STEVE BLACKWOOD (remembered for his role of "Bart" on Days of Our Lives talks about his acting book -- The Steve Blackwood Sessions -- as well as his career of teacher and film actor. Among Steve's numerous film credits are: Ed Gein, Machine Gun Preacher, Mooz-lum, Beyond the Mask and Cedar Rapids. Having recently moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts, Steve currently teaches acting around the Northeastern area.
OUTTAKES: What have you been up to since Days of Our Lives?
SB: First of all, I miss the DAYS fans. I miss being on the show very much. The gang was great. But what happened was when they killed me off and my evil twin never came back [laughs], I moved to Michigan. In Michigan, they had a tax cut where they were doing lots of movies. So as it turns out, when I left LA, I actually was starting to work more in movies than I ever did before. I did a movie called Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler; and I play the evil banker. Also, I did a funny scene in Cedar Rapids with Ed Helms. I did a voiceover in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, the cartoon movie. And I did a part in Mooz-lum starring Danny Glover. And I just finished a movie called Beyond the Mask which is a historical drama. I play one of the mean loyalists who try to kill George Washington; and John Rhys Davies (for The Lord of the Rings movies) is the star of that. So it’s been crazy busy. And I’ve also been teaching in colleges as well as an adjunct professor. Professor Blackwood. Professor Bart! And it’s been great. I’ve really been enjoying the teaching. Suffice to say, it’s been very busy. I miss the show…but one chapter closes, and another one opens up. As it turns out, I think I have a knack for teaching acting.
OUTTAKES: Speaking of new chapters, you have a book out called The Steve Blackwood Sessions. What inspired you to write this book?
SB: My favorite acting book of all time was a book called Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen who was my acting teacher no less in New York City. It’s like my bible. What I wanted to do was to write something – a combination of what I learned from Uta in New York and what I learned from Milton Katselas, the acting teacher to the stars in Los Angeles; and I wanted to condense it into a practical handbook for actors that condenses everything into a motivational handbook for them that they can carry around with them to auditions. I never had one of those; and I wanted to fill that void. I wanted to follow my mentor’s path and to write an acting book. But it’s not just an acting book. It’s motivational. It’s kind of about following your dream. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Detroit where everybody was either a carpenter or an insurance salesman; and I danced to a different drum. I followed that. This book is to encourage all those people that have a different drum inside them and to follow that different drum wherever it goes. If you follow what you love, the money will come. So I wrote this book not only to inspire actors but to inspire people that gave up on their dreams or are thinking about giving up on their dreams. My answer is don’t, don’t, don’t. So that’s why I wrote this book.
Pictured with Ed Helms and Alia Shawkat, Cedar Rapids (2011)
OUTTAKES: You’ve been an actor for thirty years in the business; and this is your first book. How was your experience of writing it?
SB: It was great. It’s a lot harder than I ever imagined. First you write; and it’s like, oh, this is great, this is easy! I wrote a lot about Days of Our Lives and some funny times that I had in there. I write about doing some of the comedy with Deidre Hall (Marlena) when she was “Hattie”. I loved doing that. Deidre loved doing comedy; and it gave her a chance to stretch. I always wanted to bring as much comedy as I could to DAYS. In fact, I talk a lot in the book about tags -- the final camera shot of both actors at the end of the scene. One time “Bart” came in; and I did something good. Joe Mascolo (Stefano) surprised me. He came up to me and he gave me a big kiss on the lips. So my tag -- my close-up at the end – was not acting. It was real shock and surprise! Joe was great to work with. He was always surprising me with stuff; and he kept you on your toes. He’s a real pro; and so is Deidre. I talk a lot about the wonderful actors there…like Thaao Penghlis (Tony) who is a most kind man and very giving. Thaao was one of the actors that was into my comedy. He would play straight man to me and not be worried about being upstaged or anything like that. He knew that it was lending itself to the scene. He was a good guy; and I miss my partner. And I miss “Rolf” (Will Utay). I write about all of them in The Steve Blackwood Sessions. To answer your question, the hard part [about writing the book] was towards the end…when you are nervous and you have to submit it to the printer for the final print. And you’re worried if you have the punctuation right. You start to go over the book again and again. And it’s “Oh, it doesn’t sound right to me…” and “It stinks!” [laughs] And you go through all of the second guessing of yourself. When you get to the point where it’s actually going to go to the printer, that’s when it got real hairy; and I started going over it. For all you first time writers, I suggest you get an editor and not do what I did. My assistant and I did a lot of this work; and it was just mind-blowing how much you miss…because you didn’t get a comma here…this sentence needs to be cut…that sort of thing. And that all happened right at the end. I was just doing eleven hours a day every day, just reading it over and over and editing it over and over again. Because you want it to be right the first time. They’re going to be printing thousands of books; and you don’t want to live with mistakes. It was a wonderful experience – and also very hard work! It is not as easy as I thought it would be.
