June 8, 2022

Acting with Coach Miranda Harcourt & Two Unemployed Actors - Episode 95

Max interviews Acting Coach Miranda Harcourt
- How Miranda works with Directors like Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Taika Waititi and emerging Directors.
- How to build chemistry fast
- What are actors consistently asking for help with
- What its like working with famous Actors
- How Miranda approaches her Masterclass for Professional Actors
- The power of listening as an Actor
- The magic of finding your flow

Max interviews Acting Coach Miranda Harcourt

- How Miranda works with Directors like Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Taika Waititi and emerging Directors.

- How to build chemistry fast

- What are actors consistently asking for help with

- What its like working with famous Actors 

- How Miranda approaches her Masterclass for Professional Actors

- The power of listening as an Actor

- The magic of finding your flow


Episode Page:


An Add Kulcha Production


Max Belmonte

Welcome back to Two Unemployed Actors I'm Max, and Sam is away on his survival job, but today I'm talking to Miranda Harcourt, an Acting Coach based in New Zealand, not that it matters anymore with Zoom. And Miranda has taught at many Acting schools around the world and worked with Directors like Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, and Taika Waititi. Miranda, welcome to the show.


Miranda Harcourt 00:38

Thank you very much, and I can't see why you're unemployed because you're so appealing.


Max Belmonte 00:43

Oh, fantastic. You're automatically one of the favorite guests. Look, there seems to be many ways that you're able to help actors and impact a performance on screen from from like coaching, you know, one on one working individually with an actor to teaching groups of students, even Directors bringing you in, do they do they tend to bring you in on set? Or is it more in the rehearsal space?


Miranda Harcourt 01:10

it's kind of a mixture, some Directors like me like to bring me on set because I've got a good buddy relationship with the Director and the Director knows that I'm not you know, secretly there to undermine the Director and, and kill, kill him or her and then take over myself, you know, the Directors that I work with on set, understand that I they are the vision holder, I have a deep understanding of what they are aiming to achieve. That's my job. And that my work with the Actors is to find a way for the Actors to best serve the Director's vision. So, so yeah, I work on on set with the Directors like the wonderful, wonderful Australian director Garth Davis, such a genius. And, and also, I've worked on it with the lovely, but also wonderful, wonderful, a very talented director, Peter Jackson. And my good friend, Jane Campion, who's just a delight to watch, like, just being in the same room as her is a lesson of being human. So there's a lot of Directors that I've worked on, on set with. There's some of the more famous ones, but I work often with emerging directors in support of what they're trying to achieve on set. And I also work a lot in rehearsal, helping Directors to run the rehearsal, and to devise the rehearsals. So sometimes I work the Director before the rehearsal. So the Director is like, okay, what are we want to achieve? How will we do that? What's a good exercise to achieve this kind of sense of connectivity or, or this creative outcome? So yeah, there's like a million ways that you can approach making the same cake


Max Belmonte 02:49

That's really interesting, you must get to see how Directors work different... different ways that they work, I guess, that'd be really interesting. But but as an Actor, you know, being able to walk into rehearsal space, in, I guess, the comfort of knowing that there's a coach there to help warm us up in the right sort of direction, and create that, that kind of safe space to sort of play a little bit. I think that that's really interesting.


Miranda Harcourt 03:18

Well, that's what it's all about, you know, say you're the Actor Max and, and you come in the room. And my objective as a coach in the room for the rehearsals is to allow Max the Actor to stop thinking about Max the Actor, and do what I call 'reverse the flow', where you reverse the flow towards the people that you're working with, because what the camera wants to capture is you and your character, thinking about the other actors and their characters, as opposed to you Max having your primary relationship between Max and character that's, that's not rewarding for the camera to watch. But it's really sad to say you're the naughty uncle. And as your brother the dad as his wife, there's three to two teenagers and a five year old and there's a dog and you're all in the rehearsal room together all day but at different times different elements of you go off and rehearse in different combos, my job will be to find an appropriate way for you to establish a set of of memories and a backstory with your brother with your sister in law with with the kids to establish connectivity with the kids and and with the dog. So that when I'm sitting out here and the one of the 55 million people watching the TV show the film, like Holy hell, where do they find this awesome real family to to form the drama? Does that make sense? So I don't want to be thinking about how good the as an audience member I don't want to be thinking about how good the acting is. I want to truly believe that your real


Max Belmonte 04:46

Be lost in that family moment. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think as as an up and coming actor, you know, it's a luxury at times to get rehearsals. Often, you know the last 50 Worder I was in you go straight into set and a team that's been working for a long time together. Probably my, most challenging moment was call time at 7am. And then meeting my onscreen girlfriend at 7:30am. And then 8am is the first thing we're in bed together. And it's our third month of the relationship. So I guess I kind of used humour to sort of break the ice and help us relax a little bit. But have you got any tips for really making that connection fast?


