As an actor, one of the first important things that you would need to know is how to improvise. For the past 35 years, Reed Diamond has taken improvisation to the next level as a key ingredient to being resilient in a highly-volatile and uncertain industry. Before taking on his familiar role in the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, Reed has played diverse roles in many films and TV shows for more than three decades. How does he keep reinventing himself as an actor? How does he view the uncertain life that goes with an acting career? What does resilience mean to him? Join in as he shares his insights with Adam Markel.
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The Resilient Actor: Thriving In The Volatile Acting World With Reed Diamond
I’m sitting here rubbing my hands together because I know I’m going to have such a cool conversation with somebody that was introduced to me. We have a mutual friend, somebody that we both deeply respect and love this guy. It’s cool more than anything else to still be able to meet and connect at a deep level with people is important. A lot of people in the COVID time that we’re living in, we’ve been in isolation in many ways. We forget, especially when a lot of our connection is through social media or through means that didn’t exist many years ago. You had to meet people, speak, and connect with them.
They could tell from the tone of your voice and from many other things a lot about you and what was important. All of that becomes something that is a little bit lost in the shuffle. To be introduced to somebody through someone else that I have only been introduced to is reminding me how important the connections are. To not take it for granted that we have this opportunity each and every day to still get deeply connected to people that we haven’t yet met. We’re living in divisive times, so maybe there’s some wind in our face when it comes to that concept.
I truly believe that’s the most important thing we can do as human beings are to connect and be able to see the presence. See what’s true in the eyes of another human being and you can’t do that through your device. I don’t think. That’s controversial but I’m sticking to it. I feel great having this guest with me, his name is Reed Diamond. Reed Diamond has been working as an actor. He’s been a working actor for over 35 years in television films and on Broadway. Career highlights include Homicide: Life on the Street, Moneyball, Good Night, and Good Luck, 13 Reasons Why, Designated Survivor, and many more. For many years, he’s been a part of a constantly shifting business where rejection and the word no are par for the course. He’s definitely been forced to reinvent himself to be resilient, and that’s in part why we were introduced and why he is the perfect guest to be on the show. Reed, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. When Adam, our mutual friend, wrote me an email saying, “I think you would hit it off about resilience,” this is all I’ve been thinking about. I made a conscious pivot to use the thesis of the show and I’ve been my own little guinea pig and earnest. This has been a concentrated period of time and throughout, but then something also struck me too. I’m a fan of yours. I’ve been reading the blog, something about gratitude and the way you talked about meeting people and connecting with people. There’s something miraculous you said about being present if you’re in that flow state and you’re going through life, it’s amazing who will come into your world. Adam, our mutual friend who happened to be dining in the same restaurant and then we hit it off, and now I’ve met you and it’s nothing I could have constructed or strategize to make happen. Here we are having a conversation about something that I’m passionate about and I think about every single day.
More and more, there’s no coincidence. We can go into a lot of theory on that. The more I live, the more days I’m blessed to have on this planet, the more I am affirmed in believing that there is no randomness to it. There just isn’t, not to get all woo-woo. You’re from New York and you’re in Toronto now, but you spent a lot of time on the West Coast. I like to get practical sometimes. To me, it’s absolutely practical to think that things are on purpose. That’s not wishful thinking.
As you work on yourself and someone much smarter than me said, “As you reform yourself, you cut a different path through the world, so different things will come at you.” If you and I were working on being more present and more open, we’re going to be attracting different people. I always think about it, there’s a John Lennon quote like, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” You just want to get into life. I always think about when you can’t find your car keys and you get focused and you’re like, “I’ve got to find these keys.” You’re looking around and your brain starts constricting into this like a clenched fist. The second you stop looking, you know where it is.
It’s like remembering someone’s name. We’re jumping in, but there’s something about that as going through life. If you’ve got a plan, if you’ve got a strategy, certainly in my business, I’ve encountered many people, and you said it perfectly. In the ’90s, there was a big thing like, “You need to get your network going.” You could feel people were hustling and it wasn’t organic, but you do need a network of people. The only way you’re going to have real relationships is if they happen organically. If you have, instead of, what can you do for me, Adam? It’s, what can I do for you? We’re in this together. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We find some point of contact and we’re on the same wavelength. Those things are true. You do need a group of people in a network and it enhances your life. You can, but you can’t successfully and with longevity do it out of some strategy.
To be in the industry that you’re in for as long as you have been and to have been working consistently, a lot of people would say, “He’s had a great plan for himself for his career. He’s had a great strategy. He has been great at executing.” I’d love to get a sense of how you define that resilience. Before we get there, I want to track to that thing that you said about restricting because I want to follow this little thread here. There’s a part of us that says and that we’ve been taught like the need to. You need to have a great plan. You need to plan for things. You brought up John Lennon, which I love. That’s a wonderful line in his song. It was George Harrison that said something like, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” It feels like there’s tension for me between having the plan and being rigid almost in the sticking to the plan piece. In the creative arts, I do a bit of writing and I speak and acting is such an art form, play a little guitar, and things like that. In particular for me in guitar, if I think too hard, if I’m trying to force it, I can’t play it. I can see my playing becomes awful. I would think of acting, is it similar to that?
