May 2, 2008

Michelle Bonilla teaches students reality of acting

By Kiko Martinez

As Emergency Medical Technician Kristin Harms on the long-running medical drama “ER,” actress Michelle Bonilla always has to be ready for the unexpected.

The same can be said about her career in the entertainment industry. As an actress, Bonilla knows first-hand just how impulsive the business can get.

That is one reason she and acting coach Nick Mize are relocating Synergy Actors Studio ( With more room in North Hollywood, the duo now has the space it will take to continue to teach those interested in improving their acting skills.

A veteran on “ER” (she’s been with the show since 1999. According to, her first episode was George Clooney last as a series regular), Bonilla has also been featured on other TV shows including “NYPD Blue,” “24,” and “The Closer.”

During a phone interview, Bonilla talked about the cutthroat aspects of acting, how she handles rejection, and what she feels when one of her students lands a job.

How is Synergy different from other acting studios?

What’s great about Synergy is that it doesn’t matter what point [students] start training with us. It’s like a gym where they can work out no matter where they are in their training. Also, we give them an approach to the realistic side of acting. For example, there are a lot of “scene study” classes in Hollywood where you study scenes with an acting partner. But in the real world you don’t have time to study with a partner. It’s very last minute.

In your experience, is that how spontaneous the business always is?

Absolutely. In this industry you need to account for spontaneity. If you get an audition you have either a couple of days or sometimes you have just the afternoon. The reality is you get your lines and study them quickly. You have to be on your feet and understand what is happening in the scene. That’s what we prepare our students for.

As a teacher, does it give you the same amount of excitement seeing one of your students land a role as it does when you get a part in a film or TV show?

Absolutely. Many of our students have already booked work. It’s just so exciting. I also practice what I preach. I am out there and audition and do the same things they do. To be able to practice what I teach them it fills me with joy. I love when they book jobs. It makes me feel good as a teacher because it complements what I do.

What about the idea of Hollywood as a cutthroat industry? Are you teaching these young people anything about learning how to take criticism and accept rejection?

Being judged is part of being in the business. What I teach my actors is that they have to go in and do the scene for themselves. If they do it for themselves and do it to the best of their ability, there is nothing else they can do.

How do you handle rejection yourself?

The funny thing is sometimes we don’t get a phone call telling us we didn’t get the job. We hear nothing. You hear about the infamous silence. The way this business is you can blink and they offer you a different role. You develop a thick skin just by going in and auditioning over and over again.

Are you honest with your students as you watch them develop as actors? I mean, if they just don’t have the talent to act, will you tell them or is acting something that everyone can learn?

It does no one any service if I sit there and lie to them. But we are a very positive and affirming. I can tell if [students] understand the method. We want to give our students a forum to gain confidence. We are not there to beat them down. We are there to raise them up.

You see hospital dramas come and go over the years, but “ER” seems to always be a staple each new season. What is it about the show that has kept it popular for so long?

What gives [“ER”] longevity is that they have great writers. It’s a very character-based show. I think it always stay fresh.

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