(Originally published on Act.Land)
Basil Hoffman is an actor who appears in the film The Pineville Heist; here is a link to his website:
Q: When did you know you were an actor?
A: When the audience loved me is a partial answer to a question that actually has two parts that need to be answered. When I was in college, in the business school, two girls talked me into trying out for the annual original campus musical play (on the premise that I would meet a lot of girls, which I did). The joy of performing for an audience and the laughter and applause I got as a reward completely changed my life’s direction. I knew from that point that I needed to be an actor. Even though it took me ten years after making that decision until I made a livable amount of money as an actor, my determination to pursue an acting career never waned.
Part two of my answer is this: My career and the respect I get from those I respect in my industry let me know that I’m an actor. I know there are many people in my line of work who feel comfortable calling themselves actors, which makes perfect sense. Still, I feel better having other people call me an actor. I can’t explain why.
Q: What is “The Pineville Heist” about?
A: “The Pineville Heist” is a suspense film about a teenager who witnesses a murder and subsequently becomes embroiled in the killer’s quest to retrieve the missing proceeds from his bank heist. The boy is caught in a web of danger and deception until the end.
Q: What made you perfect to play the role that you play in the film?
A: The writer/director’s choice for me to play the part made me know that I must be perfect for it. I didn’t audition (as often happens) for the role, so Lee Chambers, who created the project, left it up to me to find the qualities that he saw. As a character kind of actor, I only become “perfect” (if that is possible) for a role by immersing myself in the material. I don’t know how to play a part until I get to work on it, and then I usually find the man I’ve been hired to play.
Q: You have appeared in four Robert Redford projects. How does Mr. Redford communicate with actors?
A: In my experience, Redford hires those actors who he considers to be good actors he can trust to bring something good to the project. He doesn’t do a lot of directing of the actors because he trusts his casting instincts. He might do a lot of directing in some circumstances, but I haven’t seen it. The direction he has given to me was always succinct and enhanced the truthfulness of the moment at hand. I don’t know what he says to actors in an audition because I never auditioned for him.
Q: What is your creative process?
A: I begin by reading the script over and over again to absorb all of the information the writer provides about the story and all of the characters. Then I reread all of the scenes in which my character appears. Then I learn the lines, word for word. It’s important for me to learn the lines as they are written, because the writer has created a character who speaks in a certain way. To arbitrarily change the words would be disrespectful to the character, for the purpose of making the actor comfortable with the script. Scripts aren’t supposed to be comfortable. After I’ve mastered the words, I begin to behave as the character behaves. To do that requires that I know everything the character knows. (I address this process in more detail in my book, “Acting and How to Be Good at It”)
Q: What kind of day jobs did you have when you were a struggling actor?
A: When I went to New York to study I got a job on Wall Street doing statistical work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. five days a week. $1.50 an hour. I had to keep that job (with some promotions and raises) for ten years. I also took additional jobs like passing out fliers advertising plays and movies. It was important that I never take a job that would interfere with my studies or my ability to audition or take an acting job.
Q: What advice would you give to a struggling actor?
A: I suggest that beginning actors understand their goals and not get confused about that. Every actor has two goals. The short term goal is to get an acting job, and the long term goal is to get an acting career. Other pursuits are directed toward achieving those goals. Those pursuits include making a living, training, photos, being seen by casting directors, directors and producers, getting representation, publicity, etc., etc. But jobs are the goal.
Q: What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you about acting?
A: There were two pieces of bad advice I got. One of my first acting teachers in New York said that I needed to give up all of my preconceptions about acting. That meant giving up my instincts, which turned out to be disastrous for me. The other bad advice was the admonition that when I went to Hollywood I would have to have an agent.
Q: What characteristics make a compelling war movie?
A: Humanity! “Hacksaw Ridge” is a prime example.
Q: How does a guy from Houston, TX get a name like Basil Hoffman?
A: I don’t know where my name came from. I do have a distant cousin in Birmingham, Alabama, named Basil. My mother’s parents immigrated from Ukraine, and the name Basil (Vasily) is a somewhat common Slavic name.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.