Stars Who Needed Acting Coaching On Set

The use of acting coaches is widespread in Hollywood, where you've got to stay on top of your game if you want to reach and maintain A-list status. What is unusual is when a Hollywood star needs a coach right there on set with them in order to get a performance right, though it happens more often than you might think. Sometimes it's down to an actor holding their hands up and admitting that they need help on hand, but studios have also been known to force acting coaches onto their leads to make sure they're getting what they paid for.

"It's a lot like being an on-set medic," Lisina Stoneburner, who was the on-set acting coach for the cast of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, told Backstage. "Productions will hire an acting coach to give actors an opportunity to... work out what they don't have time to work out in the schedule of the show or the film." The following stars all had stuff they needed to "work out" during a shoot, and while some of them definitely managed to achieve great performances in the end, others could have probably done with spending a little more time with their coaches.

Nicole Kidman in The Human Stain

Nicole Kidman had her acting coach Susan Batson with her during the filming of 2003 drama The Human Stain, though her presence on-set was expected—the Aussie actress and Batson were pretty much inseparable by that time. According to The Independent (who visited the offices of Batson's New York acting school Black Nexxus in 2004), Batson became revered in Hollywood after transforming Kidman into a serious actress, but the coach credited her client's divorce from Tom Cruise as the motivating factor in her turnaround.

"I think that what truly happened is that in the transition from the divorce from Tom, the solace that Nicole found in the work was extremely gratifying to me," Batson said. "I loved the roles that were coming in, and the commitment to the work was great, and we really teamed up from that period of time." Batson's dedication to Kidman wound up costing her work (her once fruitful working relationship with Spike Lee deteriorated after the director accused her of having time for nobody else) but Kidman has always been extremely grateful.

According to Kidman, Batson is "a goddess" and she wouldn't be where she is today without her. "Susan helps me find the truth in myself and use its purity, intimacy, and honesty to make my work real," she said. "She's helped me to nurture and protect truth in myself and in the characters that I've played. What I've learned from Susan is how to keep the truth alive no matter what."

Eminem in 8 Mile

The name Joshua Bitton might not be a household one, but the Queens-born actor has got one of the coolest backstories in Hollywood. He had a lot of friends in the hip-hop community growing up (he told Fanboy Comics that he got to see Biggie Smalls perform in an underground club before his first album had even dropped) and it was those connections that got him into acting. When a friend from the hip-hop scene went for a part in 8 Mile, he tagged along and somehow became Eminem's acting coach for the full four and a half month shoot.

"It was a really weird series of events," he said. "My buddy Jamal had an audition... He said to me: 'You're the only white homeboy I know, it's to read Eminem's role, would you come and read with me?'" The casting directors liked Bitton so much that they asked him to come back for more testing later, and he wound up sticking around long enough for the Detroit-born rapper to watch him in action. "No pressure at all, right! Greatest lyricist ever, perhaps!"

Luckily for Bitton, the film's lead liked what he saw. "After we were done he gave me a pound and hug and said: 'Yo man, how do you do that?"' From there he became an integral part of the team and drove Eminem's acclaimed performance. He went on to play Sgt. J. P. Morgan in HBO's The Pacific, fulfilling his dream of working with Steven Spielberg.

James Gandolfini in The Sopranos

When James Gandolfini suddenly passed away in 2013 aged just 51, there was an outpouring of grief from fans and colleagues alike. The man best-known for playing New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano in HBO's classic mafia series was highly respected by those who worked with him, as the tributes to Gandolfini (who was struck down with a heart attack while on vacation in Rome) showed. Speaking to Reuters after Gandolfini's Manhattan funeral service, actor George Loros called his departed co-worker "gifted."

"He could be talking like you and I are talking right now, and then he could be called to the set and be just brutal," Loros, who played mobster-turned-FBI informant Ray Curto, said. "He had such a God-given gift." The actress who played Tony's mother as a young woman in the early seasons of the show was also in attendance, and she let an interesting piece of information slip—Gandolfini had an acting coach on-set back then.

"That was so sweet, and I remember that about him the most, just how badly he wanted to do a good job," Laila Robins said. "He worked so hard." It might come as a shock to fans of The Sopranos to hear that Gandolfini needed to be coached, but the actor was actually insecure in the now iconic role to begin with. "I thought they would hire someone a little more debonair, some good-looking guy, not George Clooney, but some Italian George Clooney," he's quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

Lauren Conrad in Family Guy

When Family Guy aired its Lauren Conrad episode in 2009, it gave the reality TV star such a roasting that most people assumed it wasn't her providing the voice of her animated self. Turns out she's a good sport (or Seth MacFarlane didn't show her the full script), because that actually was Conrad providing her own voice — only she needed a little help to get it right. 

