New York Magazine’s current (2 June) issue features a cover story on Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson, two actors whose rise is already meteoric and shows every sign of continuing. In Lynn Hirschberg’s profile, they sound sweet and sincere (if very young), as they address their plans to stay true to themselves and their talent.
Conversations appear to have been wide-ranging. Wide, but not very deep.
Reading the story, I was surprised not so much by the things Woodley and Larson were doing (many of which seem to revolve around food – both are gluten and dairy free locavore vegans) as by what it seemed they hadn’t even thought about.
Mind you, I have nothing against Ms. Woodley and Ms. Larson. I’ve admired their work in the limited exposure I’ve had to it (Woodley in The Descendants, Larson on United States of Tara). I’m also willing to believe that Hirschberg’s article, strangely poised midway between fawning puffery and read-between-the-lines scorn, is not the whole story.
Yet I feel compelled to suggest to both of them a somewhat different course.
Ms. Woodley and Ms. Larsen – Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no amount of organic produce will make you impervious to the crazy world of movies and stardom. But here are a few things that will help:
- Go to College – Actors’ lives are spent trying to understand characters and circumstances, and the more you know about the world – history, culture, social/political/religious life – the better off you’ll be. Ability to do research is just about the most valuable skill you can have. (And if you’re looking to avoid being co-opted by Hollywood, there’s not better way than hanging out with people who aren’t in the industry.)
- Get Special Training – I believe in a liberal arts education for artists (well, for almost everybody – it’s foundational). But I’m also a proponent of specialized actor training, starting as early as possible, and continuing for… well, as long as you can. There’s no substitute for keeping all the tools in good shape.
- Work on the Stage – And instead of starting on Broadway, as several young film actors have done recently, with sensation-free results – why not do something really against-the-grain and go to a regional company? The pay will be low, but you’ll be making theater from the ground up with a genuine community of actors (people, sadly, you’ll be unlikely to encounter in your film projects). To me, this is real theater. (And, since you’re both famous, you’ll have your pick of projects – and generate box office that will immeasurably help the company.)
- Read Books and Plays – Not just scripts for prospective film projects.
- Visit Museums, Attend Concerts, etc. – Congrats to you both for attending the Met gala in beautiful gowns (Rodarte for Woodley, Prada for Larson)! Now how about wandering through the galleries? I think I learned as much from exploring museums, listening to music, and attending performances of various kinds as I did in the classroom.
So, Ms. Woodley and Ms. Larson – thanks for listening. And remember – you could be the next Julie Harris. Or you could be the next Season Hubley. It’s in your hands.