Michael Kostroff is an established TV and stage actor best known for his role as unscrupulous gang attorney Maury Levy on HBO's legendary series, The Wire. In addition to his many television gigs, he's toured with The Producers and Les Misérables, appeared on regional stages all across the country, served as an advice columnist for Backstage, created the popular workshop "Audition Psych 101" (which focuses on the psychological side of auditioning), and written four books, including his recently published manual, The Stage Actor's Handbook: Traditions, Protocols, and Etiquette for the Working and Aspiring Professional.
The gospel of low expectations. My philosophy is very different from the popular philosophies—no one's entitled to a career. If you decide this is what you want to do, then you're signing on for the unemployment, the insecurity, the inconsistency, and you don't get to complain about it.
Yeah, I love being an actor, but it's not dependent on credits or being employed. It's who I am and what I've chosen to do with my life. So sign on for the whole thing. Not just the days when you work.
Remind yourself that this is a job, and you are being paid to do it, so you need to show up and do it.
The reason that the psychology of auditioning is my specialty is because I was miserable at it. I hated every moment of it. I was terrible at it, and I was all in my head about stuff. And I had to pick it apart to get to the place where I am now, which is I enjoy it.
Most auditions do not result in jobs. That's math. It's not because we suck. It's just applying mathematics. And I realized that I was putting all my energy and focus into figuring out how to get a job.
And when I realized that is not going to happen 99% of the time, there has to be another reason to go to an audition.
And now, I relish the opportunity to be an actor and play a role. And I have a much better time auditioning.
And as soon as I said, You're not getting the fucking job; I started to go, Oh, okay. Well, then, I'm going to make the choices I would make if I had the role because I'm only going to do it for one performance. Let's. Let's invest in it. Let's make the decisions. Let's do all the choices. Let's do it my way.
Because I can't guess what they're going to like or not like.
I think self-knowledge is essential for actors. Because I really know myself. Thank you. Thank you. I'm able to morph into these other characters from it, from a place that's truthful and neutral.
I think that to really play those roles well. You know, you have to make a case for your character.
You need to be the best advocate for your character.
That is sometimes difficult because sometimes the person who we have the hardest time advocating for is ourselves.
I really want actors to step into their authority as actors.
Trying to predict what people will respond to is the enemy of good acting.
Just going, "I don't know if they're going to pick me. Probably they won't. But here's how I'd like to play this scene today."
It's hard for us to believe in our own work. I think that's very challenging.
It is more effective for me not to think in terms of whether I am a good actor or not a good actor. Instead, I've got stuff to do in this scene.
Get yourself so busy with the thoughts of the character and the objectives of the character. I always say when I'm in the scene; there's nobody else who can do it. I'm the only one who can convince these people that my wife is trying to kill me.
My mantra is you're not getting the fucking job. Trying to get the job is not conducive to getting a job because nobody wants to watch an actor try to get a job. You're not getting the fucking job. There's no fucking job. Now, convince these people that your wife is trying to kill you. That's what you got to do.
You do your prep, and then you've got to throw the Frisbee. You got to let it go. And that's scary. That's risky because you're your ego wants to control it.
My best days are the days when I'm the passenger; I'm the copilot. I'm here to show up and to be of service on this day.
Rip off the Band-Aid and deal with it because it will not get easier.
I really have no tolerance for actors who are always going on about how unfair the business is. Correct. What do you want to do now?
Keep the focus on yourself.
When somebody is bitter about that or something else, I always ask, "so what's the payoff? Okay, so they're going to be casting more actors of color. So does that mean you try less? Oh, oh, I get it. So you don't have to take responsibility now."
Whenever I'm in some negative place, I ask myself this question, What are you not taking responsibility for?
Take your emotions out of your to-do list.
I'm trying to take judgment out of my to-do list, also.
And it details our traditions, our protocols, our superstitions, our particular language, and our particular chain of command that you just mostly learn from screwing up.
Alfred Molina said, "look; when you transfer from the rehearsal hall to the theater, everything will go wonky."
Bebe Neuwirth wrote about the importance of your physical script and taking notes.
Stephanie Bloch wrote about leading a company and the responsibilities of being the lead.