Shining with energy, passion and an empowering purpose – legendary acting coach, actress and writer Susan Batson knows how to turn any actor into a golden character.
It’s an eclectic process. It’s like a science, shares Susan Batson. Basically and essentially, you help the actor get to the purest truth in themselves.
Within the acting community, Susan Batson works with all levels from A-list celebrities, such as Nicole Kidman, to the fresh crop of today’s 20-somethings, by using a mixture of methods she learned from her own renowned mentors.
I worked with the great Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg. Those are the primary mentors in terms of acting, shares Susan Batson. And, on a human level, my sense of purpose and drive is from my mother. It’s a very interesting combination. She was a very strong civil rights activist, very powerful. In fact, Harvard gives an award every year in her name. And she was always was on purpose.’ That became a very important part of my life.
From this mixture of influencers, Susan Batson realized that in acting, one is responsible for creating a human life and, therefore, must make sure that people understand the human being no matter who the human being is.
This is a very important job, says Susan. I understood how important the material was within myself; all my fears, judgment of myself of how imperfect I am. I understood that could all be used. It was all art. I wanted to commit myself to it. To teach the inspiration – that we are responsible to creating walking talking human beings.
To help students create walking, talking human beings, Susan Batson has a wonderful exercise called the ritual where the actor begins to really look at all the judgment, all the blocking and really attempt a process to get to the other side.
We take a lot of time on that ritual and constantly remind the actor that everything is of value, you can be really creative and work with it, shares Susan. I guide them to understanding the mechanism inside that informs. If you listen to that, which is intuitive, you will hear some level of truth.
On some level, your character may be a liar and that’s fine. I am sure you have told a lie, says Susan. So, the minute you can say I have also told a lie,’ you can then say – I know the truth of lying,’
Not every actor has killed, but they have killed a cockroach or a fly or have said in their head I could really kill you.’ They know the sensation. Once the actor is willing to confess that they know, they can blend the truth that they understand, weave it into the imagination and hand it over to the character.
It takes a lot of awareness and a lot of work, shares Susan. Until you arrive at that fluidity, at finding the creative stuff for you to use, then you can’t work. You can’t work on the level that, which you are possibly capable of.
Getting to the highest level of your potential is a journey of constant knowing, being aware, managing and forgiving self.
We have an exercise where we get that judgment out of here, shares Susan. We will walk it to the elevator, push the button and send the critic down.
One must believe in order to act. One must have faith; not only the basic faith in self – one must have faith in the unseen. You create from the unseen. You have to have that openness and that willingness. When you don’t, there is a battle.
Today’s young actors face many unique battles and that’s why Susan Batson makes it her purpose to give them hope.
It’s very important for me to come back to new talent and understand new talent now as opposed to 15 years ago, when I started with Nicole, shares Susan, It is a very special generation that has a struggle with everything from terrorism to divorce. There is so much out there now. It seems like they are overwhelmed with their lives.
In guiding today’s young people, I spend an enormous amount of time getting them to believe that there will be a tomorrow, shares Susan. That there is a tomorrow; a reason that they should invest in themselves and commit to their passions. Once that happens it’s incredible.
Once you let them know that every aspect can be used, that it is all creative fodder, they can see it as material, shares Susan. They don’t care how ugly it is, how bad it is or how imperfect. It is human and therefore you can make a walking talking human being out of it.
If a student says, I hate my mother,’ I would say, that is good, I think we can use that,’ explains Susan. By the time we do the exploration, once it becomes fluid and you don’t let it block you, you can use it. You will discover that on the other side of hate is that you love and need your mother, too.
It comes full circle and gives it truth. You have the hatred and the need and the love – all of it. If you can turn it into something fluid, then you can create with it.
When it comes to breaking down walls, even A-listers have to keep working at it.
Once you are gold, you need to keep yourself golden, shares Susan Batson. Even the best of it needs to be cleaned and re-exposed and put into the world again.
It’s what I call gold dust, explains Susan. It’s a master class where we are constantly digging, digging, digging for the gold.
Juliette Binoche will come in to polish up and give it a good cleaning. She will drop down into some space I never knew with her. She will get into the crevices and dig up more.
With Nicole and Rabbit Hole, she was waiting to make it. But then I said go do it’ and she did. She produced from a place of empowerment and I find that when she does that she always gets a nod.
When Nicole heard about the Golden Globe nomination she said it doesn’t matter if I win. I did it. I was able to get myself together and do it.
She keeps growing and I love her for that, beams Susan. And Nicole says to tell the Susan Batson students, you can do it. That is something we have to keep sharing with each other. You can find a way.
Even for me, says Susan Batson, I wrote the book (Truth: Personas, Needs, and Flaws in The Art of Building Actors and Creating Characters) and have the process, but I really feel that in order to stay alive you have to have this enormous curiosity about what things are, what is going on and if there is more to explore. That gives you joy, particularly if you have a love of your craft, to keep exploring it.
One of the great joys of the book is I was able to get it as simple as I possibly could because I really wanted not just actors to understand it, but everyone to understand it,
I hope that we can all serve the world and help the world, shares Susan Batson.
Because, at the end of the day we are all representations of truth – we are all walking talking human beings… with a golden purpose.
What beautiful, solid, shining advice!
Many thanks to Susan Batson for sharing her wisdom with NYCastings. For more information on her book (TRUTH) and acting studio please visit www.susanbatsonstudio.com