Ep 94: The Go-to Acting Coach of Oscar Winners, Terry Knickerbocker
For the past 20 years, Academy Award Winner Sam Rockwell has insisted on working Acting Coach Terry Knickerbocker to prepare for every one of his roles. An actor himself prior to teaching, Knickerbocker studied at the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU before working on stage with an actor who's technique was so specific and consistent that Terry had to seek out the actor's teacher, the late William Esper. Falling in love with the manor in which Esper worked after taking his two-year program, Terry began a 25 year stint teaching at the William Esper studio until 2015, when he ventured out on his own to open the Terry Knickerbocker Studio in Brooklyn, which offers a two-year Meisner program as well (you'll learn about the Meisner technique in the interview). In addition to running his studio, Terry is highly sought after for private coaching with such respected thespians John Leguziamo, Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne, Rockwell and Chris Messina among others. So, while it was a huge surprise to me that Terry has been a passionate listener of 10,000 "No"s, once I got over the initial shock it made sense: he, like me, is obsessed with process. He is obsessed with the potential in human beings, whether they turn out to be future Oscar Winners or someone looking to hone their craft to the best of their own particular ability. It was an honor to sit down with him and discuss the craft and the long and winding road to being considered one of the best of the best in his field.
Describing what he does as an acting coach, (3:37). Meisner’s definition of acting, “Doing truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”, (4:00). Coaching students to have them be “director-proof” on set, (5:05). “The worst thing is when you walk in not knowing. Time is money. There’s no time on set for learning. You have to walk in knowing what you’re doing.”, (7:05). Interviewing students to have them find their North Star, (11:08). Self-sabotaging through fear, (16:24). Growing up with parents who exposed him to culture, (18:22). “I was a total underachiever. I was a very depressed and anxious kid. I don’t think I had a happy childhood at all.”, (19:50). Hardships during his childhood, (20:36). “I was high all the time starting in 9th grade.”, (22:28). Lack of interest in academics into college, (22:44). Seeing an audition notice for an operetta during his first week in college, (23:20). “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I kept on getting these parts. I think I reached a plateau here and I need to train.”, (24:35). Grasping what acting is while at NYU, (27:44). “We’d be in Washington Square Park doing scenes and there would be guide bringing the audience through and they would stop and watch us doing something.”, (28:30). Enjoying the risk of performing in public spaces, (29:50). “It turned out NYU had given me a lot of great experiences, but hadn’t given me a toolkit.”, (34:26). Winning a grant from the Drama League of New York for Emerging Directors, (39:36). “Ultimately to be a good director, you have to direct hit shows, something has to work... It just isn’t as pure to me as teaching.”, (42:05). Crafting the behavior that honors the script, (46:28). “My simple job as a coach is I will always listen and look at what they do firs, and then my job is to make it better.” (49:10). Believing all actors need to go to therapy to understand themselves, (51:15). Finding fascination in the idea of high achievement, (55:08). “ ‘What makes high achievement?’ That’s become my fascination since opening the studio.” , (55:22). Having a love for acting and telling stories to be an actor, (56:32). “If there’s no meaning in it, it’s just like empty calories.”, (59:15). Cultivating empathy for characters, (59:42). Having a playful spirit in the making of this art, (1:02:15). “The word, ‘No,’ means to me, ‘What else?’”, (1:06:36). Doing the work as an actor, (1:09:00). Keeping in mind, “F**k it.”, (1:09:40). Reminding ourselves to be playful and find joy in our work, (1:10:27).
Terry Knickerbocker Studio - https://terryknickerbockerstudio.com/
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