Miranda Harcourt 05:33

Oh, yeah, that is 100% my job. And that's what I'm all about, whether it's you playing the naughty uncle, or whether it's you in bed with your girlfriend after meeting could go at the catering truck. That's my stock and trade and trade my invention, my the thing that I love is finding easy, simple ways for people to connect across the space. And that space, I know I can do this, because this is video as well as audio. But for those audio people, what I'm doing is kind of joining my fingers together in front of me. So that you want to warm the space between you. So you don't feel a sense of the actors forcing themselves towards each other because they know in their brain that they have to be connected, you want to feel a sense that their bodies feel relaxed with each other. And so the way the simplest way that I have to do that is by using kind of body version of your humor approach, which is the kind of clapping games that you would have used in the playground. So my favorite is a game called 'double double' that goes 'double double this, this double double that, that double this double that Double double this that that' probably took, I don't know, 2.5 seconds. But it's a beautiful game from the kids playground, it's tricky enough to be hard enough to concentrate so that you stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about trying to help the other person achieve success in the game. But it's easy enough not to make you feel incredibly depressed early in the morning. So in your situation with you and your girlfriend who met for the first time, and then you were in bed together a quarter of an hour later, I would 100% use one of those clapping games, which doesn't sound like it's, it's it doesn't sound like an intimacy coordination game, because it's not about the intimacy of the body. But it is about working together to achieve something in the space between you.


Max Belmonte 07:28

Do you see something or some things that actors are consistently getting wrong or asking for support with?


Miranda Harcourt 07:35

Yeah, I'd say that most consistently, when I even if I work with a really great actor, like I was first thing this morning, I was working with a really fantastic actor. And there were two things that issue with his fantastic actor who's in New Zealand, the first thing was putting more work into the accent. So sometimes the accent can behave like big, damp blanket over the spirit of the role. And what you want to do is get your accent working so beautifully. And so unselfconsciously that then the music or the texts, and the ideas can can dance along with the accent. So that was that's number one. And and I'd say you know, especially I think you guys in Australia are really good at working on accents, maybe because you have more American opportunities than we do here in New Zealand. But here in New Zealand, I would say that all actors need to do more work on their American accent. But the other thing that I was working on this morning, other than that basic element of the accent was this idea of the internal landscape, where the pictures in your mind inform the way your work dances off the page and the way in which I'm able to go Holy hell, I totally understand what that act is talking about. But I don't feel like the actor is putting any work into it and nor May. And a really good way to imagine that is if you think about all of your cousins. So I'm saying this to all of your listeners if you just think about your cousins and speak out their names. So for me, I would speak up their name is Philip, Amanda, Sarah, Jessica, Edwina, Elizabeth, Harry and Andrew on it goes. And when I speak up in Adams, that's text that I have learned through my lifetime. But in order to be able to speak up their text, I'm thinking of images. And the images are kind of like the background radiation of the universe. I mean that the images are just there for me. Maybe it's a dog and a trampoline. Maybe it's a family wedding, maybe it's a christening maybe it's a dead the beach. So there's just like a generalized kind of radiate background radiation buzz of the images that I think about in order to remind me of the different cousins whose names I'm speaking out. And that's a good way of thinking about how you can learn your text, but your text has to be better. racked up with images in your mind. I was working with a very famous actor recently, who's become a director. And she was asking me to work with one of the kids in her film. And she said, Miranda, I think that actors think in images, not in words, or I think they ought to, is what she said. And I could not agree more. I think that if you can think in pictures as the character, and then the words spring off the pictures, then you are doing a great job of capturing human being.


Max Belmonte 10:28

Yeah, that's really interesting. Because I'm such a visual person. That's exactly how I approach and I think times it's interesting how I change the type of visuals I might access even though it's the same role. So it's a it's a play. By the third night, even I might be using different visuals to get the reaction that I would normally get otherwise. Yeah, it's really interesting that how that can be used and recalled when needed. You worked with Nicole Kidman on her role in Being the Ricardos, I believe, and where she played the formidable Lucille Ball. Can you tell me about that process? Like how would you would you come on board really early there and work with her? Or was it you know, day before shooting?