"Bart" montage from Steve's work on Days of Our Lives
OUTTAKES: What did you love the most about playing “Bart” on Days of Our Lives?
SB: The writers and the producers let me rewrite the material so I wasn’t just a one note minion to “Stefano”. They ended up letting me do the comedy; and that is what I truly loved. My mentors were Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon. I just loved doing comedy, trying to figure out a way to play it straight – not to play goofy comedy, not to do over-the-top comedy, but to keep it real. What if this minion, this “Bart Biederbiecke”, was not the sharpest knife in the drawer? I ended up taking the script and adding to it; and the writers let me do it. Every time I got a script, I started working that. After a while, the writers got the idea of how the character was going by watching what I was doing on TV; and so they ended up writing for “Bart”. They ended up writing for the comedy…which was wonderful. So my suggestion to actors is to follow your gold. If you have a knack for comedy, keep doing that. If I had played “Bart” the way they originally wrote it – where “Stefano” and I were building a secret room for “Susan” and we were going to lock her away – I would have been out and never been back on that show. I would have done the two weeks that I was supposed to do; and that’s it. But somehow or another, those wonderful DAYS fans hooked onto the comedy; and they kept me going on there for ten years. What I loved the most about it was to find the funny in the soap opera because everybody needs to laugh once in a while. Life is hard sometimes. I just want to make people laugh.
Pictured with Thaao Penghlis and Josh Taylor, Days of Our Lives (2005)
OUTTAKES: Did you have a favorite moment or storyline from DAYS?
SB: There were a lot of them! The crossdressing was kind of funny. The time that I was a male stripper to “Bonnie” was a funny thing. I loved working with Deidre as “Hattie” during that whole sequence. We just had so much fun. I was doing kind of a Columbo wrap-up of the whole case in front of the whole cast. Even Bill and Susan [Hayes] were there; and I was wrapping up my cracking of the case of the “Bart/Hattie” situation. I finished this whole sequence where I had two pages of dialogue…one big monologue; and the whole cast applauded. It was so cool and fun. The dramatic thing that I remember the most way back when was when I kidnapped “Bo”; and I hung him up in the warehouse and there was a fire. It was great because I really got a chance to play an evil villain in that. “Bart” wasn’t as funny back then as he ended up evolving to be. I loved that sequence as well. The whole “Princess Gina” kidnapping “Bo”. That was a real cool storyline to work on.
Pictured with Lauren Koslow, Kristian Alfonso and James Scott,
Days of Our Lives book signing (2013)
OUTTAKES: Let’s say Ken Corday calls you tomorrow and wants you back on DAYS. If you could write a storyline for your character, what would you like to see happen with him?
SB: Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like “Bert” (Bart’s evil twin) to come back – and for him to be almost like James Bond. He’s not funny at all; and this is what would be funny. They all think he’s “Bart” but he’s the evil twin. They all think he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he’s very cool. He’s very sophisticated. He’s very smart. He outwits “Stefano”. The comedy would be everybody thinking he’s the dumb one, but he’s the smart one. That’s what I would do. I’d love to play the other side of the coin. That would be funny.
OUTTAKES: What is it you like the most about teaching students?
