Published: March 5, 2012
Send to a friend

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH...
BERNARD HILLER

Meet SBF Member Bernard Hiller, who trained as an actor, singer and dancer at the High School of Performing Arts in NYC and then performed in several Broadway musicals. He has worked on Films and TV with George Clooney, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Mirren and has coached LL Cool J, Billy Crystal, Jeff Goldblum to mention but a few, as well as becoming an international acting coach. Bernard has just published his first book called Stop Acting - Start Living, A Revolutionary Guide For Achieving Success in Show-Business & Life, based on his powerful and unique techniques. Currently he is working as Producer and Writer on his new film project Brundibar, based on a documentary he filmed, called Children of Terezin. Shooting will begin this year.
We interviewed Bernard after one of his masterclasses held at the Teatro Golden, in Rome. Read on and find out about his career...
Bernard Hiller

  • The Bernard Hiller Acting Studio
Los Angeles, California When did you start to realize that you liked coaching actors?
    Bernard Hiller: I started around 1982 when someone asked me to help them to prepare for an audition. I've always had a lot of opinions on what acting should be like and I never thought that it was being taught properly. So I started and this guy got a job and then he brought in more people and slowly I was teaching.
    Quote ...When you come to Hollywood you have to think about what you are going to give and not what you are going to get. That's the big mistake. If you are coming to get, you get nothing!...
    I never thought that I would be a teacher as I'm a singer, dancer, actor and that's what I still do and I didn't think that people who acted could teach. Then about 11 years ago I started doing master classes in Europe and I wanted to do something brand new. I was sure that no one was going to like it, but I liked it, so I thought: "That sounds good!". It's been a huge tremendous success in all the countries, because not only do I bring them acting, but also inspiration, hope, motivation and how to overcome their blocks and fears - that's their real big problem. It's revolutionary. It's an honour for me to work with artists, because every time I get better.

  • How has being a working actor yourself shaped your work as an acting teacher?
    Grease 2
Bernard in the 'We Are Going to Score Tonight' routine
1982 BH: I'm one of them. Everything that I do in my master classes, I would like to do myself and have done. I'm able to help then with the music, the song, the choreography. I'm an insider and I've worked with some of the greatest choreographers. I have the same problems, fears, doubts as them.

  • What is it about coaching actors that you like?
    BH: My classes are really designed for life changing. Everyone who comes out of here finds a new them and they discover what they were born to do. After doing one of my 3-day or 5-day classes, they feel like they have been reborn. I really like to be at these births and to see the passion that they have. At the beginning of the class they are sad, depressed, complaining about how bad things are and they can't do it and it's a great satisfaction for me to hear them afterwards saying that they now have a life of meaning.

  • How much time is spent teaching acting and how much on psychology?
    Quote ...I'm one of them. I have the same problems, fears, doubts as them...
    BH: I would say it's 50/50, but not only psychology, it's humanology - studying about how to overcome yourself. Learning to act is kind of simple, being an actor is simple too, but succeeding is a whole different matter. I think that if you don't succeed as an artist, you are going to be living a nightmare, because having talent and not being able to do anything about it, is the worst experience. The number one reason why people don't live their dream is because they are afraid to seize the moment. There's a moment in your life when you realise that it's time to do it, when it's now or never. Artists know that we don't have time - time is life and life is time - if you waste your time, you waste your life. Everyone either lives their dream or their nightmare. So I teach them life coaching and they get rid of all their fears and blocks. Some people take my classes regularly - it's like going to the gym. I get people to focus on what they want and not what they don't want. What you attract in life, is what you put your focus on and so if you don't want pain, all you get is pain, if you don't want to be unhappy, you'll just going to be unhappy, Bernard holding a masterclass in Hamburg
2011 so focus on what you want and not what you don't want. Why reach for the stars when you can go further than that. Go as far as you can. You only have one life.

  • What do you think becoming an actor is all about?
    BH: Becoming an artist is one of the most difficult things to do and one of the most important jobs in society. To be in front of the lights, people are not afraid of the dark, people are afraid of the light. They are afraid that others will see what's wrong with them, so a lot of people hid in the darkness. Artists try to come out of the darkness and move into the light and have a journey that is different to most people and find what makes their heart sing. It has been said by a very famous movie star, that acting is like standing naked and turning around really slowly.

  • Has your class changed significantly since you started teaching?
    Quote ...acting is like standing naked and turning around really slowly...
    BH: I always think about how I can do it better, new ideas, new exercises and so it's always changing. My classes are different, but the same. 500 years ago there was love and now there's love - it's different, but totally the same.

  • How does somebody know when they have found the right course and coach?
    BH: When you have the energy that you need and when you feel WOW, this person is taking me to another place. I would say that there are only 12 great acting teachers in the world that can help you become a Star. There are a lot of great teachers, but only 12 who can make you become something extraordinary. Teaching the art of acting is one thing, but teaching you to break through and find that special something isn't easy. We lost three great teachers - Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner and Lee Strasberg and they are irreplaceable.

