“Make your own work.”
While that is not the sum total of Alberto Tihan’s advice to aspiring actors nor a comprehensive summary of his own strategy for success in a difficult profession, it does provide a concise motto for understanding the rising star’s approach to his craft. Tihan begins and ends his interview stressing the importance of writing for actors. If you are a young actor looking to make a career, “you need to start writing ASAP.”
Writing serves the actor in two ways. He or she can create projects, but even if one’s script never gets produced, the thought process that goes into creating characters and conflicts helps the actor become a better reader. Being a good reader is important because conveying the writer’s meaning “as intended” and/or as the director pictures it (and communicates it through his or her own words) is the primary work of the actor.
That description of process may sound humble or even meek to those whose stereotype of movie actors is one of pampered and demanding royalty, but beginning actors must be as adept at collaborating as they are at creating. Tihan mentioned, for example, that Kemo, the street pimp he plays in Searching for Angels was a composite of his own vision of the character and that of the director, Nadeem Soumah. There is a place in most productions for the actor to “push the boundaries” in creating a character–as well as some “overlap” in the roles of writer, director, and actor. The important thing, he stresses, is that those collaborative moments happen in consultations rather than during shooting. At those times, the actor needs to trust the director about what is working and what isn’t. Without the live audience one has in a theater, a film actor’s only way to really know if a performance is working is if “the director says ‘print it’ after he says ‘cut!’” If, instead, the director says “come over here and let’s talk,” the actor jokes somewhat wryly, “then I’m like…’uh-oh’ what did I do?’”
Originally from Romania, Tihan also mentioned travel as a key life experience that helps him create characters from different backgrounds. (For example, as a Romanian he grew up Orthodox but convincingly played a Muslim director in the short film Doctor, Director!) In addition to visiting his sisters in Montreal and his mother in Germany, he has visited Mexico, Los Angeles, France, and the Ukraine, finding in each place the universal human experiences that tie characters together but also distinct customs, ideas, or mannerisms that “as an actor, you can keep in your back pocket.” He hopes that traveling has made him more versatile as an actor and more tolerant as a human being.
Muslim director, mysterious street pimp, Romanian immigrant. The gulf between the actor and the roles he plays can be wide at times, but the actor is also a writer and a traveler, and he tries to use his those roles to expand his own understanding of human behavior to push beyond stereotypes. Alberto Tihan is currently acting opposite Vivica A. Fox in Searching for Angels. He is working on not one but two screenplays. He is even co-producing a film.
“You can’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring.”