SB: I love to inspire them. I love to get them thinking outside of the box. Especially the students because they’re just starting off. There’s a lot of people telling them what to do. I think college should encourage individuality; and that’s what I try to do in my acting classes. I ask the actor what would they do if they were in the given circumstances of a scene. What would they do? For instance, if the actor’s name is John Doe…[I’d ask him] “John, what would you do?” He’d say “Well, I think that the character…he’s more sophisticated…” I’d say “Don’t say he. Say I. What would I, John Doe, do in the circumstances if my wife was leaving me and I wanted her to stay? I ask these students to reach into their personal histories. If a girl is breaking up with them, I’ll say, “Has someone ever broken your heart? Go back and think about that when you’re doing the scene.” I like to personalize that. I try to teach, motivate and inspire kids; and even if it’s inspiring them to change their own personal lives, whether it be that someone is suppressing them in their life or if some friend of theirs is saying, “What is this acting stuff? You don’t want to be an actor. How are you going to make a living as an actor?” You start listening to those voices of those people. You start believing it; and then you end up doing the very thing that you don’t want to do. So this is what I try to tell them. If they’re an actor, I encourage them to go all the way with it and to personalize that role. To bring themselves to whatever role they do.
Ed Gein (2000)
OUTTAKES: What sort of acting classes do you teach?
SB: All of it. Two-person scenes from plays and from movies. From The Silence of the Lambs, heavy material like that. Or we’ll do monologues – two to three minutes of something from a play; somebody talking to themselves or talking to somebody else solo. Also, cold reading seems to be the most popular thing in my seminars. I bring in my own copy of different movies and plays; and I say you have about five minutes to look it over – and then boom, you have to be up there reading it. A lot of times when you go to an audition, an actor will read for a part; and then the casting people will say, no, we want you to read for this. So you basically are cold reading it. You basically have to make some fast strong choices as an actor to try to book the role…or at least to book the callback. Cold reading is a technique in and of itself. A lot of people will read new copy and keep their face down in the copy. I teach them to read one line at a time and bring those eyes up off the copy and onto the camera because the eyes are the windows of the soul. Especially on camera which picks up everything. I do a lot of different techniques. I even do a little improv in my classes as well.
Misled (to be released)
OUTTAKES: You give a lot of credit in your book to Uta Hagen and Milton Katselas. What would you say were the most valuable lessons you learned from these legendary teachers?
SB: The biggest lesson that I got was how to work with your partner on stage or on camera…meaning how to listen and how to react. If you watch any television shows – soap operas or whatever, the ones that are really the most interesting to watch are the ones that seem to be spontaneous. They seem to be reacting to what’s being said to them in the moment. That’s what Uta would teach us. It is death for an actor to anticipate the next line. A lot of actors will rehearse and go over it and go over it; and they’ll actually rehearse how the line’s going to be said. I don’t believe in that. I believe if you’re listening and being in the moment, it will come out differently ten different times. You don’t have to do it the same way over and over again and again. One of the great actors, Jessica Tandy, was doing A Streetcar Named Desire as “Blanche” with Marlon Brando – people would see her give a different performance each night. That’s what I try to do myself and what I try to teach the actors. Don’t anticipate how you’re going to react or what you’re going to say next. Know what you want, but it all depends on what you’re getting from your partner. In fact for me, the best acting lesson that Uta and Milton taught me is to gauge how fellow actors are reacting to me when we are working together – and to go for what I want. If they don’t give me what I want, try something else. To basically base my performance on their reaction and what I’m getting from them and make it about them. Then you end up being the most interesting one in the scene. But you’re making it about them. You’re not worrying about how your lines are coming out and how you are reading the line. Never do a line reading. Be in the moment. React spontaneously. That’s what they taught me.
OUTTAKES: If you have a new student in your class who has never done any acting whatsoever before, what advice would you give them?
SB: I’d say to study. Keep studying with teachers, be it me or somebody that they connect with in their gut. A lot of times, there will be a really good acting teacher and a good actor – and they don’t connect. They don’t vibe with each other. So find the teacher that you vibe with the most. The second thing that I would say to the new actor is to do. You can’t just be in a classroom studying acting. You’ve got to get out there. That’s what Milton Katselas taught me in Los Angeles. Administrate. Meet casting directors. Get into plays. Experience is the biggest teacher. You’re going to find out what the audience is reacting or not reacting to by doing the plays. Do student films if you can’t get into the bigger films. But doing is what is going to give you the experience. Acting class is great, but you’ve literally got to get out. I’ve seen too many people that are professional acting students. They stay in class; and it’s a safe environment. You can’t. You’ve got to get out there and mix it up. Audition. Get into something. That in and of itself is a great experience. The experience of doing the student film, the low budget film or the big budget film is going to give you more confidence to do the next one. Doing one play will give you confidence to do the next play. But do, do, do…
Pictured with Molly Paddock, Mooz-lum (2010)
OUTTAKES: What inspired you to become an actor?
