5 Lessons from Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop at SXSW 2013

AUSTIN, TX: “I’ll just start talking. Hi, I’m Jeffrey.”

And with that, Jeffrey Tambor strolled out onto the stage, bare save for three chairs, at SXSW’s Vimeo Theatre and gave one of his acting workshops, which have become the stuff of legend around here. This is the eighth year he’s flown down to Austin to conduct a session with young actors, in front of a crowd of directors, actors, and fans. And although he is best known for his comic work (primarily as George Sr. on Arrested Development and Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show), and he’s the kind of born entertainer who can’t help but make this audience laugh, acting is a very serious business to Mr. Tambor.

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“I love training,” he announced, late in the session. “I studied with a great one, I mean Jessica Walter was in my class. I love to study. I studied all the way to my fifties.” Now, he trains. The first half or so of the session consisted of intense scene work with the two actors, both in SXSW films (A Teacher‘s Lindsay Burdge and The Bounceback‘s Michael Stahl-David); the second, a Q&A with Tambor and his actors.

It’s riveting to watch Tambor the director, particularly if you’ve only seen him as an actor. His criticisms are cutting, sharp — and accurate. But once the actors started working with him, his love for them was equally uninhibited. He’d bark out little confirmations between their lines: “That a boy!” “That’s the best moment you’ve had.” “She’s great! I wish you could see this.” “I’m happy.” “That’s great.” “Perfect! It’s perfect. And there you are.”

Over the course of the 90 minutes, Tambor imparted plenty of wisdom. Here are five of my takeaways from the workshop, to both actors and directors: