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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2003 / 23 Kislev, 5764

Julia Gorin

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My brain shrank in acting class

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | There comes a time in every stand-up comedian's life when she has to take the plunge into acting class if she hopes to rise to comedy's highest heights, something that usually can be achieved only through roles in film and TV. For a politically conservative comic who doubles as a conservative columnist for newspapers and Web sites, the decision to enter the flighty world of acting comes with that much more trepidation. Once I made the decision, though, I took the recommendation of other comedians and chose a two-year course with Ray Romano's former teacher.

On the first day of class I noticed a small, framed sign on the mantel that read, "Sanity is the breeding ground for the unimaginative." In keeping with that sentiment, our teacher passed around a garbage pail and instructed us to throw out our left brains, the hemisphere ostensibly responsible for logic and reason. Thus, only the creative/emotional side would remain available to us. We were to become "emotionally bright" actors, who didn't "intellectualize" our reactions but responded based on pure, uncensored and unrestrained emotion.

Being someone who spent the better part of a decade honing precisely the opposite approach to life — wherein one views the world through an objective, intellectual lens unclouded by emotions — I would have to consciously divorce from the sober observer I'd so meticulously cultivated.

For the two years I was in class, I wrote fewer articles than I had other years. Aside from the time commitment involved, I must admit that thinking really did get in the way. It was hard to switch gears from emotion to intellect. In fact, as the class progressed, I could actually feel myself getting dumber. By the middle of the first year, I became less verbal, finding myself at a loss for vocabulary that normally was never far from the tip of my tongue. I even started to have trouble pronouncing big words — words that once rolled off my tongue effortlessly. So I stuck to using two-and three-syllable words and found comfort in scripts. Thoughts scrambled easily, and it got to be a challenge to express a complete one.

Sure enough, I became a pretty good actress. Raw emotion was at my beck and call; I was never far from tears if the wind to cry moved me — and it did often.

Was it an old studio boss who said, "The more vacant the eyes, the bigger the star"? Based on my own experience, I can extrapolate that wisdom to: The dumber the person, the more brilliant the actor.

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It is not a scientific theory. The evidence is anecdotal, and there are many exceptions. Still, there seems to be a discernable trend in its favor when one looks at the recent political climate. On occasions that the country's best actors have ventured to assemble their thoughts into public statements about the Bush administration or Republicans in general, they've come out, almost without exception, anti-Bush and anti-Republican.

This is not to equate being a Democrat with being stupid. But being myopically anti-Bush or anti-Republican is stupid. It is devoid of rationality — in other words, devoid of left-brain input.

Since there are too many left-brain-challenged screen greats to list, the theory is best proved in reverse, by looking at the conservatives of the screen — who are almost always lesser actors. Consider these conservative thespians:

Tom Selleck, Bo Derek, Florence Henderson, John Schneider (the blonde one from "Dukes of Hazard"), Kirk Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger (the only blemish on his acting record being his inadvertently brilliant turn as Mister Freeze in "Batman and Robin"), Bruce Willis, Heather Locklear, Ronald Reagan (though respected by his peers, posterity refers to him as a B-actor), Nancy Reagan, Charlton Heston, Susan Lucci, Shannen Doherty, Fred Grandy ("Gopher" from "The Love Boat"), Rick Schroeder, Ann Gillian, Janine Turner, Jimmie ("J.J.") Walker, Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Nell Carter, Jennifer O'Neill and Larry Miller.

Mediocre, TV, niche, smaller-bill or B-movie actors all. Their skills betray a still-functioning left brain, making it possible for these actors to think Right. Another right-thinking, if not yet Right-thinking, actor is John Malkovich, who supports the death penalty, defends America and doesn't cry on cue for Palestinians. He was once thought to be a great actor until people realized he was playing the same character in every movie.

Of course, there are some who upset the theory. Conservative but nonetheless good actor Andy Garcia is one, as are the proudly Republican Danny Aiello and Bush sympathizer James Woods. But as one goes through more and more examples, the theory succeeds more often than it fails. Careful now: The theory doesn't maintain that you won't find plenty of bad actors who are also knee-jerk, Bush-bashing, Republican-hating liberals. It just says, look at the greats: liberal. Look at the conservatives: not so great. Anyone unconvinced of the large grain of truth to the theory should ask himself: Who would make for a bigger movie star, George W. Bush or William Jefferson Clinton?

In fact, one of the main reasons I have confidence in Arnold Schwarzenegger's leadership abilities is his sub-par acting ability. The time to worry is when people like Warren Beatty decide to go into politics — or Sean Penn, the one interview subject whose words journalists struggle to quote in context, making him the printed word's most bracketed celebrity. (This, however, hasn't kept him from deciding he wants to report from Baghdad.)

Again, I'm not saying that liberals are stupid. I'm just pointing out that brilliant actors are stupid. And liberal.

In a way, actors are smart to choose Democratic: It saves them from having to think. Compassionate and politically correct, the Democratic Party appeals to their fountain of available emotions.

When I think back to the group of people with whom I spent two years in a small midtown acting studio, I am grateful that they were all 20- and 30-somethings who were actory actors — meaning they had little interest in things not concerning "the business," such as politics and world affairs. I only hope they don't evolve into brilliant actors who start to care.

As for me, the left brain has waxed again and mental coherence has crept back in. In such restored state, the biggest trouble is not knowing whether I still can give a good audition. So rather than study the work of the greats, I've decided to pay closer attention to the work of the not-so-greats — to find the trick to being Republican and a so-so actress but getting the part anyway.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin's newly released first book, "The Buddy Chronicles," is available through www.bruiserbooks.com. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2003, Julia Gorin