Miranda Harcourt 11:19

I can't really talk to you in specifically about the work that I do with some with a number of other famous actors. Sorry about that. So I can I can speak generically about the actors that I work with, and the kind of approaches that I would bring. But I can say about Nicole Kidman, that she's a genius. And so she's so fast, that you have to operate your brand, very high level of frequency to be able to cap to keep up with how quickly that particular actress understands things works and creates. It's remarkable. And that's something I would say about some of the very, I've been very interested recently to ask myself the question, when I encounter a very famous actor, I go, wow, what are they just kind of? Is it just all completely natural? Or do they work really hard? And surprisingly, the answer to that question is, is both of course, they're extremely talented, charismatic, and all those other things that go along with great talent. But the work ethic is remarkable. And not only the work ethic, in terms of the research, putting the work in accessing all the different elements of research that you possibly could to support the role, but, but also the emotional work ethic of those very famous actors operating at a high level, and I've worked with a lot of people who who are at that level. It's incredible, the emotional commitment to the role that I observe, and I'm just full of admiration.


Max Belmonte 12:57
You've got a course coming up, I think now actually Masterclass with the Hub Studio. And you're conducting that over zoom - for anyone listening in America. What would the actor expect to get out of a masterclass? What would they need to prepare for?


Miranda Harcourt 13:15

Well, I work I'm a proponent of Verbatim Theatre Back in my days, as an actress, I worked touring Verbatim shows, through the prison systems here and in Australia, to I've taught to my show through all the prisons in New South Wales, and in prisons, prisons in Britain. And they were shows where I would go with my co writers into prisons in New Zealand and all over the place and interview people about, about crime and about the impact of their crime, particularly on their own families. So if you were a criminal, I'd be interviewing you about what you did, but how that has impacted on your mother, on your sister on your children on your, your ex girlfriend. And, and that, from a psychotherapeutic perspective, was very valuable than to take back in the prison system and play those voices back to the predominantly men that I had spoken to because of course, they were very interested in hearing how their incarceration and their experience of crime had impacted on the people that they love. So So as I say, it was a valuable psychotherapeutic Punic tool, which is where my training is i I'm trained as a drama therapist at the Central School of Speech and Drama. In London. I bring I bring the magic of verbatim to the teaching that I do. And whether I'm working in a masterclass with 20 to 40 actors at the same time on Zoom, or whether I'm working in a in a room with a bunch of actors, whether I'm working with an actor one on one, I will often use that fabulous website Humans of New York and ask people to find a monologue verbatim monologue from Humans of New York that appeals to them and to learn 100 words of it. And that's what we will work on. Because the way that Brandon Stanton, who's the guy behind Humans in New York like I did when I was working the prison system, he records people in the poetry of how they see what they said. And then he transcribes it, and then he publishes it on his Instagram site. And so you just get such freshness of how people remember how people, how real people speak out their memories, their their emotions, their relationships, and for an actor to magnetize that up off the page, learn it and replicate it. You learn about freshness, you learn about the birth of the idea, or you learn about connectivity, you learn about what I call the hidden question, which is why you're saying what you're saying, there are all these magical tools inside the idea of of a better monologues, which then, once you've done that work, you can then go on and feed that into Las Vegas CSI, or a soap opera or an Australian drama. There's an application across the board of approaching your work in that particular way.


Max Belmonte 15:56

I have heard of it, but I have to check it out. Because from an acting perspective, yeah, it's fantastic to see someone's raw performance, but it's not a performance, you know, that's just natural.


Miranda Harcourt 16:06

Yeah. And it's your job is just to replicate that. And you can do it easily as my good friend, Jared also. No, no, Jared Otto is a New Zealand political writer. So Jared Carroll, who is my dear, dear friend in Australia, whose work I so admire, he's a wonderful actor. And he and I've worked together closely and Jared is a great proponent also of verbatim text, and he has honed his learning skill and to such a remarkable degree. So the way that he performs the verbatim characters that he learns, you just go, but that's not acting, that's a real person. Surely that's a real person. And then you meet the real Jared, you're like, Holy hell, it was acting, how can it be so persuasive? How can it be so fresh? How can his ideas come upon him as fast as they do? How can he be so connective with the other actor while also speaking out this complex text, but he's done it because he's trained that verbatim muscle and it's worth watching him work.


Max Belmonte 17:05

That's fantastic. I will have to check it out. And I also have to mention your daughter Thomasin , one of your daughters, Thomasin McKenzie, who played Elsa and JoJo rabbit, and an incredible performer, how much of her abilities can you take credit for?


