There’s really busy.
There’s crazy busy.
There’s insanely busy.
And then, lastly, there’s Erin Cronican busy.
Erin is a New York City-based actress. And singer. And writer. And teacher. And blogger. Rumor has it she also finds time to eat, sleep and, on occasion, go to the bathroom. Throughout her career, she has appeared in myriad films, plays and TV programs, ranging from One Life to Live and Veronica Mars to Writer’s Block and Peace Aqua. She also runs The Actors’ Enterprise, a coaching service for actors.
Here, in the 101st Quaz (welcome to the new century), Erin talks about making herself cry and making herself great; what it’s like to attend an audition and what it’s like to fart on stage. One can follow Erin on Twitter here, and visit her website here.
Erin Cronican, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Are you a great actor? (I love this question, because it’s weird and awkward and, possibly, uncomfortable). So, really, Erin, are you a great actor? Great, in the way we think of Dustin Hoffman and Merrill Streep and a select others? Why or why not?
ERIN CRONICAN: Wow. You did it. You’ve managed to make me nervous right out of the gate. I’ll answer anyway, because I think it’s a pretty awesome question.
Yes, I think I am a great actor. And here’s why: Not because I’m better than anyone else—there are lots and lots of actors are are more compelling, more bankable, more confident, less neurotic, less sensitive, etc … etc … etc. But, because a great actor is always learning, growing and changing. A great actor makes lots of mistakes, and forgives him/herself while making them. A great actor shows others what it means to be human, and reflects life back to them in a way they can relate to. That is something that I excel at.
J.P.: I’ve never asked this of an actor, so I will now. How hard is it to make yourself cry? What’s the secret? And can anyone, with practice, do it?
E.C.: If you don’t feel like crying, it’s impossible to cry on demand. Even if you want to cry, it doesn’t always work the way you want it to. Conversely, I want to cry all the time when I’m not supposed to. Call it the Murphy’s Law of Acting.
As an actor, you have to create circumstances in a scene that will make crying possible without requiring it to be there. Right now I’m doing a production of “Love Song,” and at the end of the play I have to say a sad goodbye. Usually, all I have to do if I want to cry is relax my body (which will let the tears come, if they’re there), and focus on what my character’s wants and needs are in the scene. If I actively try to get what I want (to stay with my lover), and if my scene partner is also going after what he wants (to let me go), I’ll have a real difficulty getting and it will become a sad situation.
Or, you know, staring into a very bright light or the sun will do it. Or chopping up an onion and getting reeeeaaaaal close to it.
J.P.: You have your own company, The Actors Enterprise, which helps actors develop their careers. A. How and why did this happen? B. (And I don’t mean this even remotely insultingly) What makes you qualified?
E.C.: How DARE you! (pushes over table)
Right out of college (Pepperdine), I moved back to my home town of San Diego and started working for an entrepreneur who was passionate about owning advertising publications (he owned franchises of the Auto Trader and Business Locator magazines, and a territory for Money Mailer coupons, to name a few.) I cut my teeth on advertising, sales and marketing by teaching small businesses how to use our publications to get the word out about their products/services. This turned out to be exactly what we do as actors.
When I got my Actors’ Equity card (union for theater actors) I decided to leave the corporate world to focus on acting. I started my first business as a audition/career coach for high school kids who were prepping for college. Pretty soon thereafter I realized that I didn’t really like working with kids as much as the job required (eek), so shortly thereafter I took a part time job at a small non-profit service organization called the Actors Alliance of San Diego, as the director of communications and member services. This helped me to serve the entire acting community rather than focusing on people individually, and also taught me how to run a business.
I moved to New York in 2005 and spent 1 1/2 years figuring out how my skills could be of service to New York actors. I found that what was missing was personalized career coaching that was affordable by an actor who was still in the thick of things. I suffer the same ills as other actors, but I’m also a producer so I can speak from both sides of the table. I started The Actors’ Enterprise in 2007 and have, since, coached nearly 300 actors in the areas of marketing, business management, audition/interview technique and design.