The idea behind the episode is that the Griffin's heavy-drinking dog Brian sleeps with the Laguna Beach-native, but is too embarrassed to stay with her because of her low levels of intelligence. The twist is that she's actually been a genius all along.

"It was really funny," the former star of The Hills told Fox. "I'm a huge fan so that was a big deal for me. It was cool to see myself as a character." Unfortunately, playing a genius meant she had to deal with some pretty complex dialogue. Conrad relied heavily on an acting coach, who was there to talk her through her lines. "[I had] a lot of big words," she explained. "I had to say it as if it was coming to me very easily. I had to research some of [the words] because the acting coach I worked with told me if I really understood what I was talking about, it would come through a little more true."

John Cena in 12 Rounds

With the notable exception of bona fide A-lister Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, pro wrestlers don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to transitioning to Hollywood. Acting out a battle in the ring is one thing, but there's a lot more to action movies that just throwing and receiving blows. Case in point: John Cena has been learning how to flex his comedy muscles in recent years with supporting roles in movies like Train Wreck and Daddy's Home 2, but he got his start in Hollywood the way most wrestlers do — kicking ass and taking names amid a torrent of bullets.

His debut performance in 2006's The Marine didn't go down very well, despite his use of an on-set acting coach. When The Baltimore Sun asked if he would be taking the same approach to his follow-up project 12 Rounds (2009), he replied: "Absolutely. I tell people this is like having my second match, and by the time I had my second match I needed a lot of coaching. I had a coach in pre-production and I had a bunch of great coaches on set."

The former WWE Champion clearly isn't ashamed about the fact that he sometimes needs instruction on set, and nor should he be, as whatever he's being taught seems to be working for Hollywood. Just like The Rock did with The Fast and the Furious, Cena is joining an established franchise in 2018, having won what he describes as a "challenging" role in Transformers spin-off Bumblebee.

Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop

It stands to reason that one of the biggest Hollywood icons of all time would have some of the most famous acting coaches of all time. Lee and Paula Strasberg's names were synonymous with Marilyn Monroe's throughout the late 1950s, a period of movie history that the blonde bombshell dominated with the couple's tutelage. After they met in 1955, Monroe never showed up on a movie set without Paula by her side, and she looked to her coach for approval on every little thing she did. As a result, Paula became universally disliked in Hollywood.

On August 5, 1962, the troubled actress was found dead in her home, lying on her bed completely naked with a telephone in her hand among several empty bottles of antidepressant medication. Her death was ruled a suicide. All of her personal belongings went to Lee Strasberg, along with 75 percent of her estate, leading some to accuse Strasberg and his wife of taking advantage of the star's issues with mental illness and addiction. According to Monroe's Bus Stop (1956) co-star Don Murray, this simply wasn't the case, as Paula was "devoted to Marilyn."

"Paula Strasberg was on the set as Marilyn's acting coach," he said (via AmericanLegends). "Before a take, they would talk quietly off to one side, or if Marilyn seemed disturbed, Paula would take her aside and talk to her. They huddled together. You never heard what they said. Paula was polite but didn't pay attention to anyone else."

Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story

In June 2017, The Hollywood Reporter broke news of a disturbance in the Force. Disney's eagerly anticipated Han Solo origin story apparently started experiencing problems pretty early on. Things reportedly came to a head when Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy lost patience with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller over their ambling work rate, with the pair only turning in a fraction of the shots she expected. Kennedy shocked Hollywood when she ousted them for Ron Howard deep into production — but the direction wasn't even the first thing the studio wanted to fix.

Execs were said to have been displeased with the underwhelming performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich, and in their panic they brought an acting coach onto set. Maggie Kiley came in to help the young star turn it around, but Ehrenreich also was given the opportunity to lean on the original Han himself for help.

In February 2018, Entertainment Weekly revealed that Harrison Ford had been acting as a secret adviser on Solo: A Star Wars Story. "What [Ford] did so beautifully for Alden was he talked a lot about what he remembered when he first read Star Wars, and what George [Lucas] had done with Han," Kennedy said. "He gave Alden that kind of insight which was invaluable. There were several times in the course of making the movie where Alden would actually recount some of the things that Harrison had pointed out. I think that was really, really helpful to him."

