Casting Networks® caught up with Howard Fine, world-renowned acting coach and founder of Howard Fine Acting Studio. Howard talks about how he got his start in entertainment, what inspired him to work as an acting coach and which industry professional he admires.
1. How did you start working in the industry?
My first paid gig in the industry was as an actor in the Looking Glass Theatre’s weekend company. I grew up in Rhode Island and Looking Glass toured around the state. I had seen them many times growing up and it was exciting for me to be part of the organization. I couldn’t believe that I was getting money for something that I loved doing. Later, my college theater department hired me to direct both of its professional summer programs my junior and senior year. I received an assistantship to attend graduate school and also got hired as stage manager/actor for a touring production of “The Robinson Crusoe Story.” I was also hired to teach and direct in the summer theater program. After graduate school, I moved to New York where I was hired to teach full-time at AMDA. After one semester, I was promoted to head the acting department at the age of 24. This made me the youngest chair in the history of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. In 1985 I moved from New York to Los Angeles. I got a job teaching at the Tracy Roberts Actors Studio. An agent came to watch an actor in my class. She didn’t end up representing the actor, but she loved me. She was representing Paul Stanley, the lead singer of Kiss at the time. Paul was planning to break into acting back then. The agent gave him the name of the top coaches in Hollywood and me. Paul did something very smart—he brought the same material to all of the coaches. After a few minutes, he stopped and said, you are my guy. Paul introduced me to many people in Hollywood. Soon I had a celebrity clientele and opened my own studio in 1988.
2. What inspired you to work as an acting coach?
I directed my first play when I was 16. I was fortunate to have a high school drama teacher who knew Uta Hagen’s work. He taught us from her first book “Respect for Acting.” We would take trips to NYC to observe classes at her studio. I realized early on that I had stronger skills as a teacher/coach than as an actor. In college and graduate school I was asked to coach the auditions of actors competing for the Irene Ryan Scholarship. All three of the actors won for their region and got to perform in the showcase at The Kennedy Center. In sports, it is rare for a star player to be a great coach. There are exceptions, but many cannot get past their own ego in order to truly help someone else. I love helping actors to achieve their fullest potential.
3. What would you say to those aspiring to work in your field?
Teaching is a calling. It is not a fallback. You have to have the patience to allow students to make mistakes and learn from them. Focus on giving the actors the tools to do great work. Help actors to become self-sufficient artists. Teach them to become independent so that they can work without you. Be a student of life and human behavior so that you will have a treasure trove of insights to share.
4. What was a pivotal moment for you within your industry during the pandemic? How has your role and/or your day-to-day routine changed in the past year and a half?
The day the studio closed in March 2020, I thought that we would go out of business. In my darkest moment I could not see the opportunities that were right around the corner. Studio administrators Rebecca Cloe and Ian Cardoni convinced me that we could launch “Fine Online.” In the weeks that followed we brainstormed a curriculum for online. Classes sold out immediately. I had no idea that there was a national and international demand for our classes. We are now reaching actors across the globe as well as in person at the Hollywood, CA studio and the Melbourne, Australia studio.
5. If you could cast yourself in any role of all time what would it be?
I would have loved to participate as a member of the ensemble who created and performed “The Laramie Project.” Moisés Kaufman created one of the most potent evenings of theater that I have ever witnessed. It was also recorded for HBO. The Tectonic Theatre Project interviewed the members of the town where Matthew Shepard was murdered. The examination of the human condition and our capacity to justify ourselves is stunning.
6. What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of work?
I am the loyal dog parent of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Ernie. Playing with Ernie gives me the greatest pleasure. I also love to read. I am a big Ken Follett fan and am currently reading his World War 1 trilogy. Attending movies and theater is a love. I also follow baseball. I am a big and suffering Boston Red Sox fan.
7. What is one of your favorite acting performances to date?
Meryl Streep in the film “Sophie’s Choice.” She changes language and dialect with ease. She never sits in her emotions. The movement is always toward the light even though she doesn’t get there.
8. Who is an industry professional you admire and why?
Meryl Streep again. Her life and career has been about the work. You never see her in the tabloids. She has remained humble, socially conscious and dedicated to the craft of acting.
9. Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
My favorite quote is from Iyanla Vanzant: “The way you do one thing, is the way you do everything.”
10. What are you looking forward to in the industry in the coming year and beyond?
I am looking forward to resuming normal life and increasing human contact. I will never take being able to have dinner at a restaurant or attend a public event for granted. I am over the moon that I have both online and in-person classes to look forward to. Life is good.