Independent Filmmaker's Guide
April 27, 2021
How To Navigate Any Set: Actor Todd Crain
Filmmaking consists of many moving parts all working together cohesively. One of the most visible of those parts is obviously the actor. Today we take a look at the process of the actor, discussing the perspective, lessons and workflow of navigating many different sets. You will have seen our guest on The Punisher, Broad City, Quantico and much, much more. Actor Todd Alan Crain.
Steven Pierce: Todd, thanks very much for coming on and just shooting the shit with me.
Todd Alan Crain: Thank you so much for having me. This is fun. It’s going to be fun.
Steven Pierce: So how did you come to be like a not lawyer? What bad decisions did you make in your lifetime to end up being in front of the camera?
Todd Alan Crain: So many bad decisions were made a long time ago. I actually started in high school like a lot of people do and a friend of mine convinced me to audition for the musical, the spring musical in my junior year of high school and I was like, “No, thanks.” And then I did it and I was in it and I thought, “Oh my God, this is kind of magical.” And so I kind of started-
Steven Pierce: What musical?
Todd Alan Crain: It was Guys and Dolls-
Steven Pierce: Of course.
Todd Alan Crain: … For the show starts with this feud for 10 horns, which is the verse sung song in the show, and I was one of those three guys and it was like the most exciting thing I had ever experienced. And so from that, I went to school, I went to university and I have a musical theater degree. That’s what I went to school for. So, I moved to New York City 13 days after I graduated and all I wanted was to be in a big, fat Broadway Musical. That’s it. That was my goal. And then I got here and realized how hard that was. That was real tough. And then it started this other journey of trying to figure out exactly how to get there, how tough it was and how many other areas of this business there were to work in, especially as a young actor who just moved to the city. And you’re not 100% sure of what it is that you’re going to end up doing and where this business is going to accept you or not. And eventually, it took a lot of years to get here, but I ended up on TV and I found a home that I love and I didn’t know that I was going to love it as much as I do. And it’s afforded me a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have and wouldn’t have had, had I taken the Broadway route. So, the main difference of course, is the fact that you’re doing literally a different thing every single day that you’re on-set as opposed to a Broadway show where you’re doing literally the same thing eight times a week. And that’s a huge difference right there and I love it. I love where I’ve landed.
Steven Pierce: So, you kind of fell backwards into acting in television and film?
Todd Alan Crain: Correct. Yeah, this was not a goal. I’d never even considered it. We had one TV and film class in college and I took it and it was fun and I thought, “This will never happen, so I’m going to focus on what my major is.” Which is musical theater. And so I moved here with that in mind and then the rug kind of got pulled out from under me and I ended up hosting a lot of things. So, that wasn’t my introduction to on-camera. So, I met this company in Connecticut, they were a very small company and they were doing kids educational videos and they needed a host. And so I learned how to use a teleprompter and hosted my own educational kids videos for elementary grade school kids. And I did probably 27 of those videos, which was great.
Steven Pierce: Wow!.
Todd Alan Crain: It’s a really great experience and working on-camera and figuring out what works and what doesn’t in terms of a host. And then I ended up hosting a lot of other things. I hosted the television game show Jeopardy, which is kind of an offshoot of everything else that I’ve done. I hosted 196 full games of Jeopardy with the IBM computer Watson. So, that was… It’s been a kind of a crazy career, but I’m really lucky to have found any opportunity to work in this business because every actor that you talk to, will tell you the very first thing that it’s kind of hard. If you’re making a decision to get into it, you got to be prepared for the downtime-
Steven Pierce: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd Alan Crain: … and for the disappointment.
Steven Pierce: So, I have a similar story. I got a degree in musical theater-
Todd Alan Crain: Oh, yeah.
Steven Pierce: … and didn’t honestly know… I came from the middle of nowhere, just didn’t know what I wanted to do. And then once I figured it out, it was that I wanted to be a director, I was already halfway through a conservatory. So, it was too late to not restart or finish. So, I finished, moved to New York at the same thing, the audition thing and ultimately moved to doing other stuff. What do you approach differently? Because theater is really different. It’s a long process of collaboration and learning what the pieces are and learning what the character is and learning your track across three, four weeks. Film is show up on-set, you could be shooting within the hour and you could be done in two if you have under five lines.
Todd Alan Crain: That’s exactly-
Steven Pierce: So what’s your approach?
Todd Alan Crain: So, I have to say that from my own personal experience, and if you ask that question to 50 different actors, you’re going to get 50 different answers. But from my experience, having the theater background and taking the time over those three weeks to learn a character, to figure out exactly who that character is, that was a really great training ground for the downhill snowball effect of television. There’s no time for you to spend three weeks getting to know a character because you might land a job, two days before it shoots and one of those days has to be your costume fitting. So, you don’t have a lot of time to figure it all out. So, all of the training that I had doing theater, really assisted me in condensing down the process of figuring out who someone is, so that when I get to set, I’m ready to go. There’s an immediate, I have a set of circumstances I know where this guy came from, I know what his relationships are with the people who I’m interacting with on-set in the scene. I know why I say the things that I do and that wouldn’t have been possible for me, had I not had the training as a stage actor. Because it’s so in depth, it’s so time consuming. There’re so many details that you have to go through as a stage actor to make your performance as believable and relatable to a giant 1500 seat audience as possible. But now, you don’t have a 1500 seat audience, you’ve got a glass round circle that you’re playing everything to. So you’ve got to make that switch in your head. And luckily enough, I was able to make that switch fairly easily because I had so many years of theater background training.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, Because also you may not even know if you’re doing all these different shows, it might be a new series, you’ve never seen it before, unreleased with a director you’ve never worked before. How do you determine the tone of performance and what you’re going to bring?
