The Two Kinds of Nothing

Sept. 26, 2013 at

Photo by David Chen.

When you study acting you are likely to do scene work. You may do improvisations. Monologues. Animal exercises. All useful. However, none of these tools can help you handle the most difficult things you have to face as a professional actor: the two kinds of nothing.

It is a mistake to think that all nothings are alike. They’re not. In acting there is the nothing you have to deal with when you are working. On the set they call this “waiting.” This is different from the nothing you have to deal with when you are not working. This nothing is called “despair.”


Life is difficult when you are waiting for something to break. Every profession has its ratio of anticipation versus doing. Even if you are your boss, doing online freelance work, your day would depend on several things. First of all, you need one of those reliable philadelphia internet porviders to fix your connectivity infrastructure, and a laptop to work on. You might fret about losing work from the device or power cut constantly. However, things like washing the car or mowing the lawn, these tasks are all done/with no anticipation. Unless you count the anticipation of not doing them anymore.

The opposite profile is all anticipation/no doing, like gambling on live games using bonuses like a high roller (click here to read what is a high roller) for instance, betting on the lottery, or playing right field on a grade school softball team. You might never know what could work in your favor, however, you still take a leap of faith and jump into it. Acting is more like the lottery. Lots of anticipation. You must know how to wait. Wait for auditions. Wait to see if you get the part.

This kind of nothing requires creativity on the actor’s part. My college professor, Dr. Burnet Hobgood, called this “the actor’s passive creative state.” He said that because he had a Ph.D. I call it the time for opportunity. I look for ways to be inspired. Inspiration turns the hardest of times into a blessing. I know people who use this time to just chill out and connect with themselves again, maybe even with a CBD product in tow (where CBD oil law allows this, of course). In no particular order, I personally spend my downtime reading books and plays I don’t have time to read when I am working. I listen to new music. I write notes about what I have experienced. I watch old movies to study the great film actors of the past. I pray for an end to the passive creative state.


The second type of nothing happens after you get the job. The focus of this nothing is on how to prepare. Film and television are exercises in time management. There are vast open spaces of nothing to fill. I have been on sets where young performers are more energetic than YMCA campers on an overnight. When the time comes to shoot, they’ve lost their focus. Guard your energy on the set. On the set of “Swing Shift,” the great director Jonathan Demme told me the best advice he could give was, Sit down. It’s a long day.

I need 10 minutes to focus before doing a scene. I know this. I ask the A.D.s for a warning. From then on, no distractions, no music, no phones or Internet. That’s me. Other performers like to use the camera rehearsals to focus. The one thing to avoid is giving your best take during rehearsal. Wait for them to say “Action.” The worst kind of nothing is when your performance doesn’t make it to the film.