  • How do you select your students?
    BH: I select them via my assistants who look for the most open and positive people, because positive people can achieve anything. It's the negativity that blocks you from being creative.

  • When you first meet a student, can you tell right away if he/she has what it takes to be an actor?
    Bernard holding a masterclass in Hamburg
2011 BH: You don't really know, you have to put them under a pressured situation, because people perform differently under pressure. On the first day or two you can tell pretty much which way it's going. But I've had people who were terrible and they have woken up from the coma that they were in and it's been amazing. Actors must let every emotion out, because whatever emotion you cannot express, controls your life. For example, if you can't express anger, you are a very angry person. I teach my students to let every emotion out as all emotions are good. To become an actor, you must be an expert in life too. We are like doctors for the soul and we must understand life better than anyone else.

  • What are the biggest questions or concerns on the minds of your students?
    BH: Always that they are not good enough, they've had the world against them and have been told that they wouldn't make it. You must overcome the negative voice that's always talking to you, constantly telling you that you aren't good enough. You'll too short, too tall, too fat, not the right colour. In my lessons I teach people to change that voice. We have to dream big, because the bigger the dream, the better the life and desire increases happiness. We tend to forget along the way what we were born to do. Only courageous people have big dreams and hope. Nobody is born with courage, it's a choice you have to make. Realistic people don't get anywhere in life. If you are crazy, you can achieve anything.

  • With the wealth of media outlets today, like cable TV, internet as well as traditional broadcast fare, is it easier for an actor to get a job now?
    Quote ...There's a moment in your life when you realise that it's time to do it, when it's now or never. Artists know that we don't have time - time is life and life is time - if you waste your time, you waste your life...
    BH: Absolutely, much easier for them. If they have a camera, they can make their own film and they are up and running. Nowadays there is nothing that stops you from being the artist that you want to be.

  • What's the difference between an actor and a movie star? Can you be both?
    BH: There are actors, who are also movie stars, but really the question is the difference in a movie star and a personality star. There are movie stars, like Al Pacino who is a great actor and then there are movie stars, like Sylvester Stallone who is a personality star - who kind of play themselves. Then there are actors like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks who are both a star and an actor. Movie star is actually something that people give you, not something that you give yourself.

  • You have been instrumental in launching the careers of many actors around the world, including Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Cameron Diaz and you have worked with Jennifer Garner, Billy Crystal and Jeff Goldblum. When you're working with people like that, what exactly is your role? Do you go on the set when you work with them? Do you work with them prior to filming?
    Bernard holding a masterclass in Poland
2010 BH: Some I go on the sets with, others I prepare - it works different ways. As a coach I'm there to guide them and to be a sounding board to give another opinion for them to bounce off their ideas. I don't tell them how to do it, I say: "Here is an idea, what do you think?"

  • You are an acting coach in Hollywood, what important ingredient do actors need to have to be successful there?
    BH: You need incredible positive energy and when you come to Hollywood you have to think about what you are going to give and not what you are going to get. That's the big mistake. If you are coming to get, you get nothing!

  • How do these requirements differ between continents?
    BH: The big difference is that American actors continue to train, European actors stop after they get their diploma. Sometimes they are not as good, as they have stopped studying. Had they keep going they would have been just as good? It's like, if I study a foreign language for 2 years and somebody else has studied for 25 years, who will be better? Also, in the US, the students study everything, but in Europe they either do acting or dancing or singing. Europe is about 20 years behind America with training. In Europe singing and dancing isn't considered important to the actors training, but Marlon Brando and James Dean started as dancers and all the great schools around the world, always have singing and dancing. My masterclasses contain all three and this must be the future in Europe. Meryl Streep is an incredible singer and (laughing) her acting is also good! The more you discover in yourself, the more you can use.

  • What mistakes have you seen that people make which leads to the reason they don't become a successful actor?
    BH: Here's how it works - the ones who want to, always get there. If anything is able to stop you, this career is not meant for you. It's that simple. Stop Acting Start Living
Written by Bernard Hiller & Keith Hutchings You learn from your mistakes, but if these mistakes stop you, then this is not the right profession for you.

  • Your first book "Stop Acting - Start Living" A Revolutionary Guide For Achieving Success in Show-Business & Life, has just been published. Could you tell us something about it?
    Quote ...if you don't succeed as an artist, you are going to be living a nightmare, because having talent and not being able to do anything about it, is the worst experience...
    BH: The book deals with the fact that most people are not true to themselves, behaving and acting in ways that are not authentic, which is why they are not achieving their goals. My book gives you the tools you need to succeed in show-business & life. Most people are acting already, but they are not who they really are and not ready to start to live the life that they were born to live. It talks about how easy it can be to become a star, how blocks and fears are great and the benefit of negativity. This book will definitely make you stop and think about your career and life in ways you never have before.

  • Do you have any other plans?
    BH: I'm producing a 15-million-dollar film that I wrote called Brundibar, which is a children's opera that was performed in a concentration camp. It's a musical and is the most inspiring true story I have ever heard.


    Thank you Bernard for this great interview!