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Filmmaking from the Inside-Out

Lesson 2 of 10

The History of Actors and Their Influences

Illeana Douglas

Filmmaking from the Inside-Out

Illeana Douglas

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Lesson Info

2. The History of Actors and Their Influences

Lesson Info

The History of Actors and Their Influences

I want to talk a little bit about the history of film and film influences now it sounds like this could be really boring, but I promised hopefully it won't be, um where do styles come from and styles of acting? And I know how many people are actors here got like, a mix of acting, acting film, you know? Um, I don't know if again you think so much about when you're starting out, you just, you know, you want to be an actor, you want to be seen but it's very important again to think about styles and styles of acting and where do they you know, where do these styles come from? Where do these traditions come from when I want to talk a little bit about, you know, probably again, the greatest actor of our time, what doesn't make sense? You don't think he's the greatest actor of all time greatest, ok, we're gonna have a little bit of fun with this let's, we're going to go back and we've heard of jonah hill, ok? Josh gad, people know just god kind of a nerdy guy doing, you know, uh, comedy comed...

y work, comedian, stage work, seth rogan we've heard of seth rogan people know him very, you know, successful band in the in some countries what I hear ok. Richard dreyfuss and we heard richard dreyfuss. Okay, good regular. We're gonna talk about him. We love him. Okay? It's going to get a little tricky? Your spencer tracy and people heard spencer tracy good. Very good. Travelodge. And anyone heard of charles loughton shells latin edward g robinson people have heard of him, paul many. Okay, now what's going to be really fun about this is believe it or not and you can do and in my opinion again, you can do this. This is what sort of makes the fun of acting, you know, that you're part of the craft that you're part of a tradition of actors, you can look at somebody like jonah hill or josh get seth rogan, you go well, what did that who are there? They're really you know, they're reacting there successful they're movie stars, but if you think of them in terms of like a style of acting, um you khun trace them, you go all the way back to somebody like palm uni now palm uni was was an actor. He came out of something called the yiddish theater and what was revolutionary about palm uni was that his he corey he was one of the first actors in the nineteen thirties to start to choreograph a performance and now again to us in our modern world were like what you've been talking about but you have to imagine like again we were starting with this if you think of these old movies that's why they're very hard to watch very stilted performances or their silent and you have somebody like this who starts to work with makeup he starts to come in with you know noses and beards and playing a hunch back he was known as the man of a thousand faces and he changed his appearance and so this was new, you know, we had we went from like drawing room dramas to somebody now like that who's who's going from the inside he starts to work from the inside then edward g robinson right around the same time says also comes out of the what's known as the yiddish theater and again, if you know encourage you to go back and look at some of these you know you can find them on on the internet it's it's it's fascinating because again what I love about looking back is that we always think that everything is very modern until we look back and we see that somebody was doing in the twenties or something like that so again what the edward g robinson came out of the yiddish theater he wanted to be become an actor and he didn't have b he was a very ugly man he was very small he was stout and he said he figured out for himself I don't have beauty but I have menace so he introduces something palm uni was like when you think of it you know he was the beautiful artist and edward g robinson says I have menace so he adds again something very interesting characterization and I don't know if anyone has seen any edward g robinson films you know but again he if you if you look at him you know double indemnity is a fantastic movie if you want to watch edward g robinson and something just a thoughtful performance but again somebody that is changing our style of acting who's working from the you know from the inside out then you get up to charles loughton he's british charles one is somebody that again in my travels his name gets brought up again and again and again because again he was somebody that was uh trained in a traditional manner but started to break things down his work starts is mme or you know becomes more interior spencer tracy follows charles loughton we're now in the nineteen forties spencer tracy really should be credited I mean a lot of times when I'm on film sets last people do you know who spencer tracy is and a lot of people don't even know who spencer tracy is anymore and that's really a shame because spencer tracy really you know changed in my opinion modern acting he was a run away it was a very fascinating person. He was a runaway is very troubled kid he got into acting. He was in the studio system. He was discovered by a director named john ford again you would never maybe associate those too you think of john forty did westerns but john ford discovered spencer tracy and his work became really for most people when we identify kind of modern acting, believe it or not spencer tracy changed the way people you know walked on screen talked on screen again it much more of a of an interior uh, you know, less mannered and palm uni and edward g robinson because they came out of the yiddish theater. We're still a little mannered, you know, they still had that they were they were breaking down something, but but in somebody like spencer tracy, I think he puts it all together and what you know, we see spencer tracy again. You can look at him and you can you can see maybe harrison ford. You know, I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of movies to think to find somebody like that and you can do that, you know, you could say, oh, yeah, he sort of has that interesting quote I wonder if he like spencer tracy and again, it just gives you that a little feeling of I'm not just an actor I'm a part of a tradition of actors and makes us proud of you know of what we of what we dio making movies richard dreyfuss now he says he comes out of the fifties and the sixties and he says which is a quote of his um I knew I was never going to be errol flynn so I wanted to be spencer tracy and that to me is such a defining you know, remark because spencer, you know, spencer tracy didn't do comedy the way richard dreyfuss does so now we move up into richard dreyfuss and I think so think of all these things palm uni that is doing you make up every g robinson menace charles ludden again an interior character spencer tracy realism you know, you see this progression and then you get to richard dreyfuss realism manus comedy he adds comedy and into this persona and when you look at a performance of hiss um, you know, take classically of course like jaws you've got all of these things and one of the things I love about richard dreyfuss aside from his comic persona is that he's a fantastic on screen thinker? This is something I think about when you're acting um you want to get to the point where your where your project, you know, where your thoughts are can be seen by the audience and that's one of the things I really admire about richard dreyfuss and he says he stole that from spencer tracy so it's funny I told when I met you when I met richard I said when I was in acting