Tania Fisher interviews Roger Hendricks Simon

You have an impressive list of celebrity students, or those that you’ve directed–Do you experience any major differences or difficulties working with acting students who might be new to the industry?

The difference is how to integrate them into the company.  Working with a big name you deal with what they offer you–they might want to be just a regular name in the cast. Others want to be treated as special.  You have to be aware of who you’re working with and be able to deal with them accordingly.

When I worked on Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street 2” as Bernie Jacobs, I was sitting at the same table as Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Shia LaBeouf, and Frank Langella.  We all sat around a table reading and working on the material, and we were all equal.  All they wanted from me was for me to do my job and all I wanted from them was for them to do their jobs.  Oliver (Stone) would give notes; we’d read it again.  The only difference between that project and doing the same work on an off-Broadway production was the tray of Nova Scotia salmon!  Really good actors when they’re working–that’s what they do.

The kid that’s new doesn’t have training or experience–and is working with those that do–is at a disadvantage unless he understands that he can learn from them.  He can get in there and be at the table with them.  It’s more than just having talent.  That’s why you have to train and gain experience.  Someone who’s just talented and not experienced is at a disadvantage–they have to be confident and look like they belong there at that table, and try not to look green.

There’s that old saying “Those that can, do, those that can’t, teach.”  But you seem to be constantly doing both; acting and directing in movies and plays. Where do you find the energy for all of this?

I hated that expression and that was always my fear because I always had a passion for teaching.

But I also felt it was totally unfair to great teachers, even those who were not practitioners, because there are some teachers who are not practitioners.  I just preferred those who were working at the same time.

When I come in to the Studio I’m excited to teach what I did that week—regarding my experience as a director, what I professionally experienced that week. I’m eager to share it and that to me is exciting.  If I was a student, I would want my teacher to come and share with me his experience of what he just got off the set doing.

My teaching reminds me how to do what I’m doing, and it’s keeping me fresh.  The ideas that I’m coming up with, as a teacher and sharing with my students, I’m also sharing with myself—I’m reminding myself that’s what I need to do in the other work that I’m currently involved with.  I learn a lot from my students, too, and from the directors and writers in the studio.  They’re giving me things I can use as a teacher, as well as work with professionally.

I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on one of your classes and I was overwhelmed by the real feeling of respect and genuine support your students have for each other.  How do you manage to manifest that kind of comradery in such a competitive and ego-driven field?

I really work hard at that.  I do know how it happens.  It happens through hard work to try and make it personal with everybody there, and that’s very exhausting, but it’s a positive exhausting, although you have to like it.  Everybody there is actually special.

I happen to think that what we do is very important. I also think, OK, we don’t save lives, doctors save lives, but someone once said to me we do.  If you go to the theater or the movies and come out with an exhilarating feeling, you’re saving a life.  It’s what we do.  It’s what we do as actors and writers.  What we do is a healing thing: mentally, physically, and spiritually and therapeutically.  The whole act of doing what you love:  your joy, enlightening people–that’s special.  You are blessed that you have the talent to do it and thankful that you have the opportunity to do it, but on the other hand, it’s not nuclear science, it’s not medicine.  So part of the atmosphere is it has to be fun, joyous.  It has to be enjoyable and always to be full of pain or suffering.

In terms of the atmosphere, it’s hard work to get a balance–sometimes there’s too much fun going on!  You need to be relaxed to work, and it’s important to create a relaxed atmosphere, but not too relaxed, so people are  able to work.

What do you want your students to get out of your classes?

A respect for the kind of work that goes into what we do. A love of the work that we do.  An excitement, I guess, of what we can potentially do.  An awareness that much of what we do is not always fun–it’s not always even going to be good.  Usually, it’s more likely that it’s not going to be that good because a lot of people expect a great life for actors and envisage it’s all about having fun and parties, and I want people to come out of the studio realizing it’s hard work and frustrating at times; it’s not always going to be smooth. It’s going to be rocky, uneven–it’s going to have some difficult moments.

I want them to come away with respect–just like everything else, any work is not always going to be fun, even if you have a passion for it.  It’s not always going to be glamorous; very few people will end up making a real living from it, so you have to come away just loving the process.  In the end, if you don’t love the process of it, you’ll quit–because the rewards often don’t come.  You have to love it or you’ll be disillusioned.  I like my students to appreciate a realistic point of view–it’s not just an art, it’s a business.  It’s mostly a craft, and it’s mostly a business and very little of that pertains to true art.  The real art is the icing on the cake.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email rhsstudio@gmail.com

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(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All rights reserved.  Photos courtesy of the Simon Studio and Tania Fisher.

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