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So, that exact scenario happened with Broad City, the first season of Broad City that I did. I played this character named Kevin. And I went in to audition, my friend Cody was the casting director and it was going to audition for the final episode of the first season which, in that episode, and he has less than five lines. And so that’s what I was going in for and I didn’t know what Broad City was, it wasn’t on TV yet, it was literally shooting its first season. So, I went in and I did the audition and Cody was like, “That’s awesome. Can I ask you to do me a favor?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And so he said, “We just got this episode in and it’s got this character named Kevin, and I think that maybe you could take a stab at it.” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And so he handed it to me and it was a lot of material and I was like, “Oh, I need just a second. Can I go out and look at it?” And he was like, “Yeah, take your time.” So I went out and I looked at it and I was like, “Oh, my God, this guy is extraordinary. It’s really funny and I know who this is.” So, I literally spent five minutes, however it took for the last actor to audition while I was in the waiting room. And so I went back in and I did it and I did it one time and they were like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing. Thank you so much.” And that was it. I got the job.
Todd Alan Crain: And so, then I found myself on this set and I had made a series of choices in the waiting room of that audition for that part that I was literally just handed that just happened to fit in with the director’s idea and Abbi and Ilana’s Idea of who this character was when they wrote it. So, that just happened to all come together at the same time. So, you’re taking a risk, it’s a calculated risk. Do I understand how this character reacts, literally just being given the script? And if that’s the case, you stand a much better chance of actually getting that part. If you have to work for it really hard and you have to dig and dig and dig, because you’re not going to get it in the initial take, then chances are you’re not going to get that job. I love those challenges though, that’s one of the greatest things about this business, is that in those moments you can be given a script literally in the room and say, “Can you do something with this?” And because of the background that I have, I have this tool chest that I have all of these characteristics that I’ve collected over the years that I’ve played all of these different types of characters, that I can pull out characteristics. And it’s like you see little kids going up into an attic and they open up this chest and there’s a robe and a hat and a feather bow and all of the stuff that they put on for playtime. They’re dressing up for playtime. That’s exactly what my tool chest is like. I pull out those characteristics and I think, “Oh, this can be applied to this guy, because he’s saying this to this type of person.” Great, that’s fascinating to me. I love those challenges. So, I think it’s… I teach a lot of workshops for young actors and actors my age and older actors. But one of the things that I try to convince people of is to build as much stuff in your tool chest as possible because you never know when you’re going to need it. So from that, I created, on Broad City, this character named Kevin and then they asked me back for the final season of the show because he was such a nice hit for the first season. It was like… Ilana said to me, “This is kind of an Easter egg for the fans. So, we thought we’d bring back Kevin for the last season.” So, yeah. You have to be smart about this business. It’s not just, “I’m going to go have play time.” There’s a lot of work that goes into it. And again, my theater training really helped that.
Steven Pierce: And you find that. How much of those tools that you’re pulling out and that you’re using… If you’re just handed a role, you don’t really have time to really build a character, it’s like you’re mostly being yourself with a couple of tweaks, right?
Todd Alan Crain: Correct. That is correct. Yeah. You’re given an opportunity and you have to consciously make that decision, “Am I going to take advantage of this opportunity and make this what I think it needs to be in order to be entertaining for an audience to watch? Or am I just going to be a victim to what is written on the page?” I don’t ever want to be a victim.
Steven Pierce: Has there ever been a scenario where you’ve gotten a really good note for you from a director on a set maybe whenever you’re first learning how to scale the camera?
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah, that happened actually during The Punisher, when I was filming the last season of The Punisher that was on Netflix. The director we had was from… He had done a lot of the episodes for Downton Abbey. A British director, amazing guy and he said to me the circumstances of this character, he’s been beaten up by John’s character, The Punisher, Frank Castle. So, he’s bloody and this is not his thing, he’s a US senator, so he’s not used to violence, especially being punched in the face by Jon Bernthal. So, I remember him saying to me that this scene that I was doing was really overly emotional for this character and my director said… He said, “I’m going to need you to pull that back because we’re going to see that you’re upset, you don’t have to show us.” And I was like, “Huh, that’s…” An important thing for an actor is having a director that knows how to convey a message that means something without 5000 extra words going into it. I need you to just give me the nut of whatever it is that you’re trying to tell me because if you give me too much, I’m going to get confused and then I’m going to go back to what I gave you the first time, because it’s the only thing that I truly understand. So, this director had an unbelievable succinctness to what he was saying and how he was saying it. If you give a 40 minute explanation for this one thing that you’re trying to achieve in your own head of what you want to see in the final take, I can’t process all of that information. And he was amazing at his succinctness. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it.
