sentences/paragraphs below that were my favorite parts of the interview. Especially the part about how he doesn't care now "If he sucks" lol. I couldn't help but laugh out loud thinking I cannot imagine him "sucking" in anything...


Doing TV, you use a completely different part of your brain and your creative process and you just have to make very quick decisions, and if you’re good, hopefully the decision will be a good one.


A lot of times what happens, which is kind of funny, and it happens in both film and tv, you work so long that day, and then that night in bed you go, “Oh, shoot, THAT was the way to solve that problem.” And you so wish that you could have had another go at it because you feel like you found something really interesting in the scene that you didn’t get to (do) because you just are spending that day, one day, in it. In theater, you can have that thought and then bring it back to rehearsal the next day. And, you know, keep building on that performance.

And also I didn’t want to suck.

I don’t have that anymore. I’m not afraid to suck.

I don’t care, or I care much less, about what people think about what I’m doing. And that frees me up to actually rehearse. And then you make mistakes and you look stupid, but if you don’t care that you look stupid, then it’s okay. Then you can move on to the next – actually reach something better than if you were playing it safe and caring about what people are thinking of you.


Thank you Kate and Eric for doing this interview for us. Really cannot get enough interviews from Eric.

Well done!!!

tuckatangent said...

KATE! You are stupendous. Eric's answers here are more involved than I've ever seen. It's like I got glimpses of his process on the other interviews, but now the full enchilada! Thank you SO much. Looking forward to part two.

Isabel said...

Great first part. His insights into acting are so interesting, and I'm glad he likes to do all genres.

He seems like a very meticulous actor, so it doesn't surprise me that he does like to think about things until they're right to him.

Thank you!

Nicole said...

Terrific questions from you, great answers from ESS. I like that you equated acting to writing. Similar in a lot of respects, I would think.

And honestly, I'm jealous of ESS. (Besides for the obvious reasons lol). But, I want to get to that place where I don't care if I suck at something. That completely would rock.

Scarlett Echo said...

An intelligent, talented, interesting interviewee like Eric deserves an equal in his interviewer and it finally happened! :)
Thank you for this. Looking forward to the rest of it.

getchelle said...

Great interview. I would read anything pertaining to this fine actor. Eric you are very insightful. Patiently waiting for part two.

ltklo said...

I'm very excited for this interview and it's a terrific beginning.

ESS strikes me as a very thoughtful person and I always get the impression that there's more going on in his head than he expresses. So far, you are getting great responses from him.

Rumple said...

Shop Talk! I love it! I was nervous about Silent House because scary movies are not my thing but after hearing it is filmed in one shot I am going to have to see it.

Well thought out intelligent questions lead to articulate interesting answers, excellent interview from both of you :)

looking forward to the rest.

Tree1970 said...

Kate - Superb job interviewing a talented artist. I still can't get over how multi-talented ESS is ...and how much he really doesn't suck. At all.

Can hardly wait for the next installment! Congrats again on an amazing interview.

Christine said...

Thanks Kate & Eric.

Jana said...

Hi Kate, wonderful, so great new things we can read, I appreciate very much Erics openess. thank you for sharing this with us Eric :)

Anonymous said...

Of all the interviews he's given, I must admit this series (or what has been posted of it, so far) is my favorite. It's about ESS the actor, not LuRe/Reid Oliver/ATWT.

I must commend the you, KD; reading the interview gives one the sense of being on the phone actually listening to the two of you.