Miranda Harcourt 17:25

Well, you know, she's growing up in a, in an acting context, my, my husband is a filmmaker and a writer. I'm an acting coach. I was an actor before I was an acting coach. It's so


Max Belmonte 17:41

such a talented family, it'd be hard not to become an actor in that environment.


Miranda Harcourt 17:45

It is I tell you what my my son worked really hard not to become an actor. He just graduated from law school. And my goodness, he put a huge amount of work into extricating himself from being an actor, because he was a really good actor. And I he was going down that path, but he fought back and was like, no, no, I want to go in another direction. But so we arrived, it has been sat around our dinner table. Oh my god, can we stop talking about acting and talk about something else?


Max Belmonte 18:13

Fantastic, fantastic. Well, if you could give our listeners one piece of advice about acting, what what would it be? What would you want them to really take away?


Miranda Harcourt 18:24

Look, it's really simple. For me, I'd say listening. And all of the things that I've spoken to you about Max and this interview have all been kind of connected to that central idea of listening, you can only listen, if you have learned your lines incredibly well. And learn them in your body, not learn them in your in your brain. So that's my key piece of advice, this idea of reverse the flow where you stop thinking about yourself, and enable yourself to think about the other person by connecting across the space and once again, by knowing your work so deeply grounded Lee that you can afford to let go of your self awareness and, and concentrate only on max whose face I see through the Zoom screen across from me, that is the magic that the camera wants to capture is to watch you or me listening to each other.


Max Belmonte 19:14

It's a great stage in as an actor when when you hit that moment, and you can afford to relax a little bit that and leave that moment and be in that moment, I find some times I'm coming up with things that I'm doing in that moment that certainly fit within the scene. And I wouldn't have thought I could sit down and come up with a million different ways to approach it as a character I never would have come up with those those actions or reactions, so to speak. So it's your right yeah, it's a great place to be and when you you've got everything nailed so much you can afford to sort of relax a little bit and just just being


Miranda Harcourt 19:53

Achieve freedom. And you know, because you're obviously a theatre actor, you know that that wonderful place you are when you get to the end of the third week of the run, where you feel like you're skiing, and that the psychologist behaves except me, hey, calls that flow. When you feel like you're skiing down the mountain, you're the peak of your craft and you achieve freedom and you can take risks and do other crazy things because you are totally grounded in your work. And, and I think that when we're on screen, and as you said, when you you're a 50 word, or and you turn up and you meet your director at the catering table, I'm

Max Belmonte 20:26

three, cameras at once. And yeah, and...


Miranda Harcourt 20:29

you got lines to learn, you're like, If only I could achieve now the freedom that I have, at the end of week three of the theater run, how to do that. That's my challenge as an acting coach is to find a way for actors to try and achieve that degree of fluidity, flexibility, confidence and freedom. Even though they just walked on the set.


Max Belmonte 20:49

That's fantastic. Because when people say people ask me why, why leaving corporate Why come back to acting? It's it's that for that, to feel that freedom in different characters. That's exactly if I could bottle that. That's exactly what, what I'm why I'm here. Fantastic. Miranda, thank you so much for your time, we really do appreciate it some great tips and advice. And you know, good luck with the hub Studio Master Class.


Miranda Harcourt 21:18

Thank you very much. We've had on the first the first of our five sessions, and it was really exciting to meet a whole bunch of new actors. There's the second series that I've run, and I really love it. I put a lot of work into making sure that those x's go away. Like Like a kid on Christmas morning with a whole bunch of awesome presents that you go whoa, I can't wait to put these to use.


Max Belmonte 21:41

That's fantastic. Right. Thank you very much for your time.


Miranda Harcourt 21:44

Thank you. Good luck

Miranda HarcourtProfile Photo

Miranda Harcourt

Acting Coach

Miranda has taught at TIFF in Toronto, at NFTS and NYU Tisch, The London Film School and Directors UK in Britain, at AFTRS and The Hub in Sydney, at Toi Whakaari, The Actors’ Program, Otago University and Victoria University in Aotearoa, New Zealand. For seven years Miranda was the Head of the Acting Department at Toi Whakaari -
New Zealand Drama School.

"In my work with actors and directors, I aim to shift paradigms, empowering
creatives to realise their own talent. I introduce simple but innovative ways of thinking about and achieving connection and character. I have developed a series of tools and exercises for use in rehearsal and on-set that get actors to where they need to be, fast."

Miranda has worked with both emerging Directors and Directors such as Jane Campion, Taika Waititi, and Peter Jackson. Miranda has also coached A-List Actors such as Nicole Kidman.