In the second part of this in-depth case study, Brionne Davis, star of the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, shares his best mindset and agency tips on the Business of Acting.
Embrace of the Serpent went on to win the prestigious Cannes Director’s Fortnight Art Cinema Award, several international film festival awards, and a 2015 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
Josh: So let’s talk about the inner work first. Many actors struggle with this to an extreme, and it holds them back. You’ve talked at length about how meditation works for you. So what are your meditations like? What is meditating for you?
Brionne: Meditation is important. When I first started, I would go through a guided meditation from an app.
But since I’ve done it enough now I just put on Pandora and use their meditations. I start with gratefulness. I think of everything that I’m grateful for. I envision myself as this light to the world.
I visualize how I want to be living my life in terms of the home that I want to exist in.
I stop to experience what that feels like, the joy, the laughter, the ability to be able to give comfort to my friends in this home. I visualize what it feels like to reach an audience, and winning an award. The word is something physical but it just represents the fact that I’ve reached people enough to warrant it.
Josh: So for you it’s a lot of visualizations?
Brionne: A lot of visualization, but it always starts off with gratefulness because I think gratefulness puts you into a place of free thinking and clarity.
Josh: That’s powerful. How so?
Brionne: Because if you get caught up in those little nuggets of problems, then that’s all you’re focused on. They’re road blocks.
So you just move those out of the way and say something like, “Okay, it sucks that I don’t have any money.” Your problem is the money, but when you start to focus on the fact that you do have a roof over your head, you have a great car, you have a puppy dog that loves you, you have friends that love you.
You can do that exponentially no matter how small it is. If you just focus on that one thing that is positive, all the negative just kind of moves out of the way.
I work hard to be in the right frame of mind after I wake up.
Sometimes I wake up and I lay or sit up in my bed and I say, “I’m grateful for this, I’m thankful for that.” That way I set myself up for the day of being grateful. I think when you start living too much in the, “I wish I had” or “I want this. I want this. I want this,” you put out energy of either desperation or an attachment to an outcome.
Inside gratefulness, if you’re grateful then more things are going to come to you that you can be grateful for.
For example, yesterday I cleaned my apartment top to bottom, and I was just going around saying, “I’m grateful for this, thankful for this, thankful for this.”
It’s very rare that I have enough time or focus to sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
But I don’t beat myself up if I can’t. I’d spend five minutes just being grateful and feeling what it would be like to have a job from 10 to 6 everyday, which is actually now my rehearsal period that I’m getting paid well for.
It’s big in terms of a movement forward.
And when you look around, and friends are saying, “You’ve got to go to Cannes. You are going to do this.” You have the support group of people that are going, “You can do this. You’re going to do that.” That’s just elevating your experiences even more.
So you surround yourself with people that are doing that for you.
There’s no room for any kind of speculation or doubt. So you move people out of your life that don’t say, “You are going to do this.”
Josh: How would you describe a visualization with a lot of feeling behind it?
Brionne: I think you have to have feeling behind it. But it can start out as just a visualization like, I’ve gone to the top of the mountain. Once I got to the top of the mountain I see all these other mountains.
When I went to Cannes, there were probably a thousand people giving me and my team a standing ovation, coming up to us and saying, “Thank you.”
And then the next night, you go to the same place, and you see all the attention is on Benicio del Toro or Cate Blanchett and all these A-listers that are coming up the red carpet.
And that’s just another mountain you’ve got to climb.
There’s always somebody that has something more than you. But that’s where gratefulness comes in. Now it’s always almost like, “Well, I knew this.” Cause I’ve already felt this before.
Josh: Exactly. Getting to where you have the next experience, it makes room for an infinite variety of new things that you can visualize.
Brionne: Right. So that’s just where I’m supposed to be, cause I’ve already felt this.
It’s like I’m living out what I’ve already felt.
I superimpose an image of me on the steps of Cannes, put it on my vision board and literally there’s another picture of me actually there in that same spot.
That’s what visualization is.
And in doing that I experience what it’s like to be on that carpet. I experienced what it’s like to go to the festival. Even though you can’t really wrap your head around it, you can incorporate a feeling of happiness and joy and the feeling of success.
That for me is amazing, I just play that moment out in my head and what it feels like in my heart. So as much as the visualization, you have to have a joy and the laughter that comes along with that.
You can visualize something, and that’s the start.
You can write it out, what that looks like, and then what comes from that writing out is the feeling. You start to become happy because you visualize having this job or whatever it is. And be specific and detailed about what it all feels like.
Josh: You create it for yourself first.
Brionne: You do. And then you let it go. And then you surprise yourself.
Like when I was in the Amazon. I’ve always wanted to travel and work as an actor in foreign countries. And I’m working on top of this mountain. There’s even a picture of me. [See the photo right below]
Brionne on set in Colombia in the Amazon
The script supervisor took that picture. And in that moment, I was in one of my grateful moments. I was isolated by myself, being thankful, being appreciative.
She showed me that picture a couple of days later, I was like, “Oh, my God. That was one of my favorite moments of this life. I can’t believe you took that picture.” It was just a moment where I felt, “I visualized this.”