Steven Pierce: Man, you hit the nail on the head for the challenge I think of my career. My constant fight is how can I say it in less words? More effectively with less words. Again, I’ll use the theater versus film comparison. I think in the theater I feel like or actually reality TVs, oddly kind of the same way. We do competition series once in a while. But it feels like I’m almost the moderator of the group, the teacher of the class, you put everybody in here and then it’s just constantly them having fun while you’re… And that I feel like is the right relationship. You know what I mean? It’s like-
Todd Alan Crain: Yes.
Steven Pierce: … “Well, I’m here pushing the bus in a certain direction, but the bus, I’m not part of it.” Whereas when I’m shooting a film or a scene with somebody, I feel like it is very important that a relationship exists between me and each actor and be very specific, especially because I remember recently, we were shooting a scene and it was very intense, very dramatic scene and some of the actors in it were a little younger and less experienced. And some of them responded to old actor games that I remembered from school in things I could do like get into a Meisner repeat to get them to where they needed to be emotionally for the take. And others, you just tell them what you want. You just tell them, “I want to see you cry and walk across the room.” And dismiss them. That’s what they-
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: And so for me, I’ve found I’ve got to have that individual relationship to really be good at what I’m doing.
Todd Alan Crain: Yes. I love the analogy of being the teacher in the front of the classroom, because as teachers experience every single day, every single student has a different way of learning. And so you’ve got to be able to relate to every single kid in the way that they will accept information. That’s exactly how we work because as you said, on the same set, I can have somebody who is just it’s literally their first experience and then somebody who’s been doing 50 films and I have to talk to them differently. I have to know that I’ve got to figure it out immediately, which class you fit in and what type of language I use.
Steven Pierce: Exactly. I’m sure there are many times you’ve met someone like you’re meeting the director or the actor that you’re doing the scene with right before filming.
Todd Alan Crain: Oh, yes.
Steven Pierce: And so you’re still trying to establish that relationship. How do you approach that?
Todd Alan Crain: That’s an interesting question because I did this film for HBO, it was called Paterno, which was the Joe Paterno story, the university coach that was Pacino was-
Steven Pierce: Yeah, Pacino. Yeah.
Todd Alan Crain: So, Barry Levinson was our director for that film and he’s a big director. So, I literally didn’t meet him until I walked on-set to meet my co-star. There was no introduction of any kind. They were shooting something prior to me getting there and so we all just arrived at the same time and he introduced himself and I was like, “Yeah, I know who you are.” And so, there was no “getting to know you” process, there was no nothing. And so after every take, there would be a series of notes that he would come up and just pass on to me and that was the extent of our relationship. It’s really hard to get to know somebody when you don’t get a chance to actually talk to them and build that relationship. So, I don’t feel like I had a relationship with Barry Levinson. I had a working relationship, I was there to do my job and luckily, I knew how to do my job and I took his notes and did exactly what he wanted and I felt good about that. And so that’s the trophy that you have to walk away with.
Todd Alan Crain: Sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to build a lifelong lasting relationship with someone, because you’re literally just there for the day. And you’re going to do your stuff and you’re going to get out and you’re going to go home and you’re going to audition for the next project. Which is not to say that was the experience that I had on Quantico, when I did that show on ABC. So, my director for that first episode of Quantico that I did, was Jennifer Lynch, David Lynch’s daughter. So, Twin Peaks, David Lynch. And so I didn’t meet her until I got to the set that first day and the very first thing that she said to me when we introduce ourselves to each other was, “You are exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking about this character and then I saw your audition.” Immediately, we have a relationship, because she did that. I didn’t say anything. I literally said, “Hi, I’m Todd.” And she said, “Hi, I’m Jen.” And so then she offered that piece of information. And immediately we had this thing. She had information about me that she decided to share in that moment, that created this dissolution of all of the walls and there was an immediate trust. I knew exactly that my skill set was what she was anticipating, and what she was hoping to get. So, immediately all of the pressure is gone. That was amazing. And you don’t get that with every director, not every director is going to take a chance and build some type of relationship with an actor that they might only work with that one day. Luckily, I was brought back for two more episodes of that show because of the stuff that I did on the set that day. So, I was written into two more episodes, which was a huge honor for me. And I have to thank Jennifer Lynch for doing that because it was the very first television show I’ve ever been on, where I’ve done more than one episode as the same character.
Steven Pierce: That’s a very smart note that she gave. I’m sure it was absolutely genuine. That does to me it seems, it immediately says, “You’re enough, don’t go acting just be.”
Todd Alan Crain: That’s brilliant.
Steven Pierce: So, let’s talk about your career over time. How did you go from booking the one day on a show to getting multiple episodes? Was that a long trajectory or was it just kind of happenstance?