It’s amazing that you brought that up because that’s what I’ve been focusing on talking about as far as art and craft with acting. For a long time, there has always been this debate. Is acting a craft or is it art? You use the craft to get to the art. This is my personal philosophy of acting. What I’m always looking for is to disengage thinking. You can’t use the brain. I need to create a situation. If I’m doing a scene, what I want to do is get to my instincts. A lot of actors can do this. I can go home at night and plan what I’m going to do the next day.
When I get to this moment, I’m going to shout, I’m going to grab the glass on the table and you can plan it. That’s going to be fine and some people are quite successful in doing that. It makes sense. What I’m looking for is I go, “If you and I come together and we’re feeding off of each other, one plus one equals a million because we’re going to elicit out of the other actor, something that we didn’t plan.” I’m always looking to create a mistake. I’m looking for things to go a little sideways. Not intellectually and talking about it, but what you and I come up with by reacting off of each other is much more interesting than anything we could have planned. That’s art.
When you talk about writing, there’s that great book, The War of Art where he talks about your whole job as a writer is to invite the muse and get the muse to come out. You could say muse, some people say God, but I think of it as the art. I know that you’re going to bring something out of me that I could never have planned. It’s much more interesting than anything I consciously created. The craft is creating a situation where that can come out, which can be challenging. I always say many people are great actors. A lot of people can act, or musicians, the same thing. I also play.
A lot of people can read a line. A lot of people could memorize a script, but I don’t think a lot of people can act well. That’s what we’re talking about. Is it planned improvisation or is it improvise planning?Acting is a child's game, played at a professional level. Click To Tweet
The thing that makes us professional from an amateur is that you have to do it under horrible circumstances.
Fifty people are watching you and seeing you make your mistakes.
You have to be private in public. There are many things going against you. I want to start teaching acting for working actors and offer one of the benefits of what I’ve learned over the years. The one thing I know and this is my credo, is whatever you think is going to be like on the day, it’s not. They’re going to be like, “We’ve only got five minutes to get this scene before the sun goes down.” You have to create, you have to find some space where you can let that improvisation come out. This is my personal philosophy. I had a Renaissance in my work and the way I was approaching it. At a certain point, I’d gotten to some plateau and I was doing a lot of stuff that I wasn’t. It was lucrative, but not necessarily creative and fulfilling, but in the last few years, it’s been getting back to that initial passion that made me want to be an actor when I was a teenager or even younger. That all comes from like, “I want to play.” Someone much smarter than I said, “Acting is a child’s game played at a professional level.”
Did you go to acting school?
In New York or elsewhere?
I went to Juilliard in New York. I’d started younger because I was fortunate. As we talked about growing up in New York City, the best theater I’ve ever done in my entire life was the place that I did at my high school. I had the most amazing and greatest teacher I’d ever had. We were doing stuff well beyond our years.
What’s your teacher’s name? Are you cool to say his name?
His name is Michael Gilbert.
Is he still alive?
He is. When I get into a hole, I’ll often think about little things that he taught me in 10th or 11th grade. If you’re a heroin addict, you’re trying to chase that first high. Those musicals and those places, like that feeling. The benefit of it was because we were in New York City and I was doing plays there, the actual representatives would come to see you. I got my first manager when I was doing Diary of Anne Frank in my senior year in high school. I started working right away. I started doing commercials and then I ended up paying for Juilliard with a commercial because back then they used to make a lot of money and they’d run for years. My first two years were paid from one Subaru commercial. I went to Juilliard for four years and left for a little bit to work and they let me come back. I’ve studied with some great teachers and some horrible teachers in Los Angeles. Right after I graduated from Juilliard, I did my first play on Broadway and then I went to LA because I’d never been there. I’d been to New York my whole life. I got off the plane and it was all warm and I could smell Jasmine, which blew me. I thought, “I’ll stay here. That’s pretty nice.”
The first time you smelled Jasmine on the West Coast, if you’re an East Coast person, it’s like you’re hooked and I don’t know if it’s something about the size of your nose. I’ve got a good beak in there. You’re never happy until at some point you go, “We’re moving there.” I can smell that every minute of my life from here.
I’m glad you had that same reaction because I remember I got off the plane, it was January 16th, 1992. I’m walking in the neighborhood, it’s dark and the blooming night Jasmine when I smell it, I’m like, “What is this wonderful smell?” As far as the craft part or the acting part, my job as an actor, I have two lanes that I have to do this work. I have to be resilient and think about how I’m being to do my work. Maybe even more difficult, how I’m going to be about my career and my life and how I am at home.
The lessons you were learning back then from this mentor that you have, are those the lessons that you’ve been applying throughout your career? In particular, even in the last couple of months when COVID hit, anybody who was in the performing arts at all was shut down completely. People who perform in plays, the people who support those plays, public speaking, all of our gigs stopped for a period of time. Movie shooting, television shooting, all that stuff came to a screeching halt. You’ve had to practice resilience.
I remember when the financial crisis hit and now with this one, I spend a lot of my life unemployed and trying to get the next job. I have that muscle. I’ve had to develop a deep relationship with uncertainty. A coach that I worked with for years said, “The patron myth of actors is Sisyphus.” The story of Sisyphus is he was cursed or fated to have to push the rock up to the top of the hill every day, and every night it would roll back down. It’s true. I’ve been the stars of TV shows. I’ve gotten the rock up to the top of the mountain and it may not always slide all the way back down, but it slides down. He used to always say to me, “The quicker you can get back on board with pushing that rock up the hill, then you’ll get your head out of your ass.” It’s emotional. It’s a vulnerable job because you tend to take things personally, especially when you’re younger and maybe some people always take it personally in my line of work. You have to remember, it’s not personal. You feel it’s personal because of your instrument or what you’re offering is yourself. You’re going, “They’re rejecting me. Maybe no one wants me or I’ll never work again.”
