Be a star

Fancy learning from Christian Slater's acting coach? Now's your chance...


‘Celebrity acting coach’ sounds exciting. What exactly do you do?
I work with actors that are very, very well known and I also work with actors that aren’t. What’s interesting is seeing how meticulous someone who has achieved a certain level of success in their work can be in terms of their craft. And acting is a craft. Just like you go and… [she considers for a moment]. Well, it’s not as complicated as open heart surgery, but nevertheless it’s a delicate craft and you have to own it.

Yes, probably not on a par with open heart surgery. So, how do you ‘own it’?
To ‘own it’ means to investigate it in a very deep way. To do that it helps to have a third eye to break things down, to go underneath the ideas and the themes of the movie or the play and really analyse it. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that with some extraordinary people [Danner has worked with A-list stars like Christian Slater and Penelope Cruz] and it’s always been a hoot. Because when you dig deep, that’s when you find choices that are unique.

Why is that important?
Well, I recently worked with Chris Rock on a movie and I helped him to have fun exploring different choices for different moments. Nobody wants to say, ‘This has been done, we’ve seen this choice before.’ So you have to ask, what could be different about this moment? There’s a handful of actors we go out of our way to see, because they make choices that are unique. That’s the difference. Take Daniel Day Lewis or Javier Bardem. You watch these actors and what they’re doing is interesting.

There’s so much obsession these days with getting famous and being a ‘star’. Is there a difference between being an actor and being a star?

There’s two roads: the fast lane that says ‘I’m going to be a star’, and the other road that says, ‘I’m going to work so hard and be so good at what I do that people won’t be able to pass me up.’ The fast lane ends in many car crashes, and I’ve seen it. The people that are true stars have embraced the latter road. They haven’t set out to be a star, they just set out to be really, really good. But if you want to be on a soap opera and you want to buy the house with the pool, I have no judgement about that.

What does it take to be a great actor?
You can’t wait for somebody to say yes, you have to say yes to yourself first. Nobody stops anybody from being what they can really be as an actor. My message is to learn the craft, work hard and be proactive.

So it’s all about hard graft?
Yes. The bottom line is that you have to work very hard. There’s always a desire in actors to take it to the next level, which is why you have movie stars wanting to go to New York and do theatre. Some people make it and some people don’t, and that’s what separates people.

Who hasn’t made it?
Well… [laughs a wicked laugh]. I’m not going to… you see there’s a list, there’s a list of movie stars that have gone to Broadway and have not been able to shine because they don’t have the chops.

Mmm hmm. Who?
[Laughs]. I’m not going to say, because that’s the next person who may be calling me!

OK, so you’re not going to spill. But it seems you’re very much in demand with the A-list. What makes you such a good teacher?
That can’t come from me, it’s got to come from other people.

Oh go on, blow your own trumpet.
[Laughs] It’s not that easy. I mean, I’m very good at what I do because I’ve done it for so many years. I understand actors and I love actors. There’s that cliché of the acting teacher who puts the students down to get the performance. Let’s just say I’m not that cliché. I encourage people to do the best work that they have inside them.

Who’s your favourite actor?
Everybody will tell you that Meryl Streep and Judi Dench are my favourite actors. There’s a humanity and an authenticity that they bring to every character they inhabit. You can see a desire to play. They have their wonderchild and they bring their wonderchild to everything they do.

Er, we think we’ve lost you there, Michelle…

Michelle Danner teaches two workshops in December at Knowledge Village. The Actor’s Golden Box, Dec 10-11, 10am-4pm, US$355 and On Camera Auditioning Intensive, Dec 12-13, 10am-4pm, US$455. Register at Find more info at

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