Amanda Charney, TMU contributor and sophomore at USC

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing my professor John Rubinstein. I would say more about what a wonderful teacher, mentor, and director Professor Rubinstein is, and how fortunate I have been to get to work with him, but he gave me such an eloquent response that I would rather let him speak for himself!

When did you first know that acting was your passion, and that you wanted to pursue it?

I was lucky enough to go to an elementary school in New York that was founded and mostly run by British professors. They took public speaking, poetry-learning and reciting, acting, singing, even whistling seriously. Every year, each class would present a play or musical, frequently written by the 7th grade teacher Mr. Strange, who taught Math and Geography, played the organ and the piano for all the assemblies, and directed the annual eighth grade Shakespeare play.

In 7th grade, we all read aloud and studied what was to be our eighth-grade Shakespeare play the following year, Macbeth. I was given the role of Macbeth, and we were to learn our lines over the summer. In 8th grade, after school every day during the first semester, we rehearsed, and on December 20, right before the Christmas break and almost two weeks after my 13th birthday, we presented it. To answer your question, that was the night that I knew for certain that theater and acting were the paths I would follow for the rest of my life.

How did you prepare yourself to be a professional actor? Did your preparation give you an advantage, or was it experience that really helped in the long run?

The short answer to your question: I was extremely fortunate in several ways, to live in both New York and Paris and have parents who loved the theater and would take me with them and send me on my own wherever we were to attend schools which, although they weren't professional schools in any way, had serious theater and music programs embedded in their curriculum. And to meet and know some great and generous theater professionals who allowed me to observe their work first hand and encouraged me throughout my young acting days.

But I took none of it for granted. I saw everything, including all the old movies on TV and every movie I could see. Without studying in any organized way, I had absorbed a huge wealth of experience simply by watching and taking it all in. It prepared me for my acting, directing, and composing careers more than any school or teacher did. And then my years at UCLA provided me with some more formal instruction and methodology, as well as some excellent theater history and a great education in technical theater. I have made us, and been grateful for all of it.

I know you have done a wide variety of performing, from musical theater to on TV and screen. Do you have a preference, or are they like apples and oranges?

It's hard to answer this question, often asked. Not apples and oranges at all; on the contrary, closely related, although there are certainly some differing technical details and adjustments that have to be made from one medium to another. But it's basically telling a story. Each medium dictates the form that the story will take, and we performers must find our place in it and fulfill it to the best of our abilities.

The real truth is: I love all forms. I love acting, I love directing, I love composing, I love teaching. Whatever I'm doing at the time tends to be my favorite. My father was often asked which his favorite piece to play on the piano was. I stole that last line from him; he meant it 100%, and he always answered the question that way. My favorite piece is the piece I'm playing! I really do feel that way about my work.

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment?

That's easy. Having managed, for 46 years and counting, to make a living and keep working in this business.

Financially, it's harder now than ever before, given the horrible state of the economy and my personal choice to have so many children! The pressure to make more and more money, as I get older and the salaries go down and the money buys less is extremely stressful. Still, at least until now, I have managed to stay afloat as an actor, a composer, a director, a pianist, and a teacher, while having an enjoyable life, five beautiful children, and a host of happy moments. I am proud of that and feel very lucky.

What was the most difficult point in your career?

The answer is twofold. One would have to include the times when I didn't end up doing something that I could have done. A handful of times, I was offered roles in projects that I dearly wanted to do. I didn't ultimately do them because of bad advice from an agent or because I made a foolhardy decision or because of some other unnecessary screw-up. I still regret those things, and each time it was difficult to toss it off and move on. Especially when some of those things were huge successes and made big careers for the actors who were cast instead of me! Tough.

The second answer is right now. A difficult time in my career. As I said above, work is more scarce, the general economy is awful, the pay is smaller, and I have big obligations vis-à-vis family. On the other hand, I have started a new and wonderful career as a teacher, and balancing that with my other work, although tricky, is of chief concern to me now. Difficult decisions and some nervousness about the future.

Is there anything else you would like college theater students to know?

My main thing that I keep hearing myself say is something along the lines of, keep observing and going to the theater. If you like something, go again and again. Figure out why you like it, how they accomplished the things you like about it. Drink it all in. But go and go and go.