"Hollywood Unplugged," a new series on HuffPost Entertainment, shows our culture's most influential figures in a new light. Instead of focusing on their accomplishments, it examines how they continue to thrive despite the inevitable stress.
As a creative person, it is impossible to fully unplug. My mind is always racing -- even more so in stillness. The imagination is an unpredictable and wondrous thing, and I caution everyone against trying to shut it off completely. The trick is allowing your thoughts to run freely while maintaining a loose grip on the steering wheel... gently, guiding them towards the positive and reigning in the negative- without exerting too much judgmental control. It's kinda like what my Grandpa Herbie told me to do when he was teaching me how to drive a car!
I read two influential books when I was an acting student in college, recommended by two different acting teachers of mine. The first was The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. It taught me to leave my "judge & jury" on the sidelines and get out of my own way when reaching for my potential. The second was The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which taught me the power of "effortless doing", living in the present unburdened by circumstance, and listening to my "Inner Nature." Both were extremely valuable lessons as an actor, but also in life. Fear and lack of trust create tension... It's not easy to do, but I always try to trust myself and my instincts.
To be honest -- I am most relaxed when I am working in a scene, as most actors can tell you... That feeling of adrenalin and impulse working in conjunction with movement, emotion and logic is magical. True relaxation lies in the synergy of experiencing a perfect moment onstage or onscreen. And "perfect" is always subjective. For, there is nothing quite like the pent-up creative juices of a stagnant, unemployed actor waiting by the phone for that call to set them free -- an existence I am all too familiar with and one that I work every day to avoid.
I have often looked to poetry and other creative outlets to release this perpetual angst. I even published a poetry book a few years ago, when I felt creatively stifled from a lack of work. Many of my poems come from a place of unresolved emotions or unanswered questions, and when realized in words, have released me from the burden of repression and denial. My collection of poems and drawings is quite fittingly called An Actor Without An Audience.
I sometimes look to watching sports with my brother or father to unwind from the stresses of life. Being a N.Y. Mets fan, that doesn't always work... Actually, it rarely works! And so I turn to movies or TV. One of the things I look forward to most in life is spending time with my wife. Usually, that consists of a home-cooked meal, some good wine and curling up on the couch with our cat Willow to watch our favorite TV shows. I believe that this time away from the "grind" is essential for a sane existence. It's also good to surround yourself with loyal, loving people.
My wife and I also take walks. I find that walking or hiking is immeasurably cathartic. It allows me to take in the day, process what happened yesterday and look forward to tomorrow... And enjoy life. When I walk through my neighborhood- or anywhere for that matter -- there's something simultaneously comforting and overwhelming to know that there are lives and stories happening all around me, all the time. It's fun to imagine what those stories are; and who lives where; and who drives what. And what house we may live in some day. I used to do that on the subway in New York City, when I was bored. I would create back stories and dramas for my fellow commuters -- where they were coming from, who they were going to. Taking my superficial impressions and expanding them into detailed, three-dimensional worlds is infinitely calming and endlessly fun.
I recently saw an amazing documentary about Grace Lee Boggs called American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. Having studied philosophy and applied it to the Black Power movement in Detroit, this still-active 97-year-old Chinese-American woman talks about the art of conversation and how, if used positively and productively, it can change the world. I wholeheartedly believe this. Some of the best ideas I've ever had have come from the unpredictability and spontaneity of a great conversation. Sometimes you can only truly express your innermost thoughts when prompted to explain them aloud to someone else, by someone else. For me, there's an ebb & a flow to deep conversations that is almost meditative.
Nothing can replace a great debate, but sometimes to unplug I need to "plug-in" to Twitter and Facebook. Somehow, by limiting communication to 140 characters, we have been unintentionally forced to choose our words a little more carefully. The relationship between an actor and an audience has often been mysteriously distant, but thanks to social media there is a mutual appreciation that comes with recognizing this inherently symbiotic connection. I find comfort in the simple exchanges I have online with my fans. This shared public intimacy has demystified that dynamic for me, and functions as my daily decompressor.
By writing this and sharing my thoughts with you, my hope is that we have started a conversation that will go beyond the digital exchange of blogs, comments, "likes" and tweets- and enter into the present... Dialogue, both internal and external, has been crucial to my evolution as an actor and as a person. But nothing is foolproof. I have repeatedly had to inspire it within myself, and I hope I can do the same for you. So that maybe we can all be a little calmer and happier today, while re-charging for the challenges that life and our collective imaginations have in store for us tomorrow.