The Acting Athlete

‘’I really had no idea about myself as an actor, but I accidentally took a drama course’’ – Alex Murphy, actor/teacher

(Alex teaching his class, Photograph: Julia Sterre Schmitz)

Acting is a career choice that requires passion, patience, and persistence. But the lifestyle can become a lonely one

‘’It was one of those little moments where, you know, you give out this sort of focused energy, the audience loved it’’, Alex says enthusiastically.

The canals in Amsterdam reflect the sun into the acting studio, giving a natural lighting. Alex explains how his career started for him.

‘’I always remember walking backstage and going, hmm, that was exciting.’’

Certain public spaces in The Netherlands are closed due to Coronavirus. But education can continue for now. And so does Alex Murphy’s acting course. Providing actors of The Netherlands with a sense of community; a community that Alex himself has been searching for and has found several times. But because of the nature of the job, it is something he needs to establish over and over again.

‘’Every day and every semester I get to start again. Teaching is a relationship. And it’s a good one. I’ve gotten to know more people through the arts community.’’

Putting his bag of carrots aside, he clears his throat and explains how it all started for him.

‘’I was about 21 or 22, and I really had no idea about myself as an actor, but I accidentally took a drama course.’’ The experience left Alex hungry for more. He went looking for more opportunities. This led him to follow an acting program at the University of South Florida. So began three and a half years of drama school for Alex.

He was a little scared in the beginning, but eventually he opened up more. Alex was not cast in plays for maybe the first year and a half, but like all actors he wanted to get a nice role.

‘’Someone said, would you do the lead role? Will you do Hamlet on Broadway? I was like, sure! Yeah! But I wasn’t ready,’’ Alex says while rolling his eyes. Eventually Alex’s time came, and he started doing plays after which he felt himself become better. The following years, Alex’s life was about doing play after play, taking lessons, working with actors, and improving his skills, until he decided to move to New York.

He moved to New York because of Broadway, its reputation in theatre, and the chance to work together with experienced actors. He found that it attracted a high number of talented actors.

Alex likes to compare them with athletes. ‘’If you are in a room with 10 other world-class sprinters, you are very quickly going to wake up to what they did to become world-class and you’re going to want to join them.’’

In the 1980’s, there were a lot of small theaters where an actor could step up and try to do a play. ‘’I’m sad to say that is not the case right now,’’ Alex explains while he glares out of the window of the acting studio.  ‘’The tyranny of real estate and commercialism,’’ as he puts it has swept away community theatres. It is a trend that started in the 1990’s, which is one of the reasons that Alex left the United States in the 90’s to work in Europe.

Alex found work in Poland. ‘’I went to visit and, I checked in with an actor’s agent. I had now been acting for about a decade, doing film, theatre and series. I was ready for doing something abroad.’’ Here he landed a role in a film that would become the highest grossing film in Polish history of that time. The movie Mlode wilki, translated in English ‘Young wolves’, was Alex’s first taste of fame. ‘’Suddenly I was recognized on the street and I got a little taste of whatever it is actors feel when people walk up and ask them for autographs.’’

Alex found this to be a warm feeling and liked that people were responding positively to his work. The film led to another successful film called Kiler, in which Alex had a cameo.

‘’Eventually I got language lonely’’, Alex says while looking into the distance. Having spent five years in Poland took its toll on Alex. He went back to the United States. But he was not sure what to do at this point.

He realized he did not want to stay in New York after having lived in Eastern Europe. ‘’I am somehow designed as a person that likes moving around in other parts of the world.’’

Alex even moved to Asia for a while. ‘’People kept asking me to do short film projects. So, I would jump in on little projects here and there. That kept me a little bit exercised,’’ he says smiling.

But the constant exercise of acting took its toll. ‘’It involves a lot of heartbreak and disappointment,’’ says Alex while sighing. At one point, he decided to take it slower. ‘’I said, I’m no longer going to look for it very hard.’’ And so, the focus from now on would be more on teaching, and if an opportunity would come by, he would seize the moment.

‘’An athlete who hasn’t even picked up a javelin in a while, can still do this by just picking it up and tossing it. Because they have muscle memory.’’

(Alex Murphy, Photograph: Jasper Box)

A recurring thing in Alex’s journey is the lack of community. Now living in Amsterdam, even though more people speak English, he still feels like he is missing something. ‘’It is slightly lonely sometimes and it can be a little bit isolating.’’ Acting in itself can be a very isolating career choice as it requires someone to travel around quite a bit.  A pandemic forcing the cultural sector to shut down does not help. ‘’You can do things in isolation, single solo, you can get things done, but boy.. it’s not.. it’s not as much fun.’’

The lonely existence of an actor can create a search for something that you do not know you are missing, but you are always looking for. ‘’It is good old fashioned the grass is maybe greener somewhere else.’’

Alex was also hit by the Corona virus restrictions. ‘’I had faith and things came around, they came around enough to get going again, and now we’re in that period where it could go back and forth and that will be difficult, but not impossible.’’

He also believes that for acting, you cannot afford to believe something is impossible. It is the same with having a regular job and combining this with an acting career. ‘’This can be done while having a regular job. It just, it’s not easy. You make different decisions than the rest.’’ It shows how acting is not something you can just pick up.

‘’I would like to look at it as it was service sacrifice, and I think many have mixed feelings about it.’’ In order to follow this lifestyle, it requires sacrificing other career choices for a life of uncertainty.

‘’At the bottom of all of this, what I tell actors at some point. They must constantly ask themselves, why am I doing this? What’s the purpose?’’ Implying that actors should have some kind of goal in mind, before pursuing this passion.

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