There’s such irony in that because you’ve got to access your emotions. That emotional range is important, yet you have to also take the emotion out of it on some level when you are making and creating the meaning for the rejection or for the rock going down to the bottom of the hill and having to push it up at the top. There are many ways that you can give that meaning.
Stella Adler, a famous acting teacher guru said, “You need to have the heart of a rose and the height of a rhinoceros.” That’s a difficult balance because sometimes the height gets too strong or sometimes there’s too much heart. It’s funny because if we talk about conscious pivots, we were talking before we went on about midlife crisis. A few years ago and to this date, everything fell apart. There was a massive breakdown all over. Breakdowns are fantastic because that’s when you get into the meat and it’s got all sticky and you’ve got to figure out who you are. It was maybe the scariest one of them all because the business had changed, which you can talk about at another point.
I come off a show, our nut was too high, I was breaking up with my representative and I’d had a period of doing 5, 6, and 7 years of work that I was paying the bills, but it wasn’t satisfying as an actor. I say there are two types of jobs that I do. There are the ones where like, “I hope I’m good enough,” which is the job you want to do or, “I hope I can make this good.” As Tyne Daly said to me once, “We’re in the business of polishing turds.” That’s the ones where you hope you can make a good enough, but it’s not satisfying and that’s not why I got into this. It’s not my personality, but it was bleak. I got to that point where I go, “I’m worth more to my family dead than alive. Maybe something will happen, they can have a life insurance policy.”
It’s a wonderful life moment.
You then realize, “That’s not true.” This is what goes back to the beginning. I started with nothing. I built this career. I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I was like, “You’re 50. This is what you do.” I had a conscious pivot and I was like, “You need to dig deep and we’ve got to figure this out.” It was twofold. I found a new representative who I’d heard about, we sat down and she laid it out. She was like, “You’ve been doing all this stuff that you don’t want anyone to see. I don’t think you should be doing this. This is what we should be doing.”
We were on the career side, we were able to turn that around, but what was more important for this show is I was like, “I had to change my attitude and the way I look.” I’m excited to push up the rock because I’d gotten to a place where I was searching for rest and I was searching when I get a job, I would think about what that would provide for me, what dinners I could have, what I could do for my family. Somehow at some point, I started to look for rest. I was like, “That’s not who you are. That’s not what you’re all about. That’s not what the world is about.” I go, “No, I want rigor. I want to embrace the struggle. I want to embrace pushing the rock up the hill.” I started to seek out. I had done a lot of good coaching.
I had an amazing coach for years. All of that stuff was cellular. It was in my bone, so I knew how to access that. Things started coming in. I heard you talk about on one of those episodes where it was just you talking and you talked about we can create new neural pathways and new ways of thinking about stuff because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. There were a couple of things that I wanted to fortify. I want my concentration to be better. I would actively work on how can I expand my level of concentration? I was always a healthy guy, but I go, “Let’s take it up to the next level. Let’s see how much more energy you can get out of life.” The attitude thing, I tended to spend a lot of time pre-worrying. Worrying well before there was time to worry.
People are either chuckling, laughing, smiling like, “Did he say pre-worrying?” To put words to that concept that many of us do, we spend time in the worry before the worry, worrying about the worrying, the fear about the fear, the anxiety about the anxiety. Thank you for articulating that.
I’d hit the bottom. I was in the trough and I knew I was going to have to go up the hill because I would pre-worry. As an unemployed actor, you go, “Here’s how much money I have. Here’s how long I can go. Here’s how long my family can eat before I work again.”“An Actor must have the soul of a rose and the hide of a rhinoceros.” – Stella Adler Click To Tweet
That’s your runway like in startup and burn rate.
What I would do is I would get a calendar out and I would figure out, I go, “Here’s when you’re allowed to worry about this.” I would put it on the calendar. You’ve got like, “Two months from now, this is a problem.” That’s not a problem now. That was the other thing too because that was a big adjustment. There was some catastrophizing that I was doing, which was a habit, and it wasn’t true and this speaks to resilience. I go, “You’ve got this in you. You may have to dig a little deeper and work. It may be ugly for a little while, but you’ve got this muscle. We just need to make it stronger.”
I focused on making that muscle stronger and being disciplined about not catastrophizing, certainly in front of my family, because it doesn’t make your relationships better. I would never do it in front of my child, but with my wife, I know it’s unattractive. It’s not true and things change. The world changes and I’m not the type of person who’s going to give up. I need to build these muscles back up. It’s interesting, I had been living in the country for years. You look at the animal kingdom, you look at nature, no one has time to rest.
Once I made that internal shift, that conscious pivot, then it got exciting. The challenges, which we were talking about are daily because the myth of Sisyphus teaches you, which was an important lesson for me to learn. I talked to some successful business people I knew here who said, “Every day you have to recreate it.” What happens is because there’s uncertainty in my business, what you end up wanting to do, your thought, is that you’re going to get to someplace where there’s no more struggle. You can glide, you can coast and that’s death. I got in there creatively and I’d gotten there career-wise. Now the fruits have been born like, “I’ve shifted that.” I’ve now gone from doing shows that I’m not embarrassed, but I’m never going to say, “Adam, check me out on this show.” Now I’m working on great shows on Netflix and Amazon.