school and I didn't know what to do I'd say I'm just going to be richard dreyfuss because I always I always loved what he did in movies and he said to me he goes oh that's funny because I was doing you know spencer tracy so I said oh so I guess I'm doing you doing spencer tracy so we all pick on people that we like and find you know a little element of theirs that you know that we like now we go from richard dreyfuss and he moves into the goodbye girl now again this may I have many people have seen the goodbye girl so the goodbye girl is it creates this phrase that we now know it's called the feel good movie and almost you know now it seems like cleat cliche oh it's a feel good movie but what's really amazing about the goodbye girl is that richard dreyfuss wins an oscar for this performance he's only one of three actors to ever win an academy award for a comedy um it happened with clark gable in a movie called it happened one night it happened with jimmy stewart in philadelphia story richard dreyfuss wins an academy award for being funny and it's never happened since so it just shows you know how funny he waas but for me and this is you know again this is my opinion and you can break it down and you know we're have your own opinions which is amazing um is that he creates a kind of a comic persona that in my opinion influences seth rogan, josh gad, jonah hill without richard dreyfuss you have none of these people because he creates a comedy persona of a guy who is not the good looking guy he's the schlubby guy that gets the girl how does he get the girl? He's confident he's funny he's cocky, his quirky he's thieves not handsome at all. So we've moved like, you know, completely away from a you know, from ah persona and I think that it's again that's what's one of the fantastic things about you know about history is that you can look at jonah hill and you can trace a line from jonah hill to richard dreyfuss. And if you watch a movie like, you know, the goodbye girl apprenticeship of duddy kravitz, you know, you're going to see this tradition of all these, you know, all these people, the confidence that jonah hill has I mean, when we think of him in movies and you know I think he's a fantastic actor I particularly liked him in the movies they want seen moneyball but you know he has a great comic confidence and it's in my opinion he would not have that ability without somebody like richard dreyfuss because richard dreyfuss comes on the screen and he was so sure of himself and so cocky and he won and he's not the good looking guy he switched it up completely so that now that you know it's such the schlubby funny girl funny guy you know can get the girl okay, I want to go I could I could spend all day just doing that but we're going to go in and so we're on the james franco so it's like we go to james franco james dean gent there people aware of james dean james dean again created ah very iconic style of acting we're going to get to the next one but james dean was very influenced by marlon brando another actor named montgomery clift who is very important and what he said was I have marlon brando on one hand saying f u I have montgomery clift on my other hand saying please help me so he combines these two people dennis hopper worked with james dean again when you think of dennis hopper on screen I like to think of them is like you know again somebody who's just suffering from an inner turmoil they almost seem unreachable in a way you can't help them the reason I'm seeing talking about these history is that when you're deciding about being an actor and what kind of an actor you want to be it's important to think like what do I want our mind this suffering my suffering james dean type of my the come from my confident richard dreyfuss jonah hill type you know because when you're going to be cast you have to think about typecasting you have tio a little bit you have to find like where you fit in salman eo again very influenced by dennis hopper they're old they're actually all even friends cindy party a another person we think of like he always seems to be on the verge of tears you know it is what he but he has such gravitas and such seriousness and again he comes out of that for me that james dean school very raw you know, very very wrong not polished at all um dustin hoffman again we think of the graduate raw emotional you know everything's out on the line you know, very big stakes but but messy but slightly you know, slightly messy not not not spencer tracy not controlled umm al pacino again dog day afternoon you could trace a line from al pacino to james dean um they have the same kind of like I don't know what it's all about man I'm going to let it all out there in my opinion somebody likes james dean dennis hopper uh dustin hoffman al pacino is my opinion now my favorite films of theirs or when they have a very strong director because I find that they can go off the rails sometimes with like you know it's it's interesting I mean I don't know again sometimes you find yourself in an acting class and you have to be careful that emotion starts to feel too good you know you start to collapse in on yourself because it feels really good to cry and would you forget you actually have text and you've got you know you get just sit there and suffer and so james dean again in a movie that you may want to watch called east of eden because he's got all that fantastic emotion but he's directed well there's another movie that he did which is called rebel without a cause and which again it's just his influenced everyone and a wonderful movie but for me in certain parts it's like it's a little bit too much it's just sort of like he's collapsing on himself acting some of my favorite scenes air when he's acting with his father this kind of fredric march who came out of very classic theater training and you can see how weirdly uncomfortable he is because he's standing there like he's like this and james dean is you know crying and blundering all over and um ryan gosling I think we again we could say james franco jim franco even looks like james dean I mean they have the mannerisms of of even of james dean and he was very young he also represents a kind of youthfulness you know he died he was twenty four years old and this is an iconic image that is very, very popular today and maybe you're looking for an actor and you're may be in your movie you know when you like I need a I need a james dean type I need that I need someone who expresses those ah, those feelings in those emotions marlon brando in my opinion you know the great factor for me for my personal taste the greatest actor of all time because for me he brings it all together he is he's got classic theater training he's got the raw emotion he's got the piece got the amazing physique looks of a god you know he is a god he's a movie guide he his presence is you know, just so arresting and you know somebody like him you know comes around very, very rarely but what I love about marlon brando is he is physical and when I use that word like a god he is a guy he's a greek god he's in a don iss and anthony quinn right around the same time of him and then he quinn was mexican american not a lot of people know that because he played a vast array of part burt lancaster he came out of the circus he was a circus performer again these air guys this is all what's interesting about brando quinn kirk douglas burt lancaster at the same time we have our spencer tracy's these guys come out of post war america they burt lancaster kirk douglas robert mitchum they did a lot of film noirs they play a lot of tough guys they smoke they drink their boozers you know they're uh they're they're screwed up intellectually but they handle it with braun you know what I mean? They're very very physical when you think of james dean you know he's not a foot he's the weakling