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Actor Transformation Interviews
Dana Lyn Baron
How and when did you decide to be an actor?
When I was 12 years old, growing up in San Diego, my mother started my sisters and I in dance classes (much to my chagrin, as I was a serious soccer player). There were 2 girls I became friends with at the dance studio who were driving back and forth to LA to audition for and shoot TV commercials and TV shows. That was the first time I had the thought, “Hey, I wanna do that!” Without having any idea whatsoever what that actually entailed as far as talent, time and energy was concerned. Haha. But that was the first inkling I had. I think I just liked the idea that I could be on TV. And make money doing that. My mother always said I was “soooo dramatic” for as long as I can remember. But I never connected it to wanting to be an actor. And what that actually meant. Fast forward to my college years – I officially decided/realized/accepted that I was an actor during a summer program at the British American Drama Academy at Oxford University in the UK. One day, I was out in the courtyard just minding my business, and I had this startling sort of out of body experience. This moment… it just hit me in the gut. And I remember getting really emotional. Tears just started flowing. Cuz I had the visceral, deep knowing that I was going to be an actor. And I felt brave in that moment.
Brave indeed! It takes a lot of guts to be an actor. What advice do you have for actors just starting out in the biz?
Keep training, keep training, keep training. As far as I’m concerned, actors are Olympians. We’re athletes. No question about it. The way I see it is. If I’m rehearsing and or working on a stage in a theater or on a film or TV set, super! I’m working. That’s what we want, right? But if I’m not in rehearsals or working, then you better believe that I’m back in class, working on great scenes from great plays. Challenging roles that make me continually grow in my craft. When I talk to actors just starting out, I remind them that professional athletes we watch and admire – whether they be football players or soccer players or whatever – in the off season, they’re at the gym. They keep in tip-top shape. They must. Of course, we can and should take a vacation now and then. I’m a big fan of that! And finding pockets of time to give ourselves the rest we need is vital for our work, too. But we, like the athletes, need to keep up our workouts, because we always have to be ready. Our bodies are our instrument, so we must always keep it in a ready state. An open state. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be a consistently working actor. You’re “doing the do,” as I say. But if there’s a lull between projects, my question to any actor, not just one just starting out, is, “What are you doing to stay in shape?” So that’s the big thing. Another thing that I would encourage to all actors is — have a full life. To me, this is part of staying in shape! Travel. Go to museums. Parks. Listen to music. Take a cooking class. Learn a language (just because). Sit in a park and people watch. Don’t just let it be all about your auditions and class and the networking. So much of the work that leads me to my best work on stage and screen comes from my time spent observing humans and humanity and our world. Imagining and remembering the beautiful places I’ve traveled to. Taking in beauty in all its forms. It all provokes feeling in me. This feeds the work of an actor. If you live in Los Angeles or New York or Chicago, or even Atlanta – get out of town now and then! Seek out new perspective and POV. Literally a new view. See how OTHERS live. Be interested. Be curious. Have a beginner’s mind.
If you could go back time, what do you wish that you knew at the beginning of your career??
I wish I knew that this was a marathon, not a sprint. Actually this feels like a big subject ’cause for me it has so much to do with personal growth. Personal growth that then allowed me fuller access to my heart and my soul. The engines that fuel my work as an actor. When I was starting out. I had this inkling that I had real talent. There were glimmers of it. Accidental spurts of brilliance in class or what-have-you. But I had zero actual belief in myself. (Is that a paradox, I guess?) In any case, the honest truth is, starting in my teens probably, but certainly through my 20s. I didn’t like myself. I certainly didn’t love myself. I didn’t believe myself. I was really hard on myself, deeply critical. My self-worth was in the toilet. When I moved to NYC after college, I couldn’t get arrested. No agents. No bookings. And yet! I persevered. For some reason I was compelled to keep going. Even when no one in a position to hire me for anything could figure out where I fit in. It was like my outsides didn’t align with my insides. I was told I was going to “make it” later in my life. And as infuriating and frustrating and distressing as it was at the time, It proved to be so so true! It wasn’t until my mid-30s that things started to align. That was the beginning of a great shift. An opening. An unfolding of me coming into the height of not only my talents as an Actor, but me as a Woman… a human in this world. And the crux of it was – I had come to LIKE who I was. But yeah. All that said, if I could go back, I’d tell my younger self to get ready for the journey. It’s one I’m very much still on. I’ve got a bunch of miles to go yet!
Have been some of your favorite acting jobs so far?
