Number one tip for Aspiring Actors! – Close Up with David H. Stevens

Written by | The Craft of Acting

Established actor David H. Stevens gives his number one tip to those who are embarking on their career.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give an actor who is just embarking on their career?

Be a professional! A pro is respectful, considerate, prepared, aware, kind, confident, experienced, extremely talented, and by all accounts someone you would want to work with time and time again. If you do not embody these characteristics you must learn and embrace them. Put them into daily practice.

My high school drama teacher was a woman named Joan Hahn. She led her students to no worse than 1st or 2nd place at the state drama competition for nearly 30 years in a row. She also directed countless award-winning plays and musicals before retiring. I was her student for three years. I bring this up because this amazing run of success is a testament to her ability to TEACH raw young actors to be successful. I asked her what an actor would have to do to be a successful professional and she replied simply, “Be respectful of your craft and get on the stage as often as you can.” No doubt that translates to film as well. These two elements, respect and experience, have been the bedrock of my career ever since.

I began my professional career in 1993 when I was cast in a TV pilot for CBS. I nervously asked my agent, Elizebeth Wilson, a woman with decades of experience, what advice she could give me to help me be successful. She replied, “Actors are generally treated special, but look around at how hard everyone else is working, and don’t ever take for granted how valuable each and every person on the set is. Treat them with kindness, mind your manners, and they will go out of their way to make you look good.” Glenn Morshower, an insightful teacher and consistently working actor in Hollywood, told me, “A career is not made from being hired, it is made from being re-hired.” How does one get re-hired? By being both talented and a professional.

Be the kind of actor filmmakers cannot work without and the person they would refer to fellow filmmakers with absolute confidence.

How do you cry on camera?  Christy L., Phoenix, AZ

First of all, I would caution you against making tears your goal. Believe the details of the scene and respond honestly to the given stimulus and an instinctual emotional response will follow, whatever that may be for you. The thing that makes an actor interesting is responding to situations in their own unique way. Trust that your honest, heartfelt response to any given situation is going to be better than what you think will be the best response. On the other hand, if a director specifically asks for tears, then you must have a technique to provide them. For anyone struggling with this technique, I have two words for you: “Dead puppies.”  This may sound grotesque, but it is important for an actor to know what affects him or her enough to bring tears. Also, be prepared with several options of what affects you as you can never be sure what will work that day, or even that take.

-David H. Stevens 

David has been a professional actor and producer for over 15 years and has a been a student for nearly 30. He has appeared in more than fifty films and television shows, produced countless short films, commercials and stage plays and has been the owner and operator of two production studios.  Most recently he started in Robert Redford’s The American West as Jesse James on AMC. He is currently the owner and operator of Stevens Brothers Media, a film and commercial production company based in Salt Lake City, UT and is also the co-owner of Dalton/Stevens Enterprises, a television and motion picture company specializing in the process of business and creative development. Stevens attended college at Southern Utah University. While there he became a national power with the speech and debate team winning over 100 awards across the United States. Since then he has been seen working along such notable actors as Philip Seymore Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Glenn Close, Scott Glenn and Anthony Hopkins. He has also worked with Academy Award winning directors Paul Thomas Anderson and Cameron Crowe as well as the legendary producer James L. Brooks.

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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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