The irony of it is on some level that we resist and see uncertainty as a threatening thing because that’s how we’ve been wired forever, I suppose, yet the only certainty is that everything is uncertain. There’s a sense of that being true. How do you leverage uncertainty? How do you embrace uncertainty? Before you answer that question, I wanted to bring up the title of this book. When you mentioned catastrophizing, I grew up hearing about that word. My dad is a writer. To this day, he writes a lot of fiction and he’s running the screenplays in plays.
At a certain point, he was studying with Lee Strasberg and there were some people, actors, studio, stuff like that. There was another dude that he encountered while he was going through his anxious times early in life. The guy’s name is Albert Ellis. I want to put a shout-out to people out there who’ve never heard of Albert Ellis. This guy is the father of something called rational emotive therapy, which then later on I’m not sure how it morphed into cognitive behavioral therapy, but that’s something a lot of people have heard of. There’s a book that I read over the summer when we were spending some time up in Maine called Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable by Albert Ellis.
Anybody that feels like they pre-worry to any of this stuff that Reed was sharing with us, if you were yessing to that going, “Yes. That’s me.” This is a great book for you all because his whole thing was setting up the ways in which we make ourselves miserable. Often it can be seen in the language that we use. When we examine our thoughts, it’s one thing, but our thoughts are lunatic asylum inside most people’s heads. What comes out of their mouth is a little bit less insane usually. Even those words are super telling. The words that connote something has to happen.
These are the shoulds and the musts. In fact, he points this thing called musterbation. It’s the idea of constantly musting, shoulding, and creating these catastrophes out of things that just aren’t. Especially in the greater context that things are impermanent and against the greater backdrop that not everything that we worry about or every instance where we’re worrying is even useful for anything. That’s why the pre-worrying thing is such a gag. How could pre-worrying be useful? Does that help you be a better actor?
Are you sure about that?
It’s an addiction. It’s a familiar psychological state that you put yourself into. It’s a habit that has to be broken. A great friend, he was like an older brother to me, and things come in as we talk about. He handed me a bunch of stoic philosophy as all this was going on. The thing you take away from that is, all I have control over is what I do, my actions, and my thoughts. That’s a mental discipline. This thing is the brain.
Isn’t that the rock at the bottom of the hill every day you’re talking about?
Yes. You’re advanced at this, but you have to retrain yourself, you have to build new muscles. If you want to race in the Tour de France, you’re going to have to get different muscles going. If you want to be mentally strong, you’re going to have to go back to meditating, religiously exercising much more, and not indulging the BS because it’s not helpful. Not bringing anything that’s not helpful and trying to stay as present and not catastrophizing or pre-worrying and being able to dig deeper. The people I’m staying with here, my friend, Kate Warren, she’s a big-time corporate coach. We became friends because we’d be together at little dinners here and I’d be talking about stuff that I’m struggling with, bad days I had on set and what I learned about it.
She introduced me to Tim Gallwey and The Inner Game of Tennis. It’s changed my creative life and my on set life. His simple formula is performance is potential minus interference. That interference thing is key. There’s external interference but I find certainly with someone like myself, that there’s personal interference where I’m getting in my own way. It’s been such a powerful tool to be aware of that, to know that my performance is my potential, but any interference is going to subtract from that. It’s interesting because now when I go to work, I’ll give you a specific instance. I was shooting 13 Reasons Why in 2019. It was my first day on set. It was a little scene and I did the first take and I thought, “This is great. I feel like this is the right guy.” The director comes over and gives me a note, I’m like, “Okay.” I’ll do it again and then the same note and I’m like, “This is going well. I don’t know what the hell is going on.” By the third take, he gives me this note that I don’t completely understand.
It feels a little sticky when you say a note.
A director gives you a note and he goes, “Be happier, be faster.”
This is feedback. It’s not a physical note. It’s like a whisper in your ear.
I didn’t mean to be too inside baseball. In my business when a director has a direction as he called a note.
Is it a love note?
It can be. That’s my favorite kind. As Hugh Grant said what does he look for in a director, he said, “Psycho fancy.” The other thing is you need to be aware of your system and how it reacts. I could feel myself when I’m feeling F-up, I start to implode. I start to go inside and I could feel myself starting to shut down a little bit. Something is going on over where the director and the writers are because you know you’re doing well, but someone’s not communicating something.
Instead of imploding, why don’t we clear this up? I walked right over and I said, “I’m confused because I feel like this is going well. I can tell he’s reluctantly giving me these notes, but there’s something else that you’re looking for.” The writers because we opened up communication like, “The head writer,” who’s not there, “he wants something like that.” I go, “It would have been nice to tell me, but thank you for telling me. I completely understand and we can get there together.” By opening up that communication for years, I would have been thinking about, “I can’t wait to have a drink when this is done,” at the end of the day.