he's our sensitive you know he's there sensitive guy when I think of ryan gosling you know it I'm less comfortable when he's in a fight scene when he's suffering I love I love it it's like it was beautifully suffering it's fantastic but it's harder but that's going to be your job as a director you know when you're working with somebody like that and that's when you know again that's that's when your technique is knowing these different john reasons and styles you can start tio you know you could start to have a little bit of fun with it you know these are all guys that air that are very, very they're physically big physically dumped, you know, dominant people another thing to think about when you're casting your films, the frames of your I mean, you don't think about it so much, but you get a physically imposing person in your frame and you've hired a little petite you know, five foot girl and that can be you know, that could be a problem russell crowe again, you know, l a confidential I mean, just what a performance just incredible just an incredible performance but reminds me so much of somebody like marlon brando in some of his breakthrough roles and you think of, you know, a streetcar named desire where he's just, you know, e I mean to me russell crowe walks on the screen and I'm afraid just like who's it gonna hit like, you know, but that that ability to have that ability, you know, I mean, man, I'm I'm glued to my seat to head to have somebody like that sean pan of course just just an amazing actor who I loved robert mitchum so much that he actually when I was doing cape fear actually came to the set I mean, that is like, you know, that's the dedication of an actor he just wanted to come and be ableto sit quietly and watch robert mitchum and see what he could learn from him and that is, you know, that's that's dedication that's like a love of our craft and when you think again about you know somebody like sean penn were just you know we're just excited every every time he's in a movie every time he speaks I find if I mean I find myself on television right he's such an iconic you know he's our thes to me again he is our he is our brando he's a thoughtful person andi I feel that all of that he's got the brawn but all of those thoughtfulness and sensitive sensitivity again comes you know comes across um I want to talk just very, very slightly about the group theater and I won't be but what's interesting about the group theater is that, um and is anyone aware of the group theater at all? The group theater all modern acting comes from the group theater. There is no nobody else has come along and said oh, you know, when I get the smith method or I get the douglas method there there was people were classically trained in the theater and in the nineteen thirties there was aaa russian acting teacher's name was stanislavsky he taught in russia e wrote some books about acting and again some of these people that were influenced by him every g robinson palm uni but uh elia kazan stella adler sanford meisner who is my acting teacher they all went teo and lee strasbourg how could I forget from actor studio they all uh visited stanislaski they all taught their own method of what is considered stanislaski and what is what we now call the method there is there has been no other form of acting since the method and I think that that's again even for me that's something profound that's like a group of people together in the nineteen thirties they formed the group theater on dh no one did anything different from that you know marlon brando studied with stella adler there was another there was a teacher named bobby lewis who studied with stella adler you khun trace there was a documentary I'm not sure the name of it but about bobby lewis but basically bobby lewis you taught meryl streep and dustin hoffman literally like all of our great actors sanford meisner who is my teacher taught thank eaten jeff gold bloom robert duvall and again when we think about especially I'm going to use is an example somebody like jeff gold bloom it listening and answering listening in answering he's always he's in the moment that's my you know that's what that's what my zinner is sometimes the critique and each of these things have critiques but with meisner uh I loved meisner because it was so it's so much about the other person you take yourself out of the equation you're always listening and answering to what the other you know to what the other person it's doing lee strasbourg actor studio uh you know is again about place and james dean came out of the you know, the actor studio anthony quinn they all like everybody dabbled but these air really interesting people toe look at you know I'm going to say the names again stella adler, bobby lewis lee strasbourg sanford meisner sydney pollack as another example he went to school is an actor he wanted to be an actor and he studied with with sanford meisner, but he became a director and again he you know, it's interesting it's a good question to ask not only your actor but ask your director like, is there a certain you know like for me the actors studio? I've worked with actor studio actors a classic example of an actor studio actor would be al pacino he studied with street police trosper for many years, so he's going to maybe have a very specific way of acting robert de niro study was still adler we've already talked about still adler taught marlon brando so you know again, if you're working with someone, I think that again to give yourself conch evidence it's always great to have a context of maybe where that person studied or again another thing that we're going to talk about later what happens if you get into trouble and, you know, there, I don't know if training is emphasized these days, but the thing about about having training is that it's it's, it's, great to be there, you know, as a as a backup. Yeah, it was actually a great time to take some questions. Sure, we jump into our next slide. Yeah. Now, first, I know that you mentioned richard dreyfuss before, but beyond him, I'm curious to know of any other influences that you've had as you were getting started, or even currently people that you see, now that you either want to emulate or you kind of take some of what they're doing into the work that you're doing well, I always for me is growing up. It was always really, you know, brando, for me was always like, my, you know, my just my favorite actor. I loved him. I loved al pacino. I love, you know, dustin hoffman and then for actresses I lie always love jane fonda was a big as big jane fonda fan who grew up with that, you know, jill clayburgh, I got to watch a lot. I did, you know, I did love from some of the older actresses that, you know, all the people that came out of the screwball. Comedy era, of course. And bette davis, it was a big bette davis fan was a big fan. As I always say, this is I got into acting school of james woods. He was always like, you know, I just I just he just had, like, you know, pa's as on screen. And I always I always like that. And then I found what I meant when I met him. He was a big fan of bette davis. So I thought again, that's a kind of an interesting and I love having context like that when you meet people and finding out people that you know, that they liked what, that when I met robert de niro, we actually got into talking about palm uni and, you know, he was saying, like, with, you know, we're talking about palm uni and how his acting is already, even though he was at, you know, considered like he's considered the great, you know, he was the great actor that his acting now seems sort of stiff and mannered needs working with all of this makeup and everything because he was in the transitionary phase, and then you get into people like, you know, spencer tracy, which is the realism, and he was great, too.

