I was certain that Sela Ward was going to have an acting career. She had grit, determination and integrity. She started to study with me at the Wynn Handman Studio on West 56th St. in New York City. I was Wynn’s assistant at the time and very often actors would train with me and then go on to study with Wynn.
Sela was already a successful model when she joined my class, but she wanted more than that. She had a strong point of view and a need to express herself. Easier said than done, right? Especially for a small town Southern girl with a gentile upbringing. The harsh truth is that acting demands full self-expression. If you cannot touch anger, joy, despair, sadness and a full range of emotions, you will have a hard time making it as an actor. If you play Iago, you had better be able to tap into jealousy or you will fail miserably. We know these emotions are within in us, but most of us don’t want to go to these dark places. In addition, when you are a Southern girl from a small town, whether you know it or not you are conditioned to a way of life.
Therefore, for two years, twice a week, in that tiny studio on west 56th street we battled it out. I pushed hard and she fought back pretty hard, but little by little, a transformation was taking place. Here’s what Sela wrote in her book, Homesick: “So I started studying with a teacher named Bob McAndrew. It was one of those life-changing decisions. Under Bob’s guidance, I began the transformation from quiet, introspective, small town girl to confident woman who was unafraid to take risks on the public stage. More important, for the first time I began to see and to believe that there was something more to me than just a pretty face.”
The big challenge came a year later when I cast Sela in Leonard Melfi’s play, Lunchtime. By then I had my own theater space on West 55th Street. Corbin Bernsen, along with his fellow classmates converted it into a tiny theater. We rehearsed for several weeks and the play was well received. This was a milestone for Sela. It is one thing to be a classroom actor with a partisan crowd; it’s another to appear before an audience. It gave her the confidence to go on to Los Angeles and she hasn’t stopped working since. I learned later that the name Sela means rock in Hebrew. Makes sense to me!
Until next time,