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It might seem obvious, but in an industry filled with flash and instant celebrity, the best advice that Hollywood’s top talents have for aspiring actors is to simply just be very, very good at acting.
Gathered for The Hollywood Reporter‘s actor’s roundtable, veteran leading men, including Matt Damon, Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx, discussed the ups and downs of making a living in front of a camera.
Washington, whose daughter is studying the craft at NYU, says that he emphasizes to her the importance of being multi-talented.
“I say: ‘You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.’ I said: ‘You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage,'” the Flight star and two-time Oscar winner explained. “That’s the only place, in my humble opinion, you really learn how to act. I said: ‘Look at Viola Davis. That’s who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you’re relying on that, when you hit 40, you’re out the door. You better have some chops.'”
Damon, who has four young daughters, says that he’d advise them to avoid the field entirely, and also cited the difficulty for middle aged women actors.
“I would try to steer my daughters away from acting,” the star of the upcoming Promised Land said. “Women are in a different business than we are. It is just brutal for women. For us, the roles get really good at 40 and beyond. And that’s really when you start doing your best work.”
John Hawkes, who earned an Oscar nod for his role in 2010’s Winter’s Bone and could score another for his part as a disabled writer in The Sessions, is an example of that differential treatment; he found success later in his career, which helps him not worry about becoming a major star.
“I guess I am afraid of mediocrity and cliche, and that’s about it,” he offered. “I’m not afraid of being poor; I’ve done that. Not afraid of it all running out — that’s OK, too. If a bomb drops tomorrow, I’ll be in an alley, making up a poem for the five people who survived alongside me.”