I’m going, “No. I’m here to get to the bottom of it.” Even if the interference is just in my head, I want to clear it up so we know we’re on the same page. That’s been a powerful tool at work. I had it one day. I was shooting on Bosch. We were playing it a certain way and then I kept getting a note that didn’t make sense and I could feel it because you need to know your tells. You need to know when you’re hooked, when your head is up your butt, you need to know what’s doing that and for me, you can make a little list of it. I know what mine are. I’ll either start to get a little rebellious or I’ll start thinking about leaving, going home. Little things where I can feel a little tightness in my chest, whatever it is. Everyone’s at a certain point, if you’re studying yourself, you know your tells and I go, “This isn’t going to make for a good scene. This isn’t going to make me a good scene partner. This isn’t going to elevate whatever we’re trying to do.”
You have that level of self-awareness as you’re under the lights in the pressure. Meaning in the pressure cooker like the film is rolling. People are being paid to listen to you do your thing and in the midst of that high pressure, you’re getting the ball on the field and the cameras are on. At that moment, you’re present enough to be aware, “I’ve got a little tightness in my chest.”
That’s the challenge. That’s my job and I don’t always do it. I took this from David Goggins’s book. Often days at the end of work, I’ll do a debrief. I’ll write an after-action report on what I thought went well and what I thought didn’t go well. I was doing another scene where I shut down a little bit. Every day is pushing the rock up the hill and I go, “Here are the things that you could have been paying more attention to and here’s maybe how you could have resolved that issue or opened up the conversation a little bit more.” We talked about creating it every day, that’s the excitement and that’s the challenge.Performance is potential minus interference. Click To Tweet
That’s the discipline. This is the vigilance that we’re talking about. It doesn’t make things easy. It makes things meaningful. It’s that old song, “No one promised you a rose garden.” It’s not been promised. Nobody’s been promised an easy life. If you’re looking for an opportunity for a meaningful life or a life of growth, isn’t that one of the things that come out of dealing with uncertainty? Dealing with our BS is in many ways dealing with the way we create meaning out of the world around us. We can see it as anything we want to see it. How do you deal with uncertainty? I want to come back and touch that because you mentioned it and it’s fascinating to me, this concept that we’re all in even more uncertain times now. It’s hurting and painful for a lot of people.
Certainty is my bread and butter. It’s a state that I have had to live in off and on for many years. Those moments of certainty are great, but you also know that they are fleeting and they will end. All shows end. Do you know the story of Pandora’s box?
The story of Pandora’s box by Hesiod was apparently a jar because they didn’t have boxes. The whole idea was it was opened and all of the emotions and all the things were released into the world. The only thing that remained in the box was hope. People often interpret that as, “That’s great. At least we have hope.” The other contrary interpretation is like, “No. Hope is the most dangerous psychology or emotion in the world.” There are a fine line and difference between hope and faith. Others say like, “Faith without action has no faith at all.” Faith is important. Hope is like, “I hope something’s going to happen.” There’s passivity to it. Something’s going to be done for me. Someone’s going to take care of you.
You need to have faith. Faith is built out of your track record out of what you know. With uncertainty, I go, “You’ve gotten through this before.” The goalposts move and the game changes. When I hit bottom, I’m a 50-year-old actor as opposed to a twenty-year-old actor. There are different parameters in this game, but still that faith of going, “I know I’ve got this in me. I may have to dig a little deeper, but I can get through this. What is this time telling me?” I’ve never learned anything from success in my entire life. I’ve never had a lesson that I could apply or some great change I could execute.
I’ve only learned from a breakdown and it was Kate who I’m staying with here. She has this great thing. She talks about fail quickly, learn and keep failing quickly. The quicker you fail, the quicker you learn the lesson. Someone even smarter than I talked about, the ship is falling to the side, but if you do it fast enough, if you right yourself fast enough, it looks like the ship is standing up straight. Invite failing quickly and trying to learn the lessons. The most important thing that I learned in this last breakdown was there were a couple of lessons I didn’t want to have to keep relearning.
They sometimes keep making the same mistakes and I don’t want to keep that. I was like, “You’ve gotten a certain age where you’re going to have to let that go.” We need to get to the kernel, to the core of what’s going on with this. Why do you keep making this same? We’re predisposed in our personalities to repeat certain things, but there were a couple of things I wanted to check off the list. Uncertainty, you need faith, work, and open up. There are other things. If we get myopic, we were going back to looking for the keys or trying to find the word, if you go, “Fuck, I’ve got to get a job.” You’re going to tighten up. You have to loosen up.
In a weird way, if I could have earned an income during quarantine, that was the only negative. I loved it. It was great to be with my family. It was great to have everyone in the same house. We got down to what mattered. That’s the other thing too, what’s important? It was a wonderful time to be together and stay connected. At a certain point, you are going to have to make a job. I can get a job, but I also realized there’s an opportunity at this moment too. The paradigm has shifted. There are going to be new places. Quarantine, COVID, this time has illuminated that there are a lot of middlemen you don’t need. You can make your own product.
Everybody can be their own source of media. Everybody can have a voice. Everybody can take a position and have an impact on the world. Part of what we love to do is we teach people how to develop high-impact talks, whether it’s a TEDx Talk or it’s to get on a stage and speak, deliver a keynote, or virtual keynotes and workshops. This is something that’s open to anybody. Whereas it used to be there was a different price of admission years ago, and certainly pre-COVID and even years and years before that. That has been a game-changer, for sure.
Going back to you’re turning 50 and going from having a midlife crisis to having more of a midlife reset. My similar event happened before I was 50, but we’d like to refer to it as the midlife calling. The method that you used, is that how you define resilience now? Is that what informs that definition of resilience for you? How it is that you handled that moment where your career had not ground to a halt, but it had stalled it seems and you were concerned about money and concerned about other things. Maybe give us a little of the essence of how it is that you look at that and whether it does inform your definition of resilience. If it doesn’t, how do you define resilience?
