Scott Sedita is an acting coach and he’s got a new book, The Eight Characters of Comedy, A Guide to Sitcom Acting and Writing. He’s taken what he’s learned from life and actors, and put it into words. Ask any actor who’s worked with him and you’ll find out how he puts it all together - -how to read and break down a script, how to find the key to a character’s soul, and how to approach an audition. His days and nights are jam packed with men and women searching for the right way to make their gift shine!
But what is Sedita’s gift? “I think the important thing for an acting coach is to understand what gift is being brought to you, and in what way. I was an agent for 10 years and my gift there was to say, ‘this guy or this girl, this Courtney Cox. She’s interesting. She’s got something.’ And to believe in them and to guide them, to groom them…and I think I’ve done that with the careers that I’ve had, which has been an agent, a casting director – and I think it really has come full circle, in a way, with me being an acting coach.”
Sedita fell in love with actors and acting in high school. Just like an old M-G-M musical with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, he put on shows. He used to go up to people in the hallway and say, “I heard you singing in the choir and I think you’d be great doing a solo in a show and I’m doing it and I think you should be in it.” He followed his nose and his heart – great instincts!
He thinks of himself as an entertainer, not an actor. But when he does his seminars he puts on another hat. It’s like the body electric. The teacher becomes performer, even actor, “In order to be interesting you have to put that switch on,” Sedita says. “Remember that movie, All That Jazz? You know, Showtime! I have to do that. I have seminars that begin sometimes at 10 AM and it’s like, okay, I gotta put that on!” Sedita likes to surprise, not only his students, but also himself. That’s what keeps his classes and his technique fresh.
Even though Sedita did a couple of commercials and voice over work early on, he never pursued an acting career. He’s more comfortable with being himself. Last summer however, Sedita found himself under the spotlight as the acting coach on Fight For Fame, a reality series that showcased burgeoning young talent, on the E! Channel. It gave him some notoriety, but the acting coach is very clear, “I don’t think I ever want to be fa – MOUS!” Shadowed by the paparazzi, like say, Tom Cruise, is not for him, but there are some perks of celebrity he wouldn’t say no to. “I’d enjoy getting a nice table at a restaurant or a few more favors as you’re getting older. We all want that,” he said leaning in and laughing with more gusto than a cheerleader under the Friday night lights.
Sedita’s been working with actors in some form or another for 20 years. He has a long deep history with soaps, especially as an agent when he represented up and coming actors like Teri Polo (ex-Kristin, Loving) and Cady McClain (Dixie, AMC, ex-Rosanna, ATWT). Both women came to him when they were 17-years old, “They were incredibly mature young ladies who were older than their years. They were old souls. And, Cady kind of looked older. People were shocked that she...
...was 17-years old and so together. She was quite beautiful in a simple way… was incredibly real. Teri Polo was more of a model type.”
“The first time I ever came in contact with anybody, as far as soap opera, was Michael Knight (Tad, AMC). I was going to represent him.” Both men were 21 and green as they come – pursing their dreams in the Big Apple. However, before Knight signed with Sedita he had one audition – Tad on All My Children. Sedita’s memories of the young actor are very clear, “A great guy! Handsome, handsome boy! He had a party when he got the show, even before he set foot on the AMC stages. It was at a restaurant and he was a prince. I think part of him was scared to death of what was going on and the other part of him was taking it so graciously.” Suddenly Sedita sits up, as if to imitate the youthful actor, “He sat in this chair and people came to him and he shook hands with people and I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, he’s gonna be a star! He’s gonna be a star. And on top of it, I just hope that he stays this wonderful, great, charming, CHARMING, charming guy.’ Sedita didn’t know anything about Tad Martin at the time, but Michael Knight could charm the socks off anyone. “He was very good-looking, but he wasn’t plastic as a 21-year old kid. This guy has got it. He’s got it because he’s a good actor, that’s true, but he knows how to work. There’s something very sincere about him.”
Sedita believes there is something unique to actors on soaps, “The first month or three weeks is shaky. It’s all new. You’ve never been thrown so much dialogue. You’re not used to it. It’s like going to boot camp. If an actor can get through that first month, then he or she will make it. It’s important to have a coach behind you to help you through that very difficult first month of being on a soap.”
Josh Duhamel (ex-Leo, AMC) was an actor in Los Angeles when he first started to study with Sedita. “Josh was incredibly good looking, incredibly charming, incredibly real guy.” As soon as Duhamel got the All My Children audition, they worked on Leo together. The tape was sent to NY and that was followed by a trip to NY for the screen test. “I think that Josh found two things when he came to this studio. He found that he wanted to be an actor. And, he found a long term girlfriend, Kristy Pierce.” The career stuck, the relationship didn’t! Duhamel was a model, who wasn’t sure he wanted to be an actor. “He was given to me and at the beginning it was like I wasn’t sure he was sure. I’m not sure how much time I want to put into somebody who’s not sure he wants to be an actor and then something switched! I think he learned that he wanted to be an actor. Then, he just got into it and it became very exciting for him. I think he enjoyed the idea of putting on someone else’s shoes. I think he enjoyed the idea of losing himself in a character, but at the same time still using himself because actors still need to use to themselves.”