Todd Alan Crain: It’s a tough question. And again, you ask 50 actors, you’re going to get 50 different answers for that. But yeah, it was a long… I think that genetically I was born looking like this. I am the typical Midwestern guy that can play a dick when he needs to. And that’s awesome. That seems to be a valuable trait. So, once that starts to happen and people start to recognize, especially your representation, starts to recognize that you can play multiple kinds of roles and you have a certain look about you, that gets you in. And that makes them work harder, because then they see you as a moneymaker. And that’s what this business is all about from the representation side. They want to make you money, so that you make them money. And so, once that relationship is established that, “I can work in this business, but I need you to get me out there. Then we both make money.” That’s how this works. So I got to a point after I was doing these very small parts on television shows, where I started to get to know casting directors a little bit more, my representation definitely knew my work. So, they were a little bit more able to push me in for those larger roles and then it was up to me. I have to now step up to the next level. So, if I’m ready to do that as an actor, then great, then we’re all in this together. But if my representation is pushing for me to get into larger roles than I can actually handle, then that’s not ever going to happen, then they’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to get dropped as a client. And so there’s a lot of pressure involved in that. So, I’ve been lucky enough to learn something from every single job that I have ever had since I was in college. It’s just something that I try to do.
Steven Pierce: So, whenever you’re working with an agent, that’s an interesting thing. Do you ever have a piece or film or show that you want to work on that you have to go up to bat for with them and you have to say, “Hey, I really want to do this thing.” And they don’t want you to do it. Have you ever had that experience?
Todd Alan Crain: Never that they don’t want me to do it. I have had several things where I’ve said, “I know that the show is casting now and I would really love to be on it because I loved the last season of it. So if there’s something that comes in that I’m right for, that you think you can push me for…” Because it’s a casting director that I don’t know or that I don’t know knows my work or not, “then let’s give this a shot.” And so I’ve never had them say, “I don’t think that you’re going to be right for anything on that show.” That’s never a thing. I think that you have to have such a good- speaking of relationships, you have to have the best relationship with your manager because they are the person who is essentially going to push for you to get into auditions that you might not have otherwise been able to get into if you didn’t have representation. The most important relationship, director, manager, the most important relationship that any actor has is with a casting director. That’s the gatekeeper. That person is the person who makes the decision to bring you in for the audition or not. If you have a good relationship with a casting director, then you’re good. You’re good. You need to expand that as many times as you can. And luckily, I did an episode of House of Cards and the casting director was Julie Schubert. And so from that one experience, it was such a really good part for me and it was the very first time that I was ever allowed to get emotional in a scene. They ended up cutting that from the scene that I was doing with Meredith Vieira on the Meredith Vieira Show, for that segment. But she was there. Julie, the casting director was in the audience, the Meredith Vieira audience as we were shooting the segment for House of Cards. And it was amazing to be able to do what I thought this character needed to do on-camera in this venue and have her be in the audience.
So, she got to know my work really well that day, which was amazing, as opposed to just coming into my audition, I meet you for five minutes, you do the piece and then you leave and then why send the tape off to the director, she actually got a chance to know who I was. So from that experience, she’s the one who brought me in for The Punisher. And I ended up doing four episodes of that show as the same character. And it was a pivotal part for that show. And that relationship is the most important relationship that you will ever have in this business as an actor. Who is the most important person for you? Is it a relationship that you as a director have with the producer or who do you think has the most weight in terms of what you need to achieve as a director on any set?
Steven Pierce: Well, I think again, probably differs for every single person and it might even differ per day. Because if you’re trying to make a film or you’re trying to do something, you need a vast list of resources and people you can lean on, But I think singularly for me, obviously I’ve been working with James, my producer and he’s our director in his own right for years and I think that relationship is probably the most important because it’s how you decide what to do, when and what’s appropriate and how you do it. And also just picks up, you’re responsible for so much as a creative lead on something, which is what I view a director is. You know what I mean?
Steven Pierce: No matter what you’re doing, I think it’s your res… Sometimes on TV shows, the show runner becomes really the person that is doing it as a director in a feature film. So for me, I think that that is probably the relationship that I need the most, is to keep me honest and make sure that my work is constantly pushing and it’s the right time to do that. That’s sometimes the hardest decision, is deciding when not to do something.
Todd Alan Crain: Wow!
Steven Pierce: Talk about that relationship with the casting director, because also for instance, for a director, it’s very important that you do develop relationships with the casting director, because a lot of independent feature films, how they get funded, how they get distributed and ultimately become a film is by having an actor in there that can help make sales and help push the project forward and name especially as a first time director, the way you get those most times is by knowing a casting director.
Todd Alan Crain: You as a director, having a personal relationship with a casting director that you trust?
Steven Pierce: Correct. Or pitching your idea to a casting director and convincing them to believe in it, because they’re the gatekeepers from our side at least in the beginning whenever you don’t have a reputation as a narrative director to – getting with actors. And that’s actually where I think a lot of actors get really interesting work too, is because you can get a really good role that normally you wouldn’t get in this situation or you wouldn’t be up for in this situation because they push you in that scenario. So how did you develop this relationship with all these casting directors? Was it just over time?
