Author Peter Skagen with his book How to Succeed in Hollywood without really Acting.

Lessons from Hollywood

Hollywood is a complicated place, but Calgary-based actor Peter Skagen is happy to decipher some of its unwritten rules for film students at Red Deer College. Skagen, who’s written How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting, is guest teaching this month at Red Deer College’s Motion Picture Arts program.

Hollywood is a complicated place, but Calgary-based actor Peter Skagen is happy to decipher some of its unwritten rules for film students at Red Deer College.

Skagen, who’s written How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting, is guest teaching this month at Red Deer College’s Motion Picture Arts program.

With his practical guidebook to Hollywood being used as a textbook at the University of Lethbridge and Sheridan College in Toronto, Skagen’s presence in the classroom is a thrill for his friend, RDC acting instructor Larry Reese.

The benefit to up-and-coming actors from Skagen’s advice and experience is “huge,” added Reese, who considers the how-to book a valuable teaching tool.

“I wish I’d written it,” said Reese, who’s done a lot of film work, himself, including small roles in Unforgiven and Brokeback Mountain.

Skagen is a large, craggy man, who knows he projects an ambiguous good/bad guy image.

He’s had a slew of roles that proves this — from being cast as “the worst department store Santa ever” to a prison guard, FBI agent, mountain man, burly Confederate, and trailer park manager in various TV and movie projects, from September Dawn to Into the West, Hell on Wheels and Santa Baby Two: Christmas Maybe.

Skagen considers his own resume a testament to the fact Hollywood casting directors look for certain “types” to walk in the door.

Film students need to understand “what their outside says about them,” he said, so they can sell this brand of themselves at auditions.

For instance, there’s a good reason Jennifer Aniston always plays “the girl-next-door who doesn’t know she’s hot,” Hugh Grant is “Mr. Rom-com,” and Julia Roberts portrays “the girl who’s some trouble but is worth it,” said Skagen.

He lists Angelina Jolie as the femme fatale, Christopher Walken as the creepy guy, Jack Nicholson as the wild card, and Johnny Depp as the quirky outsider.

He advises film students to identify the type they project on camera — then to capitalize on it at auditions. Knowing your brand doesn’t mean you have to play a narrow range of roles — Skagen points out how Tom Hanks turned his “likeable American” persona into a varied and Oscar-winning career.

On the other hand, he admitted that some actors, like Clint Eastwood, do in fact have a pretty narrow, albeit “powerful,” range.

RDC film students are told that no Hollywood casting directors want to see acting going on. When somebody’s face is projected two storeys high, it’s easy to understand why.

Another lesson his book imparts is that movie actors have to fill in a lot of subtext. Skagen said screenplays are so minimalistic, the lines on the page usually don’t tell the whole story. “You have to be smart enough, as an actor, to understand the story at a deeper level” — because directors don’t do much directing, at least not in the form of giving actors detailed guidance. He said they’re too busy dealing with budgets, schedules, personalities and how the film will be shot.

Skagen, who has a master’s degree in film and screenwriting from California State University, has received a lot of good feedback on his new book, which also details how to audition, how to work on a set, and other basics.

He likes being “the guy in the Wizard of Oz who pulls the curtain back” to expose the inner working of a place that can be hard to figure out. “The students are great. It’s wonderful to see their eyes opened,” said the instructor, who’s taught workshops at many faculties, including Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

He maintains, “Hollywood is not awful,” but there are some ugly truths.

Skagen admitted there are many more movie roles for men than women. Male actors also get to look more average and play more “types.”

Since female film characters tend to be sexualized, women actors have to be better looking. Although there are opportunities for them to start acting as teens or even children, they have a limited shelf life — up to about age 45, when they disappear, only to reappear, in some cases, in grandmother roles in their 60s. The exceptions, he said, are funny women, like Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

But that’s Hollywood.

Skagen said it’s an illusory industry based on appearances, so looks do matter.

“It can be incredibly heart-breaking and difficult … but can you be a singer and not know how to sing?”

Has he ever had to tell any students that they probably won’t cut it in Hollywood?

Skagen admits he’s never had to. “Nobody’s ever asked me.”

How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Acting is available from Amazon, Kindle Books and other sellers, or from

Just Posted

Ham radio operators in central Alberta tune in

Amateur radio enthusiasts in central Alberta tuned in for the weekend. Central… Continue reading

Winners crowned at 19th Woody’s Triathlon

The rain held off all weekend and made for great conditions for the more than 500 competitors

‘Clients fall off:’ Calgary program helps recently released prisoners with hep C

CALGARY — Imagine adjusting to life after serving prison time, then add… Continue reading

Five members of the same family now charged in relation to death of Kiran Dhesi

SURREY, B.C. — The RCMP made two arrests on Friday in connection… Continue reading

Rock climber suffers fatal fall on the Stawamus Chief overlooking Squamish, B.C.

SQUAMISH, B.C. — Police say a rock climber fell to his death… Continue reading

WATCH: Hundreds run in the 5K Foam Fest in Red Deer

The annual event took place at Heritage Ranch on Saturday

UK: Police visit incident dogs Johnson’s leadership campaign

LONDON — The leading contender to become Britain’s next prime minister is… Continue reading

Trump: ‘Surprise’ question about Pence led him to hesitate

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he hesitated when asked about endorsing… Continue reading

Indigenous drummers lead pipeline protesters on 22-kilometre march in Victoria

VICTORIA — The government approval of the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion won’t stop… Continue reading

Retired UBC professor Peter Winterburn killed in Chile, school confirms

VALPARAISO, Chile — A retired geochemistry professor from the University of British… Continue reading

Sask. Premier Scott Moe participates in Pride parade in Saskatoon

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe participated in his first Pride parade… Continue reading

Parents of soldier killed in parachute exercise ask for thorough investigation

OTTAWA — The remains of the Canadian soldier killed in a parachute-training… Continue reading

Despite billions in new spending, Duclos still sees ‘affordability’ gaps

OTTAWA — Despite billions of dollars in new spending over the last… Continue reading

Most Read