Interview with Actress Jane Daly
I had the privilege of taking a workshop with actress Jane Daly a few weeks ago, and she kindly agreed to an interview that we hope will aid filmmakers and actors on their path into the film business. Take a look at our discussion on her acting career, what actors and directors should be doing now and how to keep your life balanced in the hectic industry that is show business.
How did you get started in your acting career?
The way I actually got started was in commercials. I was Miss Teenage Miami and from that, an agent saw me and wanted me to do commercials. When I was 15 and 16, I did my first national commercials, but when I got to the University of Miami, I was in the Theater Department. And then Bob Clark, a director who had graduated from there and was doing one of his first feature films (it was a horror film called Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things) asked the school, “Who do you have over there? I need an ingénue.” And I went over with another actress and I got that role so consequently, when I decided to leave for New York and then Hollywood, I had some film with me.
What setbacks did you have along the way while getting into your acting career?
Well, you know, it’s different for everyone. Life and acting careers are always in flux. You get married, you have babies. . . things like that change. One thing that is a setback, and that I would advise young actors to try and avoid, is something like changing agents when it’s not necessary. As you get going and an agent gets you started and you get your first work then sometimes you will get wooed away by bigger agents or managers promising more. And what happens is you leave the people that believed in you and started you. And you end up with somebody who is just trying to grab on to the next big thing and it might not be you. So I really do advise young actors to try and find an agent who believes in them at the beginning and stick with them. I call it “dance with the one that brung ya.”
Unless there is some real reason to move on or you become a huge megastar who needs the sort of size and heft of William Morris or CAA then give your first agent a chance to see what they can do with you.
Is there something you would have done differently now that you know more?
The one or two things that I would have done differently are that I definitely would have networked more extensively from the start. I did not really treat it like a job at the very beginning. I just treated it like “show business.” You know, the excitement of it, but it’s a job. It needs to be handled like a job from the beginning. Write everything down, keep all your receipts, network, write down who said what and who did what for you. Go to those parties, go to those screenings. Make yourself a part of the game. Don’t just rely on an agent to call you up. You cannot be passive. Not in today’s game. Treat yourself like a brand. It’s very helpful early on to really understand your niche. You have a marketable quality just when you walk in the door. A certain face, shape, size, color, and sound. And it’s really important that you don’t try and be everything to everybody. Actors want to do this because we can do everything, but it’s very helpful to focus on a sort of aspect of yourself that is very marketable.
Does that mean you find yourself attracted to certain roles more than others?
It’s not so much that . . . yeah, it’s what you’re going to get into. Whatever role a young actor is attracted to is almost immaterial because it’s what your agent and/or manager can get you seen for. You have so little control early on, which could lead us into another discussion down the line on what actors really need to be doing nowadays – which is everything! Produce. Write. All of it.
Then let me first ask a few more questions directed towards your acting career. What is the most difficult role you had to take on so far?
Well, back when I was younger I had to play an alcoholic prostitute in a show called Kennedy’s Children. It was a very difficult role. It was excruciatingly exhausting and it required that I always be in a hyper state. It was from that role that I really learned how to not live constantly in the part . . . to be able to turn it off. It’s very important to go ahead and get into the part. Do the part and step out when the take is over. Learn how to step out and not stay in there. I also had a pretty rough time on Star Trek: Next Generation and I ran into real difficulty with the makeup. I had to play a Vulcan character and the makeup is tedious and heavy on your skin. In the middle of the night my face broke out. They had to send a limo with the dermatologist and a steroid shot. So things like that happen that can make it tough.
How do you view acting? Some liken it to a religion, others an obsession. And how does it affect your process in preparing for a role?
It’s so different for everybody. For me it has always felt like it was my destiny. I just felt destined very early on from like 3 or 4 years old. I was very aware that this was a gift. I have to say that I think that either you have it or you don’t to a certain extent. It’s an ability to empathize, to actually feel what other people feel, and I think you have it to varying degrees. Good coaching and good directing can make you better. They can give you options and choices to find your niche and marketable side. But I do believe it’s a gift, that it’s kind of something you’re born with.
And you mentioned coaching, so how can the directors help the actors in their performance? And what are things that directors should avoid that can take away from the performance?