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s over time and it’s over your reputation. So, a casting director is making a choice to bring you in. If they don’t know you, they’re taking a big chance. So, they bring you in for an audition, let’s say you get the part on your very first audition for that casting director, then you have a responsibility as an actor to go to that set and you’ve got to bring your A game every single damn day. Because it’s not just you and your reputation that you’re protecting, you are also protecting the relationship that you have with the casting director, who is then going to put trust in you to bring you in for multiple projects that may span television and film and theater and commercials, whatever areas that they choose to work in. So, that relationship is really dependent on how you develop your relationships while you are working on-set. Because they are the gatekeeper, they are the person who makes that decision. Example, to go back to House of Cards and to The Punisher. So, I did this thing for House of Cards, Julie Schubert brought me in for The Punisher and she sent me, that I didn’t know at the time, were dummy sides. So, because it’s a Marvel property, it was a Marvel property, now it’s a Disney property. They were very secretive in what they would allow the actors to use for audition material. So, they had some of their interns, the writers for The Punisher had some of their interns actually write out a couple of scenes that would never appear in the show. They were never intended to appear in the show. But the actors don’t know that. When you get the sides, they’re dummy sides, so you work really hard on it, you’re thinking “This is-
Steven Pierce: “This might be a scene. I might be shooting the scene in three days.”
Todd Alan Crain: And what’s the greatest thing was that this was a giant two page monologue of a US senator giving a press conference. And at the end of the press conference, it gets really emotional and touching for him. And so I went in and I did my thing and I got the job and then I get the phone call that the audition material that you used is not actually going to be in the show. And I said, “I don’t understand.” I said, “What did I just do?” And they were like, “Well, they’re dummy sides, they’re written specifically just for the audition to find a character that can do this.” So I asked when I got to the set, I asked the head writer of the show, because he was there my very first day I said, “Can I ask you how you know from writing a dummy side for an actor to go in and do for their audition that has nothing to do with the season or what is actually going to be required of them throughout the season. If you’re giving them something that doesn’t exist in the show, where’s the thought process going?” He said, “First and foremost, we don’t have a choice. Marvel will not allow us to release any part of the script that’s not being used on the set that day. So we have no choice but to write dummy sides. And we don’t tell the actors that because we want them to put in as much effort as they possibly can.”
Steven Pierce: We need to see him perform. We need to see-
Todd Alan Crain: That’s exactly right.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, yeah.
Todd Alan Crain: Right. But then I said, “Answer this part of the second question.” I said, “The stuff that I have to do in the show is he gets punched in the face and he has this really emotional outpouring for several days.” The first day on the set after I was punched, I had to cry for five and a half hours. I didn’t have to do that in my audition. So I said, “How do you make that decision that I’m going to be capable of delivering the emotional stuff when I get on-set if you’ve never seen me do that, especially in the audition for the show that you fired me for?” And he was like, “Well, we took a chance.” I was like, “That is ballsy. That is ballsy.”
Steven Pierce: I was wondering-
Todd Alan Crain: Because what if I got in there and totally shit the bed?
Steven Pierce: Yeah. I was wondering whenever you were saying that. I wondered, do they go through the scenes and try to find emotional way points and then try to write something similar? I was really wondering how they come up with that because I’ve never heard of that before and that’s super interesting.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah. I didn’t know that was a thing either. I had no idea. My audition for House of Cards. All of this is about House of Cards and The Punisher. But my House of Cards audition, when I got the audition, it was literally just one page, but it had been photocopied and you could see that there were cut marks, physical scissor cut marks and tape marks to create this one page scene. And I didn’t understand exactly what was going on. So you have to do as an actor, what you were given as this material. They don’t want you to improv and stuff like that, it’s written for a reason. So, I went in and based on the information that I had for this House of Cards audition, I was a US senator, I was running for president and I was on this show, which turned out to be the Meredith Vieira Show, and I was talking about the fact that I had this, my male lover was a banker. And I got in and I did the thing as a US senator and Julie stopped me after the first take and she said, “I’m so sorry.” She said, “You did exactly what you were given.” And she said, “I have to apologize because I had to cut out, there’s another person in the scene, but I had to cut all of their dialogue out because they wouldn’t allow me to release the entire scene to you. So what you are seeing is bits and pieces of their dialogue thrown in with your dialogue, so you assume that you were the senator to which this whole thing was revolving.” And I was like, “I’m really confused.” But I ended up getting that job, which was crazy. And James Foley was my director for that, who directed Glengarry Glen Ross. Amazing director. Again, how in the hell are they making decisions? How do you as a director know, “This is my person.” Have you ever? But you’ve never put an actor in a situation where you’re giving them sides that have nothing to do with the actual shoot itself.
Steven Pierce: No, I have no idea. I really, I’m not sure. I guess the film goes down to that thing, I have no idea how you would do that. But I guess it goes down to that thing when you are in casting, I have set on the other side of the table quite often and they tell you when you’re in acting school that you know when people walk in the room and you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” It sounds like it’s so harsh, but you kind of do. You know, within the first 15 seconds if there’s somebody that it’s going to work or not or do you want to see more? And it’s not ever really usually about something somebody has done wrong, it’s about the things that they possess in themselves. The energy that they bring to the room, the way they talk and all that. So, I’m sure that, that has to be something in there. I’d love to learn more about that. So, I’m going to try and track someone down to find out about that.
Todd Alan Crain: Here’s an interesting little dilemma.