It completely defines resilience. That’s what I had to develop and also understanding that I’m my own guinea pig. There’s a lot of experimentation that I’m doing. Knowing that things that what worked today may not work tomorrow. Creating it every day. I had to build back up the resilience.
Creating it every day and improvisation, which you only have a script that’s a part of the art and even the story.
I did a lot of comedy improv on stage for years and years. That was the greatest thing that ever came to my career, because what would end up happening on TV, oftentimes they’ll call me the night before, and then like, “Be here tomorrow.” You don’t have time to do a deep preparation, but I remembered from an improv, I can create a whole show from a one-word suggestion that the audience gives. Staying improvisational, but also knowing what your talent is and knowing what your strengths are. I need to be improvisational. It needs to feel like play for me.
I need to be in a playful space. I knew that I had to protect that. I had to build up a lot more muscles. The Goggins book had this great example. He said, “Most people go to 40% and then they tap out.” Their brain, let’s give an example of exercise. You’re going to hurt yourself, stop. If you push past 40%, you get an endorphin rush, first of all, and then you’re suddenly like, “I got 60% still in the tank that I hadn’t even accessed.” I did a linear experiment on that. I woke up one morning. I was like, “I’m going to try to do 100 pushups in my kitchen right before I do anything.” Clockwork, I push up 40. I’m going, “No, you might hurt your shoulder.” I can be a little punitive with myself. I would never talk to anyone the way I talked to myself but I pushed through. Suddenly, the last 60 pushups were much easier than the first 40. I was like, “This is important.” Where you think your limit is, I think there’s more.
You’ve got people who are in tremendous discomfort. Pain living in that or fear that’s born out of that uncertainty. Dealing with yourself on that level of let’s say, I’m 100% able to deal with myself where I’m only 40% able to deal with the pain that my mind is creating. There are a few situations where people are being forced to feel the way they feel. It’s one true freedom that we have are the feelings that we entertain, the thoughts that we create and entertain. That’s our only freedom when you think about it.
There was a distinction between their suffering, which is hope. It’s passive, but there’s discomfort. A coach I worked with for years, he was like, “When you’re climbing Everest, you’re uncomfortable. You’re not suffering, but you’re uncomfortable and having more hang time with that.” Now, my work ethic has expanded, but it’s refining that passion that got me started. I’m excited about acting now. I’ve found whole new depths of my love of my craft, but then also I have a lot more energy and confidence for the career part from the work that has to go into that.
That’s been essential especially because my business has changed, it’s gotten a lot tighter for me. There’s a lot less work for a white guy in his 50s, which as it should be. When I’m going in, when I’m competing, I’m competing with the best. I’m competing with everyone you know. When I walk into a room when I used to go to an audition, I know everyone in that room and you know everyone in that room. You’re going, “This is great.” That excitement about bringing your A-game, I’ve gotten that back, that fun. You’ll be able to speak to this, but at least with acting, I feel my competition is just myself. I’m competing with me. I am literally competing against them, but I’m either right or I’m not right. It’s about, “Can I get out of my own way to do my best work?”
To me, what you said is meaningful that this is the difference between rigor and rest, the mentality that rigor is good for you. It’s good for the soul, it’s developing you. I’m a big believer in the importance of rest when it comes to resilience. The way you were talking about rest, it was almost like resignation. It was almost a little bit as you say, coasting. It’s like, “Can I make enough to just coast?” I was watching an interview with Matthew McConaughey on Bill Maher.
In the same profession as you hit a different wall where the guy was well sought after to be shirtless in a rom-com. He has to decide whether that’s ultimately his total legacy as an actor. He says, “No. I don’t want to do any more rom-coms. I don’t want to be that shirtless guy necessarily.” Even though it was funny, he said, “Those rom-coms paid for the houses on the beach.” At a certain point when he decided, “I don’t want to do that anymore,” but yet the industry made up its mind about who he is and what they expect from him. The “typecast.” It was a good twenty months before he had a gig.
Something he turned down. Twenty months, your self-confidence can atrophy. There are a lot of things that can go sideways, especially if you have time on your hands and money to boot. He had to reinvent himself. You can see that he’s been able to successfully do that. In part it’s because it’s something you said, which is that you learn how to improvise as part of actor’s training, whether you’re going to be doing comic work or not. Improvisation is such a big thing.
To me, when it comes to pivoting and being resilient, and what I’m taking away from you is that improvisation is a key ingredient in it. Your ability to wake up every day and realize that you have the gift of this new day, what are you going to do with it? From the Bible, there’s that story about the Jews wandering in the desert and led out of Egypt by Moses. There’s a point, I don’t know whether it was Moses or it came some other way, but they’re told, “Don’t save the manna.” The stuff that will sustain them, the food, “Don’t save it for tomorrow. Eat what you’ve got today and more will be provided.”
When you talked about faith, that’s what was going on for me is the faith that more will be provided. If we’re lucky enough to wake up and have the faith, trust, the confidence to be able to improvise at the moment and be all right. Much of that pre-worrying is worrying about whether there will be enough to sustain me. That constricts everything. You can’t improvise when you’re all knotted up like that. Acting is such a great lens to see that through because bad acting is easy to spot.