Well, certainly the film I just shot this past spring will always be one of my favorite jobs. A true dream come true. Without divulging too many details, I was cast in Aaron Sorkin‘s next feature film. Over the course of a month, I found myself not only being directed by the great Mr. Sorkin, but also acting with heroes of mine. I was number 11 on the call sheet. And the first ten people on the call sheet were all Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award winners. I mean, come on! In addition to that upcoming film, working on David Fincher‘s Oscar-winning Mank last year was also a dream come true. Watching a master filmmaker at work for a week was beyond. exhilarating and inspirational. Working with Gary Oldman?! I’m still pinching myself. I also loved playing Gianni Versace’s school teacher (circa 1957) in Ryan Murphy’s Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Can you smell a theme here? These are all period pieces. I definitely have lived many lives and feel really at home in other eras. I know them well. It’s eerie, sometimes. And lastly, I have to say one of the jobs that will remain one of the highlights of my career was a short film called In Passing, directed by USC MFA, Alan Miller. It was his thesis. The whole film is only 5 minutes and takes place almost entirely in midair! Two lonely people jump to their deaths. Only to fall in love with one another. Before the end. We won the student Emmy for Best Comedy! It was an unbelievable experience that included stunt camp, green screen work, harness work. I felt like a badass. And one of the biggest takeaways I had was learning that working on green screen was a fulfilling and invigorating experience. My ability to inhabit the story fully, utilize my imagination (ya know, cuz we weren’t actually falling through the air) and drop into the emotional life of the character I was playing… I never felt so present, so dropped in, so ALIVE. One more thing. Even though I didn’t book this one, I had to share one of the most thrilling experiences I had. And will never forget. Shortly before I booked my role in Mank, I was in the mix for a new film version of Macbeth. That was starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington. Directed by Frances’ husband Joel Coen. I was invited to the director’s session. Where I not only got to read for Joel, but got to read with Frances! It was absolutely an out of body experience! She is just there with you. Utterly present. Curious. Gentle. Fierce. And you can’t help but be your best with her. I will never forget it. And look forward to more opportunities to work with her (and her hubby). I did Shakespeare with Frances McDormand!!!
What a dream come true! How about your current or future projects?
I am between projects currently, but as I mentioned earlier, in the spring I shot my role in Aaron Sorkin’s film. My biggest film role to date. At least as far as major feature films with Oscar-winning artists go. Other than that, I’m doing the job of an actor… Auditioning! I really love auditioning. And by the way, I didn’t always. There was a lot of mindset work that I started in my 30s that got me there. But now, It’s just so fun to remind myself that for those few minutes, I’m the only one on the planet playing this role. It’s mine. I take advantage of that. I bring all of me to a role… stepping into the shoes of the person I’m portraying, and telling their story. It excites me to know I get to share my take on a role with the casting directors, directors, et al. And as long as I leave the room (or my self-tape session) feeling good, that’s what matters.
If you could pick three directors you’d like to work with, who would they be?
Agh!!! You’re making me choose?? Just 3?!?! I have a LIST of 32 of my dream directors (list available upon request. haha). How about this… I’ll give your 5: Wes Anderson, The Coen Bros., Alejandro Inarritu, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson, Sofia Coppola (okay, that’s 6). I’m cheeky like that.
Any other talents or hobbies you haven’t shared with us?
Well, now that you mention it. As I previously shared, when I was 12 years old. I officially started dance class. Jazz, tap, ballet, modern. After college in NYC, I was in the swing dance scene. And also studied American ballroom, argentine tango, and the other latin dances. Before I started dance classes, I played competitive soccer for seven years. I was a championship goalie! I loved it. But when my mom took me to dance class., soccer very quickly faded away. I also studied the piano for seven years, before I quit when I was 13 because I wanted to grow my nails out and didn’t feel like practicing anymore. I have to admit I regret quitting piano lessons. Thankfully I can still read music and teach myself new songs. It just takes longer now. Soon after I started dancing, I also started voice lessons. So, I sing, too! I made my professional musical theater debut when I was 16 in a production of 42nd Street at San Diego’s Starlight Bowl. So exciting! Ruby Keeler (star of the original 1933 film) came to our opening night. I was the youngest member of the cast and a DIVA tap dancer. So all that said, I’m a triple threat! I love being active, and my favorite ways to “move and groove” include boxing (like in a boxing gym), yoga, pilates, hiking, and of course, dance. And tho’ it’s neither a talent nor a hobby, I feel like sharing here that I LOVE to travel! Don’t get to do it nearly as much as I did in my 20s & 30s… I guess it’s partly because things have gotten busier in my career! It’s all about balance tho’ right? I’ll be traveling again very soon.
Thank you so much Dana for sharing your journey with our community. We can’t wait to see what’s next on the horizon for you!
Dana Lyn Baron
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