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Coffee Chats: Lessons from My 86 year old Acting Coach


LeahCevoliLast month, I wrote part one of a two part dedication to the late, great Ivan. S. Markota.  Part two will follow, in a few weeks, but I thought why not dedicate this month’s Coffee Chat piece to him as well!

It had been over 5 years since I had studied at the Van Mar Academy of Television and Motion Picture acting, but with Ivan’s passing, many former students gathered to reminisce and talk shop.

Here are some of my very favorite, Ivan-isms.

On Appearance:

1) Get your teeth fixed! – As an actor, especially a film actor, your mouth is going to be seen on a 30 ft screen. Although many of us have crooked teeth and cavities that we rarely even think of, on a movie screen, that’s all anyone’s going to be able to look at, as they count the number of cavities in your mouth. Ivan recommended getting your front teeth bonded (I did!), and replacing silver fillings with white ones.  He even had an amazing dentist (now retired), in Encino that used to take care of all of his students for a very low fee and a payment plan.

2) Find A Pair of Killer Sunglasses– Ivan was a big fan of wearing rock star sunglasses indoors and outside.   It’s funny, but it’s true. Next time you’re in an airport, look around, the folks with cool sunglasses on inside usually look like superstars.  I don’t know what it is about sunglasses, but a great pair of sunglasses can make heads turn.

3) Dress Up and On-Brand – Ivan was born in the 1920’s. In his day and age, men wore suits and women wore dresses.  Now although Ivan had no problem with his female actors wearing jeans (if it fit their brand), he was a big fan of dressing up to the nines and looking sharp whenever you left your house. This included hair and makeup ready at all times! This is Hollywood after all, and he told many a story, of former students, meeting opportunities in the grocery store, or the bank, simply because they had left the house that morning looking like a superstar.

In The Casting Office: 

1)    The Knock:  Ivan stressed the importance of first impressions and he believed that it started with that first knock on the casting door.  When told to go on in, he taught that you should knock firmly (don’t overdo it), and without pausing open the door, face the room, and with your right hand behind you, help the door to close slowly behind you, all the while facing the room. (No one needs a butt shot of you before you’ve auditioned).

2)    Confidence:  Once the door was properly shut behind you, Ivan taught his students to walk to the center of the room, take your mark, make eye contact, and simply state, “Hi, I’m Leah Cevoli, I’m here for my 2:00 appointment.” It seems simple enough, but how many times do we walk into an audition room and wait for someone to speak.   This is your appointment. It was scheduled. Own the room.

3)    Tell Me About Yourself:  Inevitably in an audition you’ll be asked this question.  Ivan taught us to then reply, “Personally or Professionally?”  Regardless of their answer Van Mar students were ready. In fact, Ivan helped each student refine their answers to this question, and we rehearsed both the personal and professional answer in class on a regular basis.  This helps you remember the important points in your career (or personal if that’s what they asked), and keeps you from rambling on in the office.

4)    Closing:  Like I mentioned, Ivan was born in the 1920’s and manners were popular in his day (they should still be now.).  Once, the audition was done, he taught us to walk back to the door, stop and turn around, make eye contact once again, and simply say, “It was an honor and a privilege.”, and then make your exit.   You’d be surprised how adding a little statement such as that at the end, makes such a big difference.

On Van Mar Academy:

1)    This Ain’t No Country Club:  Every new student was gifted 4 weeks of free classes, and an Introduction Seminar with Ivan. At this beginning seminar you would get copious amounts of worksheets and hand-outs, including the rules of the Academy.  Ivan stressed that this was not a country club. You were here to work, learn, and grow. He was not in the business of teaching actors, he was in the business of star-making. And if you didn’t like it… don’t let the door hit ya.

2)    Holidays– The doors of Van Mar were always open. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter… Ivan knew that many of us were thousands of miles away from our families. He insisted that Van Mar Academy be a warm welcoming, family environment and a place to gather on holidays.

On Life:

1) Faith:  Ivan was a man of faith. He didn’t preach to his students, and he didn’t make you feel alienated if you weren’t of a Christian/Catholic background, but he did give example after example of how in times of need his prayers had been answered. He taught his students to believe in the power of prayer, to have faith, and to be grateful.

2)    The Four F’s: Ivan loved the F word. So for the purposes of this article this is the pg-rated version of the Four F’s

Everything needs to be FUN (it’s too hard otherwise)

You need to have FAITH (in yourself, your family, God, etc.)

You need to have FASCINATION, (keep it  interesting)


IF it’s not FUN

IF you don’t have FAITH

IF there is no FASCINATION

THEN…YOU need to FIGHT to make it that way


As the days past, more lessons and insights that I learned from my time at Van Mar Academy bubble up into my consciousness. I hope to do Ivan proud, and make the rest of 2013 a year full of bookings and acting work.

A scholarship for young actors, has been set up in Ivan’s name.
For More Information: Click Here

To schedule a one hour Coffee-Chat with Leah on anything from crafting your bio, honing your social media skills, or rocking your Kickstarter :

Leah Cevoli

About Leah Cevoli

Leah Cevoli is a multi-talented entertainment professional whose work stretches across many genres. She is a rock ‘n roll enthusiast, body image activist, a certified yoga teacher, and fan of all things horror, Leah's acting credits include appearances on high profile tv shows like HBO’s "Deadwood," and voice-over on the Cartoon Network hit "Robot Chicken". Leah is a contributing writer for Ms. In The Biz and the founder of Body Image & Women’s Issues in Entertainment, a group of women who speak on panels and at conventions nationwide. Leah has a reputation for crowdfunding success and social media magic. To date, her company, has managed 50+ campaigns, and have been instrumental in raising over $5,000,000 for indie projects. Her latest projects include: the feature-length documentary "Remember The Sultana" narrated by Sean Astin, the gritty feature-length drama, "Girl Lost," distributed thru Cinema Epoch, and the light hearted comedy, "Dance Baby Dance". All three films were released in the spring of 2018.