Authentic acting, when you feel like the person you’re seeing is the character they’re portraying, there’s something glorious about that. It’s funny because as we started this episode, I said, “I don’t believe in accidents. I don’t believe in randomness things.” As we bring it in for a landing here, I didn’t realize you were on the schedule because I don’t look ahead that far. I tried as much as possible whatever the message is coming through me as I try to live it. I don’t look to next week to see who’s on the show and what’s going on because we have systems in place.
I know that God willing and all that, there will be the next week. There will be it tomorrow. I’m counting on that. Hopefully, I’ll be there for it. I didn’t know you were on the show. I’m lying on the couch. The fireplace is going, my wife is in her classic position, which is she starts out right there next to me and is wide awake for us to watch something or whatever, and ten seconds later she’s asleep. I stop holding her feet and massage. I go, “What am I going to watch now?” I’m flipping through. I go to an old movie that I haven’t seen in many years.Resilience is improvisation. You create it every day. Click To Tweet
Sometimes I’m in the mood to watch something I’ve seen before and I could watch Life of Pi again and again. Back in the day, Chariots of Fire or something. I flipped past and I go, “I’ve got to watch this thing.” I turn on Moneyball. I watched it from start to finish. The next day, I’m on a Zoom call with our mutual friend, Adam. I tell him, I start riffing on what I got out of Moneyball. It’s like, “You’re not going to believe it. I watched this last night and I love this.” He and I are both sports fans. We start going off on it. He goes, “Don’t you know Reed Diamond is playing Mark Shapiro in that movie?” I go, “What? Are you fucking kidding me? No way.” It gets even better. He says to me, “When is Reed going to be on the show?” I go, “I don’t handle the scheduling on this stuff. I know we connected.” I asked, “When is Reed going to be on the show?”
It’s Monday, it’s a couple of days later. There are no accidents. This is truly trippy. I don’t know why I was called to watch that movie, but I’ve got to say this to take it back to the point. Your portrayal of Mark Shapiro in that movie was brilliant. I loved it and I said that to him. I was talking about it before he even told me that was you because I didn’t know that was you. That guy sitting behind the desk, doing what he was doing and interacting with Billy Beane I thought, “It was a great portrayal.” I thought of Brad Pitt, who I love. I love the roles that he takes. This was a brilliant role. For the sake of it, I’d love to get a sense. Working with somebody like that, his craft and your craft, are they compatible? You guys on screen were dynamite together. It looks like two guys doing what you were doing, wrangling over a play.
These are no accidents. It brings it back to the theme that you talked about improvisation. It was the first day of shooting, the scene with Brad, and we had a rehearsal the Friday before. I remember, there was a scene that was written by Aaron Sorkin, and then Brad came in with his own rewrite of the scene.
He’s allowed to do that.
No, but because he’s the Übermensch. He gave me much more to do in the scene that he rewrote. He was generous. We show up on the first day, but then what ended up happening, we did shoot that one on film, is we improvised. For the first half of the day, which is six hours, cameras were pointed towards Brad and the director is sitting beneath the camera, and the mags would last for twenty minutes and we would keep doing it until they ran out and they’d reload it.
I was given carte blanche. We improvised that scene over and over again. We went crazy places. I was Captain Kirk in the chair and he was amazing to work with, but then it was interesting because we get to lunch and some of the guys are standing behind him and go, “That was amazing.” I go, “It hasn’t happened yet though,” because I haven’t been on camera. We have to do my side when we come back and then luckily we did it in about two hours. I was like, “I don’t know if I can improvise for another six.” That was a perfect experience. He’s open. The main tenant of improv is yes, and. Have you heard that before?
In a scene, that is the main philosophy of never deny and yes, and. If you say like, “That’s a lovely blue hat.” I go, “Yes. It was given to me by the King of France.” I’ve agreed with you. It’s agreement and then furthering. It’s a great philosophy for life. Some of the best people in the world are improvisers because they know that all boats rise together. That’s my philosophy of work and life. It’s like, “Let’s all get up there together.” Not like, “Let me cut the legs out from you.” The two biggest movie stars I ever worked with, Clooney and Brad, they’re the same guy. They could not be more generous or more fun to work with. We had a little blast and we improvised that thing and we yes, and.
Sometimes you go down a road, it’s not going to make it in the movie, but it was fun and it brought stuff out. It was one of the most magical experiences where everything comes together. It’s about who he’s being. He was the biggest scene. He’s incredibly gorgeous and the biggest star, but the nicest guy. He never left the set, just ate sandwiches with everybody else, hang out and was an amazing scene partner. He made me feel completely invested in it. I love that you say because it brings it back to your main thing with improv because that’s what that scene was. Why that movie was so great is because people stopped acting and they were having real experiences. Eventually, you’d get back to the script and you’d say the scripted lines, but it was a pinnacle.
There you have it, we’re going to get back to scripted lines. People that are reading this and wanting to go back to something that was more familiar beforehand and there’s been a tremendous loss. I don’t say this in any way. I keep saying this because it bears repeating for me to be on record for myself as saying, “I’m not looking past the suffering and genuine loss that exists.” I get emotional thinking about that and at the same time utilizing what is so in public speaking or in the facilitation of training and things like that, we often talk about utilizing what is. It’s that improv. That’s the whole idea that there’s always something there that we can make use of. That’s what makes it worthwhile. That’s why it’s never a waste.
