Actors need to learn how to create a character, break down a script, calibrate their acting for the camera, walk into an audition with confidence. Treat it like a profession. Get into a class. Always be stepping outside of your comfort zone. Get better every day.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Newton an acclaimed acting coach, filmmaker, author, and successful actor, having guest-starred on such shows as “Gilmore Girls,” “Royal Pains,” “The Americans,” “Ugly Betty,” “Drake and Josh,” and many others. He is the founder of the prestigious MN Acting Studio in New York City, and recently published his second book “The No B.S. Guide to the Acting Biz,” available on Amazon. Recently Matt was the on-set acting coach for Ava Duvernay’s Emmy winning Netflix mini-series “When They See Us.”
Matt Newton is the president and founder of MN Acting Studio in New York City and Connecticut. Matt has coached Golden Globe nominees, Emmy nominees, and teaches workshops all over the world. Matt is a contributor to Backstage, and the author of “10 Steps to Breaking into Acting,” available on Amazon. You can read more about Matt and his acting studio at www.mnactingstudio.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Happy to be here! I started my acting career doing plays in high school with my sister, in Guilford, Connecticut. After graduating from Vassar College with a degree in Drama, I moved to Los Angeles, guest-starred on dozens of TV shows and appeared in many films. After a move back to New York (to be closer to my family in Connecticut) about ten years ago, I felt an intense need to share with actors everything that I had learned about the business of acting, from auditions to working with agents and managers, and to being on set. At that point, I started coaching actors, which I found I enjoyed much more than waiting for the phone to ring, and eventually opened my own acting studio in New York City called MN Acting Studio. At that point, I decided to write my first book “10 Steps to Breaking into Acting,” to dispel some myths about the business. Soon after that, I was asked to coach on the set of TV shows, such as Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us,” “Blue Bloods,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and “Jessica Jones.” I then decided to publish another book called “The No B.S. Guide to the Acting Biz.” I love coaching actors more than anything.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I was working on Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us,” and one of the actors was having trouble “getting there” in a scene. Ava did several takes but still felt like the young actor could go deeper. Ava asked me to take the actor aside, work with him, and make sure he understands how important this scene was to his character, and that he needed to personalize it to make it as real as possible. We worked together, talked through the situation, and he came back to set and nailed his closeup. I was very proud of him. Now he is being nominated for tons of awards.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I self-published my first book, called “10 Steps to Breaking into Acting.” I didn’t have an editor, I didn’t know anything about self-publishing, formatting, or anything. Basically, I didn’t ask for help and rushed it. This time around, when I wrote “The No B.S. Guide to the Acting Biz,” I knew I wanted to self-publish on Amazon, but this time I worked closely with an editor to make sure it was the best book it could possibly be. My editor pushed me to flesh out ideas, and most importantly, be patient. She taught me to add more of my own funny stories from my career as an actor, to make it more relatable, and to be open and honest with my readers. She taught me patience.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh my god. When I started acting in New York City (and we didn’t have cell phones yet), I would just show up at auditions without an appointment. I had read too many success stories online about actors who did that kind of thing. I thought they would see how great I was and hire me on the spot. Needless to say, I was kicked out of the audition and told to never come back. I learned there was a system in place, and that I needed to learn how to navigate that system, and not try to skip all the steps.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Recently Ava Duvernay hired me to be the on-set coach for the five lead actors on the Netflix mini-series “When They See Us.” I coached the young actors on the show, and one of them was nominated for an Emmy. It was his first professional acting job.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I’ve auditioned for over a thousand commercials in my time. I booked three. One of those three was a national McDonald’s commercial. I filmed it in 2006 in Central Park and was told to bring my own outfit (red flag). A huge crowd gathered as we set up the shot out on Sheep’s Meadow on a beautiful fall day. I still remember the sweet scent of urine and desperation in the air. The cameras rolled, the director called, “Action!” and I sat there on the grass smiling, bopping my head, and chomping on a cold Big Mac with butter shellacked onto it (thanks to the food wrangler). Fifteen seconds later, the director yelled, “Cut,” looked directly at me, and held up his middle finger. Awkward pause. I stifled a laugh, thinking he was kidding. He wasn’t. Apparently, he didn’t like what I was doing, and that’s how he expressed it. So, we did it six more times, each one more and more humiliating, as even the crowd around the set was laughing. There were no lines, no direction, nothing. I kept thinking “I went to Vassar College and studied Drama, I can’t believe this is happening to me.” I wanted to speak up, but I didn’t. I bit my tongue. I left, convinced I was getting cut out of the commercial. I even called a girl I was dating on the way home to tell her about it, but before I could tell her, she told me she didn’t want to see me anymore. Good times!
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Actors need to always stay inspired creatively, to challenge themselves, to write the parts they want to play. Phoebe Waller-Bridge did that when she created “Fleabag,” which began as a one-woman show. The acting business is so difficult, with so much rejection, and instead of sitting around, I believe actors need to take the reins and create their own opportunities, and always be hustling to better themselves. I would be super excited to find out that someone finished my book and began their own project that they have been dreaming about, maybe started a class, a screenplay, a new meditation.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Steps to Becoming a Working Actor?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Train like an athlete. Actors need to learn how to create a character, break down a script, calibrate their acting for the camera, walk into an audition with confidence. Treat it like a profession. Get into a class. Always be stepping outside of your comfort zone. Get better every day.
2. Get professional marketing materials. Headshot, resume, demo reel. If you want to be treated like a professional, you have to act like one. How you sell yourself is everything. My first headshots were terrible and cheap. I was never called in for an audition. Then I got professional headshots and started getting into rooms and meeting casting directors, and building my resume.
3. Audition, audition, audition. It’s not just about talent, it’s what’s on your resume. Audition for anything and everything you can and put your training to use. Book jobs, even student films, readings, plays, short films, anything you can, and build up that resume. That and your headshot are the first things casting directors will see online before calling you in. Make it great! Learn how to walk into a room of strangers, stand in front of a blank wall, and completely own the room. It’s all about confidence.
4. Get someone to rep you in a major market. If you want to be a professional actor, you need to find an agent and/or manager to represent you. These industry unicorns have access to the exclusive breakdowns of roles in TV shows that are casting. Once you are ready, have trained, built up your resume, and your marketing materials are top-notch, then you reach out and see if anyone is interested. These agents will work very hard to pitch you to casting directors and get you in the room, at which point you are basically in the Olympics and really need to know what you are doing.
5. Find your niche. To be a working actor, you need to know what you do best. What is your niche? Your type? You will be going out for roles close to who you are. I’m sure you can play lots of roles and have a huge range, but truthfully you will be doing a few lines here and there. Book those jobs, even the one-line roles, and that will lead to more stable, secure roles on TV shows. Do the work, focus on the craft, understand the market, and eventually, you will become a working actor.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?
I am someone who firmly believes in setting very specific, day to day goals, and getting it done. It’s what I tell my actors. Whether you are writing a script, or a book, set aside a few minutes each day (without distraction), to throw your ideas on paper. I wrote “The No B.S. Guide to the Acting Biz” in one month. It’s all about holding yourself accountable and carving out time. For writers, this might be doing 1000 words a day. For actors, it might be writing ten pages of a script, submitting on breakdowns, filming a scene to put on your demo reel. You have to want it, and be the hardest working actor in the room.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
It was my pleasure! Good luck!!!