Sedita’s got a laundry list of soap actors he’s coached: Rachel Melvin (Chelsea, DOOL), Kyle Brandt (Phillip, DOOL), Jay Johnson (ex-Phillip, DOOL), and Victor Webster (Nicholas, DOOL). Alex Musser (Del, AMC), the most recent I Wanna Be A Soapstar winner, walked through Sedita’s doors, as did Kelli McCarty (Beth, Passions), Cathy Doe (Simone, Passions), and Rebecca Budig (ex-Greenlee, AMC, ex-Michelle, GL).
Budig was in LA when she screen tested for Greenlee, but she didn’t do it alone. Her manager, Michael Bruno, one of the judges on I Wanna Be A Soap Star, often works in tandem with Sedita. Bruno brought Budig to Sedita’s studio and taped some of her work with Sedita. That tape was sent to GL, and voila, the young actress, who’d been kicking around Hollywood with bit parts, got her screen test and made the character of Michelle Bauer her own!
Sedita continues to see many of his former students, but more as friends, than as a mentor or a coach. Kyle Brandt did return as a student, when his character, Phillip on DOOL, lost the use of his legs. Like he always does, Sedita helped the young actor prep and prepare. Sedita believes each actor should create and write a history of the character. “The problem, there is no history. The writers don’t know the history, except for a little blurb. I don’t think Cathy Doe, when she got this role on Passions, knew she was going to become a lesbian. I don’t think that at all, was part of her history. But I think it’s important for an actor to have a history going into a soap opera. In order to give a substantial performance and a performance that has some backbone, they have to create it for themselves and they have to be flexible enough to know that history is going to change when the executive producer says that’s not your girlfriend, that’s your sister.”
Jennifer Finnegan found her way to Sedita’s studio almost from the moment she landed the role of Bridget on B&B. Just the mere mention of her name and Sedita is all smiles. “She is a wonderful actress, probably one of the best actresses to...
...come through this studio. At the same time, she’s bawdy, funny, and hysterical. Once again, another old soul!”
“She came to me because she wanted to open things up and get a little more humor into her performance as Bridget. When you watched Bold & Beautiful you thought of this wonderful, intense young actress. But she’s funny. She’s a laugh a minute, nothing like the character on Close To Home, a real true actress. I love Jennifer Finnegan. Her discipline, her technique…she had it innately. All an acting coach can do is help somebody. I can only help them with their layers. But they have to have it. I think she was the young modern soap opera actress and it shows… one of the best actresses to come off a soap opera. I think that she brought a whole other level to soap opera acting. She won three Emmy’s in a row. She left that for Crossing Jordan, then got her own sitcom, then her own TV show. That is very unusual. In the old days, you do a soap and your career is over.”
Speaking of putting humor into a role, Sedita would like his actors to identify the humor. The turnaround joke that’s used in every form of entertainment can also be found in soaps. “I like your jacket – but not on you.” Bada bump! The actor says one thing that’s positive and then you come back with something that’s negative and vice versa. “Something becomes funny because it’s unpredictable. You see a lot more of that in soap opera scripts and it’s important for the actor to be knowledgeable about where the humor is in a script. It’s important for an actor to have a sense of humor and finding the funny, or finding the lighter moments in a soap opera script is as imperative as being able to cry on cue.
“Humor comes from pain and the first thing I would say is, identify and understand the pain.” Sedita makes up a typical soap opera scene, “A woman has been abandoned by her mother and her mother’s coming, trying to worm her way into her daughter’s life. And the daughter explains what it felt like not to have grown-up with her mother.” At this point in breaking down the scene, Sedita wants his actors to ask themselves some very important questions:
1. Do you know about abandonment? Do you understand that from your past? If you do, you can use that.
2. If not, you can open up your heart and your mind and use your imagination. What would it feel like? Ask the actor – Do you love your mother? And, of course the actor loves his or her mother. The actors must then ask themselves, what would it have felt like if the actor’s mother had left them when they were a child? Ask them to reach back to the age of 6 or 7 and think back to the attachment, and how would it feel to suddenly have that feeling of safety simply vanish. The actor starts to experience the loss and that’s where the pain comes from. That’s what the actor is trying to explain to the woman playing the mother. Then, sarcastic dialogue is dropped like a bomb. It breaks some of the tension in the scene and to give the actor another way of dealing with the scene. It makes it that much more interesting for the actor – more human. The actress can go from tears to laughter.
Sedita believes there are eight characters in comedy:
1. The logical smart one
2. The lovable loser
3. The neurotic
4. The dumb one
5. The bitch/bastard
6. The womanizer/manizer
7. The materialistic one
8. In their own universe
All are easily the eight characters of soaps. “Susan Lucci’s Erica is the bitch. She actually goes from the bitch, to the materialistic bitch. Her character has a great sense of entitlement. She believes that she deserves everything.” All these characters are archetypes of people in real life – only to the extreme. For instance, the logical smart character, like most people in this category, doesn’t get their own needs met, but like all characters they do have an Achilles’ Heel. Erika Slezak’s Viki on OLTL, probably falls into this category. She’s always there, advising, listening, holding someone’s hand. In her case, it all became too much and the pillar of strength cracked up, suffering from Associative Identity Disorder – with no less than six people living inside her, thus giving the actress an opportunity to play all six of Sedita’s eight characters.
When the acting gene was hatched, Scott Sedita was the first to grab the DNA and nurture it. “I think if I meet somebody, I just instinctually and innately get what their gift is. And, if I can help them facilitate that into a dream, or at least just being able to identify the gift or being able to hone that gift or bring it out, or whatever…I think that’s my gift!”
You can buy his book, The Eight Characters of Comedy at your local bookstore or on-line at www.sitcomacting.com.
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