The play's the thing...

Member marilyn

Marilyn McIntyre is a human dynamo. She has been a film, television and theatre actor for a 'number of decades' – that alone describes her tenacity, her energy and her success. And it might never have happened if an ageing Hollywood screenwriter hadn't offered her North Carolina Quaker college the opportunity to stage his interpretation of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck.

'I had danced at high school and taken part in a couple of small performance things, but I arrived at college with no intention of pursuing it at all,' she told fellow Media Super member, John Dickson.

A swan is born

When the drama department called for help with the Ibsen production, freshman Marilyn offered her services as a scenic painter and prop designer– something she was familiar with and saw as an entrée to meeting 'some fun people'. But she overheard some of the auditions for roles in the play and decided to have a go at that instead.

'Sometimes ignorance can be your best friend,' she said. 'I had no idea what I was getting into, so I was fearless. The director saw something in me, and cast me as Hedvig, the character around whom the plot swirls.'

And so it began. A scholarship led her to the North Carolina School of the Arts and then Penn State University for grad school. This led her to New York, Actors Equity and Screen Actors Guild memberships, a part in an off–Broadway production and, eventually, an ongoing role in a television soap, and finally Broadway.

Marilyn has since appeared in numerous television series such as Greys Anatomy, Cold Case, Judging Amy, LA Law, Days Of Our Lives, and The X Files. Her film credits include What's Bugging Seth? and The Ring II, among many others.

Filling the toolbox

But theatre remains her first love. It is here that she developed the 'toolbox' that allowed her to perform an extraordinary variety of roles over such a sustained period, and enjoy the innumerable accolades and awards that have come her way.

'There are a lot of people in love with the idea of being an actor, but have no idea what it takes. A good actor is always developing their own toolbox.

'As a professional actor, you must come to an audition with the appropriate tools in place. If I ever missed out on a part, I regarded it as impetus to improve the toolbox. If you really want it, you will figure it out and not be overwhelmed by failure – it just means you didn't do it the right way then,' she said.

Getting personal

Marilyn deploys [and teaches] a technique she calls 'personalisation'. Essentially, it allows an actor to call on personal experience and imagination to inform a character or describe events.

A compelling demonstration is in a video of a Master Class with legendary actor and teacher Uta Hagen, in which Marilyn plays Charlotta from Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Even though she says nothing, Marilyn occupies the character so convincingly that the space between actor and character vanishes.

'The character's story comes through your story. If she needs to drink glass of water, you will drink a glass of water. You won't "act" drinking a glass of water. I try and understand the circumstances that would drive me to do that, and follow those instincts. That, simply put, is personalisation,' she explained.

Sharing the knowledge

While Marilyn laments the paucity of roles for 'women of a certain age', you won't find her waiting around for a phone call. A few years go, she went back to Penn State University and took up her Master of Fine Arts [MFA] where she left it – nearly finished. Between gigs, she earned the degree that liberated another secret power – her passion for teaching.

While she has taught, and continues to teach, at a number of American universities and schools, it is Melbourne that she finds irresistible.

Principles of the Melbourne Acting Academy had invited Los Angeles acting coach, Howard Fine to present a master class in 2010. The visit elicited a 'fantastic response' and paved the way for a partnership between the two schools thus creating the Howard Fine Acting Studio–Australia. Marilyn, a teacher at Howard Fine Acting Studio–Los Angeles, now spends eight months of the year in Australia where she is the Director of the Acting Program here in the HFAStudio–Aus in Melbourne.

The incubator

In the full–time program, a maximum of 24 students meet four times a week from 9.30am to 4.30pm, and are also expected to complete extra–curricular work. To help them achieve this, all have 24–hour access to the studio to rehearse – a privilege unheard of elsewhere.

The course covers scene work, Alexander technique, voice coaching, four levels of speech and singing, film work, scene creation for a show reel, and master classes from Howard Fine twice a year, amongst other disciplines.

'It really is "full–on",' smiles Marilyn, relishing this peculiarly Australian expression.

There are 'a la carte' classes offered or a part–time program that bundles those classes plus a few extras in a six–month opportunity for those who must continue to work full–time to support themselves. Part–timers must also be keen, still undertaking more than 20 hours a week of classes.

'The school offers a safe, secure environment where students can confidently explore their craft without fear of humiliation. They will never be told there is only one way to do something – tools come from all sorts of sources, and should be welcomed,' Marilyn said.

She warns that if a teacher insists on 'my way or the highway' then the highway should be immediately considered.

Back for more

'Melbourne is a welcoming city, and I feel looked–after here,' Marilyn said. 'It offers a breather from LA freeways and the relentless clog of traffic there. And there is so much creativity going on in Melbourne that it always an exciting place to be.'

'That the city offers a clothing store that suits me perfectly, is also a serious advantage,' she says with a laugh.

*Hamlet, Act2, Scene 2, William Shakespeare.