J.P.: Through the years I’ve had a bunch of meetings with Hollywood types in regards to turning some of my books into movies. I’m generally struck by the bullshit nonsense of it all. Everyone loves everything; everything is definitely gonna happen; so-and-so will call you tomorrow. Then—nothing. Nada. Am I wrong in thinking much of your profession is vapid nonsense put on by vapid people?
E.C.: No, you’re not wrong—a lot of people are like that. But I also think that the industry is built on dreamers—people who talk a big game but don’t have the power, persistence or moxie to make that dream happen. A actor friend of mine used to joke that he’s never been in a show that wasn’t going to Broadway, and yet he’s never been on Broadway. Meaning, everyone talks a big game and it rarely ever happens. I have a small hope that by being an accountable, genuine person I can do my part to combat that issue. Wanna help me with that?
J.P.: You’re from San Diego, you went to Pepperdine. Got it. But how did you start acting? Like, literally, what got you into it? When did you discover the love? And what was your first break? Your first big break?
E.C.: My first break? Playing The Gander in “Charlotte’s Web” in fifth grade at our local youth theater. I was just so excited to be applauded for being able to memorize things. My first big break would probably be considered a speaking role on TV, which was “Veronica Mars.” But probably my biggest acclaim, where people started to take real notice of me, was this past summer when I starred in an Off-Broadway production of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”
The love of creating art first came in seventh grade, when my school choir did a scaled-down production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which we incorporated the music that Mendelssohn wrote to Shakespeare’s lyrics. I think it was the first time I saw art combined to created something completely new, and I was hooked.
E.C.: When that happens, I just want to get through it as quickly as possible, with the least amount of effort needed to do a good, professional job. I also do my best to make some friends, because you need to have some levity and support on a project like that. And usually, the connections made are deeper than other projects because you have to bond together to make things bearable.
J.P.: You were “Palace Maid No. 1,” “Maid” and “Social Worker” on One Life to Live. I’m not a huge soaps guy, but they fascinate me nonetheless. How did that come about? What’s it like working on a soap? And is there a certain wink-wink, nudge-nudge among the actors? Like, a realization and acknowledgement that it’s all a bit silly?
E.C.: Don’t forget, I also played “Stylist.”
It’s funny—one day, an actor asked the casting director from “One Life to Live” if they would consider casting actors in a bigger role in they played a smaller one in previous episodes. She said, “Ummm… we have storylines where people come back from the dead, and go back in time. I think that re-using an actor is probably going to be fine.”
I got the first gig, which was three days of work as “Palace Maid #1”, by phone call. I had met the casting director in a class she taught about three months before that. They were looking for Aryan-looking types who could play palace servants in a fictitious European country. She made the offer over the phone. What she did not mention was that I would have to come up with a non-identifiable European accent that sort of sounds German/Slavic/Nordic.
J.P.: What does it feel like to absolutely, positively fuck up on stage? I’m REALLY fascinated by this. Surely, you have a story—freezing, forgetting lines, etc. Please tell. And, really, what is it like in the moment?
E.C.: It feels like death that will never end. Seriously. One time, during our production of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” we got so lost in a scene that I just knelt down by my scene partner and whispered, “Help!” There was nothing in my brain except this vacuous silence. Those moments are terrifying, especially when there are reviewers in the audience and you’re doing a well known play—you’re mostly worried about getting a terrible write-up because of missing key dialogue.
What’s fascinating is that the audience rarely knows that the fuck up has happened. Usually, I know the situation of the play (or film) well enough that if I royally fuck up, I can make something up until I get back to where the lines are. In my theater company, we work a lot with “physical activities”—making sure we know our environment and what we would normally be doing in that environment on any given day. That way, if a line goes out of our heads, we’re still living in the moment and can live out the scene physically until the lines come back.
J.P.: Why do you think we humans go soooooo crazy for actors and actresses? What I mean is—I probably saw 10 firemen in New York City today. These guys, literally, climb through flames to rescue people. I’d never think of asking for an autograph. However, if I see, say, Backdraft star Kurt Russell, I get excited—even though he had a stunt double. Why do we care? What’s the big deal?