Josh: You fulfilled it.
Brionne: I wouldn’t have said then that it would happen in the Colombian Amazon, but I knew that this feeling was going to happen.
I knew that this sense of purpose, and this adventure was going to be a reality. But I just didn’t know where. People have to be open. You just have to be open.
You can’t expect an outcome.
If you’re going out for a job interview [read: audition] and you don’t get it, it has to be about that relationship that you’re building with the person who’s doing the interview.
Because they might call you two days later and say, “Sorry, you didn’t get the job.” But if you’d made an impression on that person, she’s going to call you two weeks from now because she has a friend who’s looking for somebody, and maybe you like this job and that paycheck is going to be even twice as much.
So you can’t get caught up on, “I’ve got to get this one job.”
Josh: Einstein says it so simply: “You can’t solve a problem at the level of the problem.” So how would you build on that?
Brionne: You can’t solve a problem at the level of the problem!
Josh: In a nutshell, don’t get stuck in the nature of the problem.
Brionne: A problem is an obstacle. It’s put in your way because you’re supposed to go a different direction sometimes.
(RELATED: Click here to find out how to make better decisions and solve your audition problems once for all)
Josh: What a nice way of putting it.
Brionne: Okay, what am I supposed to do? Am I going to spend all my energy, focus on this obstacle and carry this into my next year? No, I’m not going to do that. I don’t want my energy to be spent on this problem.
I’m limiting myself from all these other incredible experiences.
You have to open yourself up because the universe is on your side. The universe wants you to have these amazing experiences.
It’s like what a writer I’d worked with said to me about a week ago. He got his film into a workshop for a big festival. He said, “Brionne, I can’t believe I wrote this film in two weeks. I wanted to get it in for the deadline.”
He said, “I couldn’t have done any of that without you and the experience I had working with you. I cannot tell you how much you taught me, and how much I grew as a writer working with you.”
So I just knew that it’s about the bigger picture.
People get so caught up in the minute details and they find safety in focusing on the problem, instead of saying, “Okay, I either can or cannot fix it right now, so I’m going to move that over on the side, go around this way, and then I’m going toward the bigger picture. Because so many people get caught up in that conflict.
Josh: This is exactly why I love working with actors. Because when you guys work toward that bigger picture everything else starts to fall into place! Let’s talk briefly about agents and representation and Embrace.
Brionne: This can be crazy. I’d been working a little bit with a manager, and two weeks before Cannes, he sent me an email saying, “We can’t seem to do anything for you right now. Maybe if you had more credits then maybe we could.”
I’m thinking, “Okay, but you know I’m starring in a movie that’s going to Cannes.” I book almost all my theatrical work myself anyway. [ACTOR, YES YOU: Take note of that one!]
Still, they’ve been working really hard. And now, they’re connecting me to other people.
I have Ciro [the director of Embrace] who’s all over Variety, a Cannes sensation, emailing people saying, “I’d like for you to meet with Brionne. Brionne is one of the most committed actors I’ve ever had the pleasure working with.”
And they said, “Of course, we’ll meet with him right away.”
In the past, I’ve always just taken whatever agent came to me. Because I just didn’t want to play that game.
Josh: That’s what you were used to doing, yeah.
Brionne: And that’s the energy I was putting out there.
So somebody connected me with this very good agent and they said, “We want to rep you across the board.”
I said, “Well, I’m really happy commercially. They get me out more than anybody else has in a year. So I’m not going to leave my commercial agency. They’re awesome.” And they said, “Ok, we’ll take you on. We’ll see how six months go.”
There’s so much leverage here.
A really big agency could take out an ad in Variety that says, “Brionne Davis, LA actor. Congratulations. He’s starring in this blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s what those agencies do. They get in publicity. They help put you on the map.
They do so much with package deals. I want in on those packaged deals. If Ciro wants to work with me again, he’s going to want me to be in the role. And you guys package that deal. It’s very exciting. Very cool stuff.
It’s developing relationships.
As you know, it’s everything. For example, I’m always going to do theater. So in three years from now, I’m going to go and do two films. And then I’m going to do an off-Broadway show that pays well.
Josh: That is the current formula on Broadway, TV and film names with very loyal followings fill expensive seats.
Brionne: Yeah. So why not get in on that right now.
The other agency that I was dabbling with said, “Well, you can audition, you can go out for a play but you have to make sure that the rehearsals are at night and performances are only on weekends.”
And I said, “Yeah, but this is Center Theater Group.” [A well-respected, celebrity-filled theatre company in Los Angeles] It’s X dollars a week, which is more than you would make percentage-wise if I did one co-star in four weeks.
Great representation looks at the grander picture and says, “Brionne has a relationship with Center Theater Group now. He has a relationship with their casting director. He has a relationship with this director who also directs television episodes.”
Josh: You want to work with the smartest people running things, who also have the strongest relationships of their own.
Brionne: Exactly. Those relationships move you the fastest.
Check out Parts 1 & 3 in this in-depth Case Study:
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