Mariah Carey in Glitter

You wouldn't think it from the overwhelmingly negative response that the film got from the critics, but Mariah Carey had an acting coach on the set of 2001's Glitter. The musical romantic drama was supposed to be Carey's star-maker vehicle, but it tanked hard at the box office — it only returned a quarter of its reported $22 million budget — and scored a damning 7 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to director Vondie Curtis-Hall (via The A.V. Club), Carey was prone to diva-like outbursts on set, where her acting coach Sheila Gray would never be far away.

Like Nicole Kidman and Susan Batson, Carey and Gray reportedly become close after the star went through a high profile divorce. The vocally gifted singer set about spreading her wings after leaving Tommy Mottola, and, according to numerous satisfied clients, she was in great hands with Gray. 

"I truly believe I wouldn't be where I am today without the guidance and patience Sheila showed me from day one," Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, True Detective) is quoted as saying on Gray's website, where the likes of Nat Wolff (Death Note), Ashley Greene (Twilight), Nicola Peltz (Transformers: Age of Extinction) and even Robert De Niro have all left glowing recommendations. "She worked with all the actors on A Bronx Tale," De Niro said. "She was great to have on set."

Chuck Norris in Top Dog

Decorated martial artist, actor, king of the meme — Chuck Norris is known for many things. The Walker, Texas Ranger star learned how to fight while stationed overseas in Korea. After leaving the Air Force, he put his new skills to the test on camera, but with every bad B-movie he released he came closer to becoming a parody of himself. He cashed in on the popularity of Chuck Norris Facts when he played up to the hyperbole in a World of Warcraft commercial, but that doesn't mean he isn't 100 percent serious about his acting career.

In 1995, Norris made a movie that was dismissed as a rip-off of Turner and Hooch – because that's precisely what is was. The family friendly Top Dog starred the would-be action hero as a cop who gets reluctantly partnered with, well, a police dog. Together, they successfully take down a group of dangerous neo-Nazis. With a premise this bizarre, it's no wonder Norris needed an on-set acting coach.

"You know, Chuck is Chuck because of his background in martial arts," the movie's editor Peter Schink told SlashFilm. "He may not be Robert De Niro, but he busts his ass. And he takes his craft seriously to the best of his ability. You know, he has someone there really trying to work with him and get more out of him. He puts the work in to be as good as Chuck can be, and he has an acting coach on the set at all times."

LeAnn Rimes in Holiday in Your Heart

LeAnn Rimes is yet another musician who needed help with her transition into acting, but she at least had the excuse of age on her side — she was just 15 when she starred in a made-for-TV adaptation of her first book, Holiday in Your Heart. The country singer was already a Grammy winner by this stage, but acting is a different kind of art all together, even when you're playing yourself. When the Mississippi-native sat down to discuss the project with the Los Angeles Times back in 1997, she revealed that an acting coach got her through the tough times, but she was also able to draw from personal experience.    

Asked about the emotional scene in which she sings "Amazing Grace" for her terminally ill grandmother, Rimes said that the tears came "very naturally" to her. "I was supposed to sing 'Amazing Grace' at my [real] grandmother's funeral and I never got to, because I knew I was going to cry and I couldn't sing," the teen explained. "She really reminded me of my grandmother when I started singing. I started crying, so that was not acting at all. There was an acting coach on the set and after a while, with his help, I got really comfortable." She's starred in a couple of other TV movies in the years since, but her most memorable moment on film remains her cameo performance in 2000's Coyote Ugly. Lead soundtrack song "Can't Fight the Moonlight" was a massive hit for her.

Salma Hayek in Tale of Tales

Salma Hayek didn't know that she needed an acting coach until she had one. Tale of Tales from 2015 was Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone's first English language feature, and while audiences in the States didn't know what to make of it, the critics ate it up. The film was Certified Fresh with a score of 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, where it was roundly praised for packing an "off-kilter wallop for mature viewers." "Mature" is the optimum word here, as even though Tale of Tales is based on the work of Italian poet Giambattista Basile (who wrote the earliest European versions of Rapunzel and Cinderella), it was far from your typical fairy tale.

With sex and gore aplenty, you'd assume the set of Tale of Tales was strictly off limits to children, though that wasn't the case. Hayek (who starred alongside John C. Reilly as the Queen and King of Longtrellis) had an acting coach on set throughout the shoot — her eight-year-old daughter Valentina. It wasn't the first time Hayek's daughter had been on hand to offer notes, either, as the Mexican-American actress explained to Toggle.

"She's definitely a director and even in the silly comedies with Adam Sandler [Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2], since she was very, very little, she likes to stay right to the monitor. And it's troublesome because she likes to come over and give me notes. And I say, 'No, you're not allowed'. Then I think about the note and it's like, 'Damn, she's right. They're good.'"