Even the suffering and pain, these are things we will make use of as a society, each of us, individually in our families. That’s tough as we’re legit grieving to know that somehow or another this too shall teach. This too shall be something that we ultimately get to use and create alchemy out of, which is beautiful. I feel that we could talk for a long time. This has been a blast. People are going to dig it a lot. I will ask you one final question and I’m going to share something about my waking ritual. Is there something that you do on a ritual basis to help you to remind you of some of these important things? Is there something you do ritualistically to build your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual resilience that you’d like to share?
It’s out there in the ether about you’ve got to win the morning, win the day. I started the day with discipline. The first thing I do is I would get up and I’ll make my bed right away. I pour some coffee and then I meditate. I get the day started right. I exercise every day, but I try to make it happen at different times throughout the day. That’s the other thing. I work 12, 14-hour days and I need to be as mentally fit at the end of the day. For me, there are certain routines that are valuable, but also I don’t want to get into some ritual that then ends up turning into superstition. If A, B, C doesn’t happen, then I can’t do my job because I can always do my job. It’s early here on the West Coast. I didn’t have time to meditate. I had time to make some coffee. I was like, “I hope I can speak.”
You don’t want to be like those guys in Bull Durham where he had to put the chicken on the bat.
It’s not true because it is improv. Every day is different and I had faith that you and I were going to hit it off. We had met, but I was like, “We’re going to have a conversation. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I’m sure we’ll talk about something interesting.” I’m disciplined now about meditating. We talked about concentration, that’s been a thing. It is very little device time, going back to reading much more because I need to stay concentrated for long periods of time. I could see that muscle had completely atrophied because of all of the distractions that we have. I take that seriously and then exercising every day at different times. The most important thing is controlling my thoughts, my actions, being responsible for them, making sure the collars and the cuffs match, that I’m walking the walk and being who I say I want to be.
One good thing about this time that we’re living in now, and maybe this is not the case but for me, it is. I don’t have to think about matching my socks to my shoes anymore. I’m saving a bunch of money on socks, shoes, and pants for that matter. When you win the morning, you win the day. If you haven’t heard that before or if you have heard that before like I have but haven’t thought about that in a while, it’s concise. Sometimes we need to put something in your pocket like picking up a stone or something. Something powerful about something that packs that wisdom in such a bite-sized.
Win the morning, that’s it. How do you win the morning? That begs the question. For me, how I win the morning is by how I wake up. I’ve got to do like my grandmother said years ago, “Leave on the right foot.” Take that first step out on the right foot. To me, the right foot, I’m not saying this is wrong for anybody else, but it’s not picking up my cell phone. It’s not checking email or looking at text messages or Facebook. That’s not the right step for me to start the day. The right step isn’t to begin the worry process, to think about work too quickly. It’s not to turn on the TV and watch the insanity that’s happening all over the globe, but in our country at the moment.
Those are the knots. What I do every morning that is the right step for me is I get out of bed, to begin with. I put my feet on the floor. I recognize at that moment that not everybody is doing that now. There were people that went to bed, put their head on the pillow, and didn’t wake up. They don’t get another day. It’s such a gift to stay. What we do with it is our choice, how we improv, how we apply some of those things that you were sharing with us, how we lean into rigor and not feel like rigor is tough. Life is about rigor. We can develop our rigor. We’ll have a lot of time to rest at some point. That’s true too. I have three things I do at the beginning of the day. I wake up. I hope everybody’s going, “I’m going to wake up tomorrow.” Are you down for that, Reed?
There’s something to appreciate, be grateful for in that waking moment. The third piece, which is something I say out loud that I believe that we get to claim our good. That’s an old metaphysical term that comes from Emmet Fox. People used to stake a claim back in the old gold rush days. You’re staking your claim by the first thing that comes out of your mouth. We’ve already had a lot of thoughts by the time that we’ve put our feet on the floor, we’ve already had a dozen or ten dozen thoughts, whatever. What’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth is telling.
For me, it’s these four simple words. I did a TED Talk that was all about these four words. I love my life, no matter what. No matter who’s president, no matter anything that you can think of that you feel uncertain about, or that I feel uncertain about it. Maybe those are words that fit for you in your life, Reed, or maybe it’s other words. For everybody out there, just choose something. It doesn’t have to be those words. Start the day on the right foot. Reed, it’s been a blast. Thank you.
I love it. Thanks, Adam. It’s been fantastic.
Any final words you want to say?
In the darkest moments, I realized like, “I’ve got it good.” I’m married to the love my life. I’ve got an amazing kid. I already won. If we have to live in our car, we’ll live in our car, we’re fine. Gratitude is everything.
- Reed Diamond – Instagram
- The War of Art
- Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable
- The Inner Game of Tennis
- @ReedDiamond – Twitter
About Reed Diamond
Reed was born and raised in New York City. He studied acting at the Juilliard School, and made his professional debut co-starring in the movie Memphis Belle (1990). He has performed on Broadway, in numerous films, and in 100s of episodes of television.
His notable performances on television include the critically acclaimed Homicide Life On The Street, as well as Marvel’s Agents Of Shield, Dollhouse, 24, Franklin and Bash, Journeyman, The Shield, Wayward Pines, The West Wing, Bones, The Mentalist, Underground, The Purge, and Designated Survivor
He lives in Toronto, Ontario with his wife Marnie McPhail and their daughter.