Steven Pierce: I want to go back to, you were talking about The Punisher and crying for five hours and all of that.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: And that it was a really, really, really heightened emotional scene that you were doing or some of those. Specifically, how do you stay primed to do that across a day? Because that’s a long time to have to stay in that emotional state.
Todd Alan Crain: That is. And this was the second time I’d had the opportunity to do something like this on-camera. I did an episode, my very first episode, the show’s been on for 19 years, Law and Order. I did my first episode of Law and Order and I played the bad guy, which was awesome. And he has this emotional breakdown at the end of the day. And it was awesome. It was the very first time I’ve ever been able to do that, that wasn’t comedy, that heightened drama. So, then I get The Punisher and I have the experience of having done that kind of literal emotional breakdown at the end of Law and Order, so I had that bit of experience to pull with me. But this was different because this was… I was a victim in this situation. I was not the pursuer, I was being pursued at that point. And he’s scared and he’s out of his element and he has-
Steven Pierce: It is one of the hardest-
Todd Alan Crain: Absolutely.
Steven Pierce: … being out of power and not pursuing it.
Todd Alan Crain: Yes.
Steven Pierce: Yeah.
Todd Alan Crain: Oh, my gosh! And it’s terrifying when you convince yourself that this is really happening to you because that’s the only way in my opinion as an actor, that it’s going to be believable for the audience. So, that morning, when I was getting makeup done in the makeup trailer, and I said, “Can I ask you a question real fast?” And she said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Have you ever put makeup on somebody who is actively crying before?” And she said, “Oh, no, I haven’t, but here’s the thing. You need to do your job and I need to do mine. So whatever it takes for you to do your job, I will step up to the plate and I will do mine. And don’t worry about me.” And it was a very human moment between two people who we’re going to be doing two very different things for that five and a half hours. So, I get to the set and I have to work myself up and it’s a series of… You’re attaching yourself to the material, you’re putting yourself in the world of this character and understanding the emotional weight that goes behind it. You’re bringing back a little bit of your own personal, whatever made you the most sad kind of thing and you’re trying to maintain that throughout your day. And the very first time I came out, we were shooting in a mobile home and so I came out of the mobile home just for a makeup touch up and I’m sweaty and I’m gross and I’ve got blood everywhere and I’m crying and she did it. She never said anything. She touched me up, she did a couple of things. And then she put her hands down and I’m in front of her and she looked up at my face and she said very quietly, “Are you okay?” And I’m a mess while she’s doing and I said, “Yeah, yeah.” She goes, “Okay, good job.” And she turned around, she walked away. And that was it.
So from that moment on, we had this thing that she knew what she was in for and it was really nice to have a female energy there. In some way, it felt very comforting to me, which then allowed me to go even a little bit further because I knew that I had… This is weird to talk about, but I knew I had a safety net in my makeup woman, because she was so kind and she treated me so gently knowing that I had to do something so incredibly difficult inside of the mobile home. And that made it easier for me. That made it… It was nice to know that there was some safe place that I could go, that I could escape just enough to feel like me again. She did her thing and then I would go back in and do it all over again. And it was hard, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.The Punisher is by far the hardest job I’ve ever had. And I was there for two and a half months. And it was a challenge. And not every day was crying five and a half hours, but it was really emotionally the most taxing job I’ve ever had. And when that job was over, this is something that I would love to hear your take on this as well. My final shoot day was the worst emotional break for this character. He’s given some information that he didn’t know that literally breaks him. And it was two days after the shoot was all over, I was at home and I realized that I was so super depressed, super depressed. And I realized that I was still carrying the shit from the set, that it was so heavy for me and so real and so desperate and sad that I had a really hard time shaking it. I didn’t know that that was a thing for actors. I didn’t know that we could carry around the sadness and the depression and the pain from what it is that we do. As a director, do you have some type of hangover that happens after you’re finished with a project?
Steven Pierce: Oh, always.
Todd Alan Crain: Because I imagine, your hours as a director are so much longer than they are for us as actors. You’re in pre-production and then you’re doing the shoot. And then you’ve got to edit for three months. And that’s a huge long process. Do you experience something as a director that you have a hard time shaking at times?
Steven Pierce: I think yes. And it’s not usually individual scenes, it’s usually things that I think I could have done better usually in prep or in imagination, but things that get me, I feel like I might lack imagination in tough situations. If I have an idea tomorrow, how I could have improved that scene yesterday and that hangover lasts with me forever. Like our pieces where the segment should have been different, or we should have done this and that, that never leaves. That’s one reason I don’t like to jump into an edit right after we shoot.
Steven Pierce: Obviously, if you’re doing television, you have no option, you’re going right in it. But if you’re shooting a film, I know several directors that I’ve spoken to that like to just step away from it for a bit and that’s me too. I’ve made edits right away, short films immediately afterwards because I think I’m fresh on the coverage and then I’ll come back to it and I’ll be super depressed and sad. Like we did the short film, Bang Bang, which is a Western clown comedy. It’s ridiculous, but I’m really, really proud of it. It’s really fun. It’s basically-
Todd Alan Crain: That’s awesome.
