Acting Coach

Michelle Danner teaches amateurs and Oscar winners how to make believe

Photograph by Ethan Pines

➻ “Successful actors know what roles can challenge them and how the right choices can propel their careers. Coaching is important for well-known actors because nobody else will tell them the truth—it might
be painful.”

➻ Danner is the daughter of a former William Morris agent. Now 47, she became interested in performing around age 3, when she would tap-dance and do Judy Garland impersonations for her father’s clients. She’s currently artistic director of the Acting Studio at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

➻ One of the pioneers of acting coaching is Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski, creator of “the Method.”

➻ “I don’t like to name-drop, but even big people in big movies get nervous about whether or not they can pull off a role. That’s actually good because if you’re secure, you get complacent. Insecurities, nerves, fear—those are all good. The moment you get secure, you can kiss your performance good-bye.”

➻ Danner counts James Franco, Penélope Cruz, Zooey Deschanel, and Gerard Butler as pupils. She has also taught famous musicians and comedians (such as Common and Chris Rock) and athletes (including Rick Fox) how to transition into theater, television, and film.

➻ During his Best Actor acceptance speech in 1994, for his performance in Philadelphia, Tom Hanks thanked—and outed—his acting teacher from high school. That blunder inspired the 1997 comedy In & Out.

➻ The salary for an acting coach varies wildly. It starts at about $38,000 per year and can exceed $700,000. Though she won’t disclose what she makes, Danner is often brought to movie sets to help guide actors—one of the highest-paid gigs in the entertainment industry.

➻ Clark Gable’s ex-wife, Josephine Dillon, was the first acting coach noted by the Los Angeles Times, in 1953. 

 ➻ “When I worked with Chris Rock [for Death at a Funeral], he was awesome. I loved watching him mix instinct with technicality. He also had a tremendous work ethic. It’s never an accident when someone becomes that famous.”