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Where is the "Self-Love?" Peter T. Nathan's School of Acting


Peter T. Nathan worked in the Australian film industry for 25 years, first as script runner, then a PA, AD, and finally a director, before moving to L.A. last October with his screenplay Tomboy. In his two-plus decades of experience in the biz, he believes he's discovered a very important ingredient to acing greatness.

What is that ingredient? Self-love.

Self-love, he asserts, is not so much the stuff of narcissism as it is the substance -- the essential quality -- that allows an actor (and perhaps anyone) to function. "Self-love has no relationship with, nor does it resemble in any way, egotistical love," says Nathan, whose credits include the popular long-running Australian TV drama Home and Away. "Simply put, self-love is an honor of self, a forgiveness that one feels for everyone, including self. This elimination of self-doubt uncovers an inner beauty that can sometimes be referred to as enlightenment."

Enlightenment seems a pretty loaded way to describe an actor's breakthrough, but terms associated with religion do have a tendency to make their way into the actor's lexicon. One might recall Christoph Waltz's acceptance speech last year at Cannes, in which he tearfully thanked Quentin Tarantino for returning him to his vocation -- vocation, of course, being a term that was originally relegated to discussions of religious life.

This self-love is not, however, something that one feels called to (as one might a vocation), but a kind of unsophisticated and even childlike intuition.

This kind of natural acting without acting is seen often in child actors. "Before my friend's son could walk he was acting in television commercials," says Nathan. "He was a seasoned actor and totally into the make-believe world of film and television before he was five years of age."

The child's career, however, ran into a brick wall on the set of a Christmas commercial when he realized that acting was not reality. "The director called him onto the set and asked him he was ready for a trip to the North Pole," says Nathan. "Bad mistake. He walked back to his mother and demanded to be taken home. The director asked the little boy why he was reacting in such a way, and he said that he wasn't willing to leave his mother behind on a set while he traveled to the other side of the world.

"It took the mother an hour to convince the little boy that it was all make-believe and he wasn't really going anywhere. While she succeeded in getting her son to sit in the sleigh, the little boy started to see beyond the veil of make-believe. The reality of life darkened his childish perspective as mistrust and self-doubt took over. As a consequence, the little boy started missing out on castings."

Suffer the little children, indeed.

Does this mean acting classes are worthless? Not entirely. The boy did become, he says, "technically proficient," but he no longer had that "special quality" that casting directors look for in an actor. That ineffable authenticity -- that substance -- is the thing that makes an actor stand apart, and it is only by going deeper, by unlocking one's self-love, that it can be reached.

And according to Nathan this quality, though elusive, is palpable, "It is a quality that not only sustains audience interest over the length of a film, but this inner beauty draws an audience into a performance. It's a glow that brightens up an audience's own sense of self-doubt and communicates a feeling of hope.

"We are all attracted to personalities that are devoid of stress and pain," Nathan continues, "and attracted to those with open hearts that exude love. If your goal is to be a working actor, I urge you to take a serious look at this and begin the journey to your own self discovery."

This seems quite a task for beginning actors. Not only must they deal with headshots, resumes, casting directors, agents, and a slew of part-time jobs waiting tables -- but now they must also discover the substantive quality of their very being (know thyself, know thy character). 

Now *that's* acting!

Now that's acting!

However, if it's any consolation to those who haven't unlocked their third eye, Nathan doesn't believe this quality is one that inheres in a lucky few performers who grow up to be Meryl Streep, but one all actors possess, "Actors, like people, are all born equal. But it's the environment that they are born into that shapes and forms their beliefs and perspective on the world."

Fortunately for American actors, this seems to be one way U.S. culture has fostered artistic development, or -- depending on your perspective -- auspicious regression. "Most American actors were brought up acting from an early age," Nathan believes. "The world of make-believe was one of reality for them. They weren't required to act; they just needed to 'do'. If they know it or not, successful actors nurture their inner child. They respect it, they trust it, and they love it."

Thus, the generations of American actors raised on Raggedy Andy, playgrounds, and "My Size Barbie" are better equipped to treat a set like that little boy did, pre-existential crisis: as if the toy were the thing itself.

Is it Nathan's unique perspective as an Australian outsider that has allowed him such an idiosyncratic perspective on the position of the American actor? Not necessarily. "The only thing that makes me uniquely suited to make any comment is my individual perception of humanity," he says. "In a lot of ways I am an 'outsider' to most things in life -- not just the American industry."

So, true for all actors, but more accessible to Americans? It would seem so. Although the American actor might be more naturally suited to the world of make-believe that drama employs, the tenet of self-love seems inescapable if one wants success in the Nathan-verse.

"The ability to go deeper is the core ingredient in good acting," Nathan contends. "To achieve this, one must be able to penetrate the ego. Beyond that, they will find their own truth."

--Alice Wade

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What ever you endeavour self love is the main ingredient.....

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