SB: I went to college in Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; and I was going to be a journalism major. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write for newspapers. Then I took an acting class in college. I found that I had a knack for it. I always loved movies, but I didn’t know I had a knack for acting. We had this showcase at the end of the year; and I heard the applause – which was addictive. Do you know what I mean? It was just like, wow, they like me…like Sally Field. They really like me! [laughs] So that hooked me. Then I started doing more scenes in college. I changed my major from journalism to theater – and never looked back. My family wasn’t into it at all. They weren’t very supportive because they weren’t from that. I was the only one in my family that was in the arts in any capacity. So it was like I was breaking new ground. It was very frightening, but I knew in my gut that I had to do it. Then I read Respect for Acting. In Michigan, I picked up a copy. And then I said I’ve got to study with this woman, Uta Hagen. So once I graduated, I drove out with a waitress friend of mine to New York to take classes. I had to audition at HB Studio in New York for Uta Hagen. She accepted me. It was a wonderful day when she did that. I was her key student. I made coffee for her; and I had a discount on the classes. It was kind of like a scholarship. I was in a New York acting class with Matthew Broderick and Jason Alexander, people like that. It was a great class. But it all started when I read Uta’s book and the college classes. That’s when I said this is what I want to do with my life.
Pictured with Tom Mahard, John Rhys-Davies and Franco Pulice
Beyond the Mask (to be released)
OUTTAKES: Were there any stage actors or film actors that you found particularly inspiring?
SB: Cary Grant. Jack Lemmon. The ones that did the comedy. Michael Caine…who also has a great acting book and videos. He’s a wonderful teacher as well. Vanessa Redgrave. People like that. George C. Scott. So many great ones have inspired. Filmwise, it had to be Jack Lemmon and Cary Grant. Especially Cary Grant. This guy was my idol, the genius of them all. Comedy is so hard to do. People don’t know this, but Cary Grant deserved five Oscars. He never won one. It’s much harder to do comedy than to do a big emotional scene and cry. It’s much harder on film to make people laugh. And to do it with the class and the timing that he had. Lucille Ball said comedy is just hard work. And Lucy was another big influence of mine. If you watch Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, she’s fantastic. She’s real. She’s got physical life when you see her. You believe she’s in a kitchen. You’ve got to play this stuff straight; and the people will laugh more. You don’t go for the laughs. You be real. And she reacted like Lucy. What would Lucy do in that situation? It was great.
Boeing Boeing cast, Meadowbrook Theatre, Rochester, MI (2009)
OUTTAKES: What is your favorite project you’ve worked on, not counting “Bart” on DAYS?
SB: In Michigan, I did a play called Boeing Boeing which was one of those experiences where everything went right. I played “Robert”, this guy who walks into madness. His former college roommate in Paris has three stewardesses that he’s trying to juggle; and I’m just the wide-eyed observer to all of it. It was a wonderful part in an unbelievably funny play. We won a lot of awards; and the audiences loved it in Michigan. There was a standing ovation every night. As an actor, it was like I was in heaven every night. That was the best experience. On film, aside from “Bart”, I did a role in Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler. We had a lot of fun. We added a lot of dialogue to it and kind of improved it. I play the banker at the end of the movie who denies him the loan. That was a favorite part of mine too.
Pictured with Gerard Butler, Machine Gun Preacher
OUTTAKES: If you could play any role, male or female, young or old – what would be your dream role to play?
SB: As much as I love comedy, I think down the road I’d like to do “Willy” in Death of a Salesman. Because my dad was a salesman. I try to pick projects that hit me in the gut; and that would be one of them. I’m not quite ready for it now, but down the road – in another five years, that would be a role I’d love to tackle.
The Steve Blackwood Sessions is available for order at Amazon.com
This interview was previously recorded on 3/18/13 on Blogtalkradio. Available at link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/outtakes/2013/03/18/the-steve-blackwood-sessions-bart-days