E.C.: I think this is because they see celebrities live on stage or screen and feel like they know them. They’re relatable, kind of like a long lost friend. Add to that the celebrity—the fact that everyone knows who they are—and it becomes fashionable to meet them. Add to that the beauty and wealth of these famous people—it’s USA’s royalty.
And the celebrities feed that fire. Because if someone has a huge fan base, that translates into sales at the box office which translates to higher salaries. So celebrities eat up the rabid fandom.
J.P.: What does it feel like to go on an audition? Are you nervous? Excited? Do you assume you have no shot? Do you assume you’re gonna nail it?
E.C.: It depends on how far along in the audition process that I’m in. In the early rounds I’m rarely nervous, but the closer I get to booking the job the more nervous I get. Nerves are especially problematic when auditioning for musicals, because nerves create all kinds of physical problems in the singing voice. The throat gets all tense, and then everything is 10 times more difficult to do. And then you feel like an asshole because you sounded so much better in your living room.
I pretty much assume that I have no shot for the particular job I’m auditioning for—there are too many things that go into casting that an actor has no control over. However, I strongly believe that I have a shot at getting cast in a future project off the current audition. If I bring an authentic performance with strong choices and a point of view (as in, this is the story I want to tell with this character, and is what you can expect from me in performance) then I’ll have created a bond with the casting director that should have a lasting effect.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: Not really—but I get pretty scared when flying sometimes, so I always have visions of mangled bodies hitting the ground. And then I order a drink.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Elton Brand, Dee Lite, Budweiser, Garry Templeton, Idaho State University, Peggy Sue Got Married, the Footloose remake, PaperMate pens, Corn Flakes, Keanu Reeves, six-day-old snow, The Gap, Santana Moss, Cuban Missile Crisis, Paul Tsongas: Dee Lite, Garry Templeton, Papermate pens, Corn Flakes, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Gap, Keanu Reeves, Paul Tsongas, six-day-old snow, the Footloose remake, Budweiser, Cuban Missile Crisis … and then the ones I don’t know well enough without looking them up are Idaho State University, Elton Brand, Santana Moss.
• Three greatest actresses of your lifetime?: Cate Blanchett, Audra McDonald, Melissa Leo.
• How many times would you say—just guessing—you’ve broken wind while acting or singing in front of an audience?: Singing it’s a little tricky (disrupts control of your abdomen!), but plenty of times as an actor.
• Would you be willing to spend 30 minutes licking a random New York City sidewalk if it meant landing a key role in an upcoming Harrison Ford film?: No way. I’ll make my own way, thank you.
• What’s the most common mistake made by young actors?: Believing that if you have talent, that’s enough.
• What movie have you watched the most in your life? What’s your favorite line from it?: “Spaceballs.” My god, a favorite line? Too many to list. The first that came into my head was, “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.” “So what’s that make us?” “Nothing, which is what you are about to become. Prepare to die.” … which leads to a favorite moment in the movie when a film crew member gets slashed by Dark Helmet’s light saber.
• Well, you’re friends with Will Ohman, who you met while y’all were at Pepperdine. How about a Will Ohman story?: Would you believe this? Some random person entered that onto IMDB. I don’t actually know Will—but I thought it was cool enough to keep it up there anyway.
• If everyone describes themselves as “award winning,” does “award winning” mean anything?: Good point. I never really thought of it that way. I would guess most of us, even if only as children, have won something. I won the Invention Convention in sixth grade after inventing a parent-child morality/ethics game called, “It’s Never Too Late To Learn.” Maybe I should call myself an award-winning inventor.
• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to play “Little Celine” in her Las Vegas production of “I Sing the Song of Midgets.” You’ll get paid $3 million over two years, but you have to perform 360 nights per year, on your knees, in a Canadian accent while being kicked in the head by Herman, her per goat. You in?: If Herman is wearing soft shoes, I’m in.