Class Description

Where exactly does a filmmaker’s responsibility end and an actor’s begin? Filmmaking requires an abundance of creative collaboration and parsing out who is responsible what is a surprisingly complicated endeavor. In Filmmaking from the Inside-Out, Illeana Douglas will share strategies and insights that improve communication for those working on both sides of the camera.

Illeana has a unique vantage point. Her grandfather is the OSCAR® award-winning actor, Melvyn Douglas and she has worked extensively as an actor, director, and producer alongside some of the giants in the industry, including: filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant and Robert Redford; and actors Robert De Niro, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicole Kidman. In this class, Illeana will help both actors and filmmakers develop a better understanding of their own unique roles and how they can work together to capture the best-possible performance, in-camera. You’ll learn:

  • The precise definition of “filmmaker” and what they are responsible for
  • What the actor is expected to bring to a production
  • Customizable approaches for improving communication on set
  • Techniques for capturing performance on camera

Nearly every filmmaker and actor grapples with some level of insecurity and wants to feel more confident about their work. In this class, you’ll learn strategies for improving your craft and communicating about your unique contributions with your fellow creative collaborators.

Whether you are a filmmaker or actor, you’ll learn tangible and craft-based approaches to making constructive decisions and capturing the best work on set and in the camera.

Special Guests:

  • Anastas Michos, Cinematographer 
  • Bill Pankow, Editor 
  • Neil LaBute, Writer/Director



A great insight from a veteran of Hollywood on her perspective, thoughts, ideas and genuine feeling of what each individual can gain from simply believing in yourself and your abilities. Ms. Douglas and special guests took time to give us as much useful information as possible in a very tough business of film making. Hope to have such courses again.

Laura Latimer

A great class with perfect insights. Thank you.

a Creativelive Student

This was a fascinating and useful course. Ms. Douglas' views on the craft of filmmaking helped me better understand it.