Emmy-nominated film and television star Timothy Olyphant joined students from New York Film Academy (NYFA) at its Los Angeles campus to speak about his career and the industry. Known for his roles in blockbusters like Live Free or Die Hard and in television shows like The Mindy Project and The Office, Olyphant currently stars on Netflix show The Santa Clarita Diet. The Q&A session was moderated by Anne Moore, Associate Chair for NYFA’s Acting for Film department.
Olyphant began the talk by discussing the benefits of different acting techniques. He spent his early career studying the Meisner acting technique in New York, which aims to push actors to be present in the moment rather than “in their heads.” His strategy for “playing the scene” in Meisner’s style is to memorizes the lines so thoroughly that he’s not worrying about remembering them when it’s time to shoot the scene. He also studies the actor opposite him, paying attention to their technique and learning from them to build his knowledge for future roles.
The actor then shared his view on the differences between acting for comedic roles, such as his time on Santa Clarita Diet, and dramatic roles, like Deadwood and Justified. “I don’t think of it as comedy versus drama; I see really very little difference between the two,” he said.
Unlike some other actors, Olyphant also stated that he does not try to infer backstory for a character, but rather builds the character’s motivations exclusively from the actions in the scene as it is written. These actions, he stated, give a lot of insight into how the character thinks and operates. “I’m not even interested [in] what he was like when he was seven years old or 15 years old or 18 years old,” said Olyphant. “You’re just playing the scene; you’re just literally playing what’s in front of you.”
In addition, Olyphant discussed the experience of working with different directing styles, such as with Quentin Tarantino on his most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He shared that it was a very unique experience because despite working in an industry with a reputation for breeding self-importance, Tarantino did not allow anyone to have mobile phones on set. Instead, he wanted the cast and crew to be mentally present and focus strictly on the art of filmmaking, which deeply impressed Olyphant.
“He’s doing it in a way that you just didn’t know was possible,” he told the audience. “He’s conducting his business and his work and his set like no other set you’ve ever been on… he’s worked really hard to be able to do it his way and it’s just beautiful.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank film and television star Timothy Olyphant for sharing his acting techniques and industry advice with our students!