Steven Pierce: Yeah. But I remember doing the first cut of it and I just text my colleagues and be like, “I’m sorry, guys. I fucked this one up. I totally missed it like this. I didn’t do it, we put all these resources in there or on here and it’s all on me, it’s nobody else’s fault.” And I’m super, super sad for a week.
Todd Alan Crain: Oh, my God!
Steven Pierce: And I did come back to it for like two months and then totally redid it and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever directed.
Todd Alan Crain: That is amazing. What a huge success story that is!
Steven Pierce: Yeah. Yes. The answer is yes. Now for actors, I think it’s really tough with television. Because in theater, I would approach that from the beginning and take those scenes from more of a Boleslavsky background than a Stanislavski.
Todd Alan Crain: Sure. Absolutely.
Steven Pierce: So, in other words, imagining learning when somebody has something that’s actually traumatizing or hitting a true note, but from the wrong reason, the right moment for the wrong process reason. In theater, it would take a different approach to it. I’d step back and say, “Let’s imagine this character from this way and let’s imagine.” So, the Boleslavsky technique basically as I remember and I’m going to bastardize it, but basically it is if you’re a killer, it’s the same as you killing a mosquito, that kind of thing. Imagining other areas that are not damaging to you personally, you’re not imagining self-trauma, or you’re not pushing these things from your past into your active stuff.
Todd Alan Crain: Yes.
Steven Pierce: But for film, it happens all the time. It happens in every emotional scene. “Farther, go more, dig deeper, give me more, one more time, one more time, a little bit more. And then, okay, now take 10 and we’re going to come back and do it again for the coverage.” So, I don’t really have an answer for that for actors, I can see that being a big problem because when you need to do it right now, the pressure is on, especially a big show like The Punisher, where this money every minute is just flowing out and everyone’s sitting here staring at you. That’s also hire ability, right?
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: You feel you must deliver that.
Todd Alan Crain: Right.
Steven Pierce: I’m not certain. And that’s a good thing to take away from here that I want to think about a little bit more because how can I be better as a process director to help actors in that moment, rather than just pushing in breaking the character and pushing into self? How can I be… That would be something they would hang over for me for instance. I’ve done that to an actor and they told me two days later, they’re still having trouble shaking it. That would hang with me because I’d be like, “That’s a problem of imagination on my part because I pushed someone, rather than enabling someone.”
Todd Alan Crain: As an actor, I… This is my own personal take on what you just said. I wouldn’t want you to change anything. Because as I said earlier, every single person on a set or every single person in any type of production, we’re all working towards the same goal. I would never hold you responsible for getting a performance out of me that you think is worthy of the material that I’m trying to shoot. That’s my bullshit to deal with off-set. And if I’m going to share that with you, I am making the conscious choice to put some of that on you, that’s not your problem. That’s not your… I need you to give me a performance that I hired you to give me. You and I differ in that. And that’s coming from the actor standpoint. I want you to push me as far as… My director for Law and Order said to me, “I want you to take this as far as you can take it.” The very first thing that I thought as he said that and he turned around and walked away was, “You’re going to regret saying that, because now I’m going to go. Now you’ve given me permission to push this as far as I can take it. And my goal is to make this as uncomfortable to watch as humanly possible.” That’s my goal. That’s your fault, that’s on you. And I look at that stuff from Law and Order and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m proud of that. I’m really proud of that.” So, I carried some of that with me in my toolbox to The Punisher.
And that was my… Honestly, that’s the one thing that I thought for two and a half months, I have to make this as uncomfortable to watch as humanly possible because I know that’s the only way that I’m going to believe as an audience member, that David Schultz, the character that I played on the show, is actually going through what he’s going through. That’s not on you as the director. I disagree with that completely. And I understand from an emotional standpoint, you’re a human being. Yeah, I’d feel bad that two days after the shoot, I made you feel like shit, but I got the performance I wanted out here and I’m really proud of that. That would be the first thought that would go through my mind. That’s not your responsibility. We have responsibilities as actors to protect ourselves in whatever ways we need to do that. Some people choose to do that by numbing their feelings, drugs and alcohol or sex or shopping or whatever that is. That’s their problem, that’s the way they deal with it. I have very little sympathy for that, because that’s their method. I don’t blame you, nor would I ever blame you for getting a performance out of me that I ultimately I’m going to go, “Holy shit, I’ve never done that before.” And I want to thank you for that. That would be my reaction to you. Not, “Hey, by the way, two days after the shoot, I was really… I was on the verge of jumping off the top of my roof.” That’s not your responsibility. I disagree. I could not disagree more. Because you have a lot of responsibilities. I understand what it’s like to be in control of all of those people and to be making all of the decisions and all of that weight coming to land on your shoulders. I have one job, it’s your job to make me do my job. Great, I understand that. You need to get out of me what you need to get out of me as long as we understand what the ground rules are, I can’t hold you responsible for that. For my emotional well being. I’d have to say that actors may not be emotionally stable enough to be doing that kind of material. That’s honestly my reaction to that. And I feel bad in a lot of ways for saying that, but I-
Steven Pierce: No, I don’t think you should feel bad. I think that that’s just part of human nature. It’s just part of the process too.
Todd Alan Crain: Absolutely.