First of all, when you go in, you have been cast by this person. This person has chosen you. That’s the first thing you have to understand. That director has a vision and you are part of this vision. So the minute you walk in the door, after you’ve been cast for the role, you must be confident that you are in fact what they wanted. It’s really helpful for that director to continually remind you that you are his choice; he loves what you bring. This lets the actor feel really comfortable within the set, because there are other actors all around and you don’t know what they are bringing or what it is that you are bringing so specifically that he or she likes. When the director lets you know, “I like when you do that edgy thing. I like to see the dark side come through,” I like to have a director tell me that. If they tell me what they want and I’ll bring all the Jane to it that I can. And that’s really helpful.
The thing you never want from a director (and they all know this), is you never want them to give you a line reading. Most directors never will. What they do is offer you suggestions like “You know, why don’t you try it angrier.” Just give me the little nods rather than say “Jane, say ‘Get out of here!’” You don’t want them ever to tell you exactly how to do it. You want them to suggest.
And including suggestions could be a way of giving the actor a goal or an aim of what you want their character to get out of it.
Absolutely, because the director is hand-in-hand with the writer. Sometimes they’re the same person. That writer sat down months and years before and had a concept, had an idea when he wrote that line: “George, get out of here.” And the writers are usually in the audition process too. And when they hear an actor say what they had in mind it turns on that light bulb for them. The director’s job is really to suggest their overall vision early on to an actor, what it is they’re looking for, suggestions of the feeling that they want, and then an actor can explore that because we can do it different ways. Some actors are notorious. Dustin Hoffman will do a hundred takes because he can do it a hundred ways, and most of us can. With television, you don’t have that luxury. You get five [takes] and that’s why they cast you. They cast you the way you did it in the audition because that’s what they want when you get there on set that day.
Is there any more advice you would like to offer for when actors are entering the audition?
The first time you read through the sides or the script that you get, immediately you will have gut reactions to something about the way it’s said, the way it’s written, the way it comes out. Usually, I would say they are invariably correct, your gut reactions. That said, you have to go back through and read every little bit that’s on those pages, every entrance, “she shakes her head, he nods at her,” all the little pieces in between the dialogue start to fill in for you the vision that this director and writer are after. So I highly recommend an actor really prepare for an audition with something and then be very prepared to adjust, to make a completely different shift, because a casting director will say “I really like the look of this person, but I want them to do it this way.” And they change it and turn it into a smart-ass angry guy, and all of a sudden the director has his vision.
And then also with that, what exercises do you do to get yourself there?
In a nutshell, I can say to you, I work with memorization first. The very first thing I do is I get the words off the page. Not every actor has to work that way, but for me, I get the words off the page first. Then I can tackle the character. While you’re memorizing, each time you’re going through those lines, ideas start to kick in. You’ll hear yourself think of something. You’ll hear yourself say something and when you have the words off the page, you go after the intention behind the words. You try and see the intentions behind the words. That means you have to look at what the other characters are saying. You have to see the emotional state of the people and that’s in all of the stuff in between the dialogue. There are so many ways to play a part, but you have to pick what shows up for you and I believe that good instinct is very powerful. I’ll also say this, just as a simple physical trick, I work in the mirror. I work in the mirror so I can see what it is, to a certain extent, that I’m trying to project to these people in the room. Because an audition is very different from a performance on either a sound stage or out on a location. An audition is a different breed of cast than actual acting. You have to accomplish a number of things in an audition that you are not trying to do when you’re on a set.
Is there anything that you would recommend actors to be reading and taking in, other than classes?
Yes, absolutely. First of all, I think that there is an old sad stereotype that actors are just dumb, egotistical, and vain. Those days are gone because we know how difficult this job is. This is a very difficult job and I find that most of the actors I work with, I would say, almost invariably, are bright, well-educated and well-read. The more you read, the more you listen to scripts, radio-plays, and write them yourselves. I watch everything. I watch at least the first episode of every new show. I see every film. I make notes and pay attention to what all the young actors are doing and what my colleagues are doing. The more you immerse yourself in it, the better.
I think it’s extremely important for actors to have a full and rounded life. You need someone to love, you need a partner, whatever that may be. You need someone to download with at the end of the day. Do I recommend actor-to-actor? It can work. I have been married to an actor for 30 years. It also can be harder to have two actors in a family because there are egos involved and things like that. But I really think it’s important to have a loving, powerful, compassionate light to a lot of things. Don’t get down when you’re not working. Learn a language, go travel, try to write, teach, whatever. Put yourself out there because the more you suck in to yourself, the bigger is the bag of tricks that you have to offer when called upon.
To learn more about Jane Daly:
Also, check out the site of Mike McGowan, son of Jane Daly and a director of photography who has worked on major films, music videos for well-known artists and more.