Steven Pierce: but I think the thing that would bother me about it, because I hear what you’re saying and I respect what you’re saying entirely and I appreciate what you’re saying. I think it is the difference between what I want to do is super emotional and super tight and hard scenes like that. And especially things where you’re pushing someone very emotionally. I want to walk right up to the brink of the edge of braking and look over the side and see what’s in the abyss. I don’t want to push someone over the edge. So, I think that that is the difference. Because I think, especially in those intense moments in these intense scenes, if you push and push and push and push and push and push, you obviously need to push and you need to push far, but you also have to have a sense of where that line is because you can come at it in a different way. You can take a break and come again and get the performance you need without breaking someone.
Todd Alan Crain: Sure.
Steven Pierce: And I think that is what I’m taking issue with. And I think if you have two days where it’s hard to shake, that might be one thing where I would be uncomfortable at that point. I’d be like, “We should have prepped this more and spent more time endowing props, endowing smells, endowing… There are hundreds of ways and every person’s different to get that. And you know what I mean. And I think that’s what I’m taking, that I think I would take issue with.
Todd Alan Crain: I got it. Yeah, that makes sense. It makes sense.
Steven Pierce: So, Todd.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: Where can people… What are you up to now? Where can people find you?
Todd Alan Crain: Thanks to the quarantine, I’m not working, we’re not doing… I’m actually doing a lot of workshops. I taught one yesterday for kids in Columbus, Ohio, of all places. I went to school at Otterbein University, which is 20 minutes outside of Columbus. So, this was a college friend of mine, she’s running the kids department of this summer theater camp in Ohio and she asked me if I would teach her workshop for 11 to 16 year olds. There were 16 of them. So, we did a two hour workshop then, I’m doing another workshop next Thursday for a group up in Connecticut, all thanks to Zoom. And I’ve done two other workshops thanks to Zoom. So, I do a lot of that. I work with as many actors as are interested in hearing my opinion on things and hearing my stories. And the only thing that I want in return is for them to feel like they have a little bit of a stronger grasp on this business because when I first started out, it was really hard for me. I didn’t have a mentor, I didn’t have… There was no one from my class, there was no one from the class before mine in New York City. I was completely by myself. And I was terrified. I didn’t know how to start as an actor. And that was a scarring, jarring, unbelievably educational period in my life. So, at this point in my life, I would like to help as many actors as I can to take the mystery out of this. To answer the questions that you’ve never been able to answer before. So I hold these workshops, I don’t charge for them, but it just means more to me that people feel a little bit better about themselves in this business than they did when they went in. Another thing, these paintings. If you’re listening to the podcast you can’t see the paintings, but I paint. That started about a year and a half ago. So, I had the groundwork laid for all of the paintings and then during this quarantine I’ve been able to churn out a bunch of them. So, that’s how I occupy my time most of the time, is I cook and I do the paintings and I do workshops and I have conversations like this not as in depth as this at times, but I love to talk about this stuff.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, that’s great. Well, what about… Do you have any films or places people should go check out your work?
Todd Alan Crain: That’s an excellent question. There’s a short film that… Speaking of independent films, is the most intense experience I’ve ever had on any set, besides The Punisher and the film in its entirety, including the opening and closing credits is less than three minutes. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had because it was so intense and it was literally just one moment that changed someone’s life. And you just see that moment happen. And that’s it. It’s a very simple quiet thing. It’s a film that’s… It’s on Vimeo which is the only place you can find it. It’s called First Night Out, and I play a transgender woman. And First Night Out is an indication that it is this woman’s first night out anywhere dressed as how she feels on the inside. And so she’s in a diner and the waitress and she has this moment. And it is the most beautiful, quiet, lovely thing I’ve ever done. So different from The Punisher, but-
Steven Pierce: It sounds lovely. I’m really going to check it out. That sounds awesome.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah, the whole thing is less than three minutes and it’s this trophy moment for this person who is going through some stuff and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s one of my proudest achievements because I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right. I didn’t want to mess it up and-
Steven Pierce: So people should… Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah, yeah. And that’s where they can find it. Go to Vimeo and then type in First Night Out and that will be the film. It’s a film done by Will Mayo, is the name of the director and he actually won… He entered it in all of these gay and lesbian festivals across the country and across the world and ended up winning this $50,000 grand prize for this film that is less than three minutes long. It’s like 2.45 or something like that.
Steven Pierce: Wow!
Todd Alan Crain: So, 50 grand for less than three minutes.
Steven Pierce: That’s amazing.
Todd Alan Crain: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: What about your Instagram? Where can people follow you on social?
Todd Alan Crain: It’s @Toddalancrain. A-L-A-N C-R-A-I-N. And you can follow my paintings @Toddalancrinartstudio. Yeah. Those are my two Instagram. Yeah. That’s me, that’s my journey.
Steven Pierce: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Todd. This has been-
Todd Alan Crain: Absolutely.
Steven Pierce: … a lot of fun.
Todd Alan Crain: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it very much.
IFG is created by Framework Productions. This episode was directed by James Allerdyce, produced and edited by Matt Mundy & Audrey Rae McHale, and hosted by Steven Pierce. The music is by Glass Boy. Find his music on freemusicarchive.org.