We all hear about wannabe actors spending enormous amounts of time, effort and money studying their craft before becoming famous, yet we never hear about established actors brushing up on their professional training. What's the deal?

By: Max, from, apparently, nowhere

A.B. Replies: Very simple rule at play here: Unknown performers attend acting class. Famous performers get an acting coach. The coach may request that the famous performer learn some things in a class environment--hugging their knees among lesser mortals while a teacher imparts wisdom about breathing like a starfish or becoming one with the crack hobo.

But even then, if a star is in the room, nobody says it's a class. Calling it that would be the quickest way to send a half-empty vial of Vicodin hurtling from Matthew Perry's clammy palm right into your plebeian melon. People who value their lives say coach.

The term coach implies many things that capture an actor's fancy: Brutal training regimens reserved only for elite professionals. Sweat. Punching a side of beef over and over again, like Rocky, until the Oscar people have no choice but to pelt said actor with small gold statues until he bleeds, and millions of people anoint him their personal savior, draping him with wreaths of marigolds and pile heaps of rice pastries and poached fish--all lovingly wrapped in banana leaves--at his feet.

Classes, meanwhile, imply that the star might have something in common with other people. To an accomplished A-lister, this notion is, of course, ridiculous. One-on-one coaching implies a separateness that can only equal greatness.

Actors love to thank their acting coaches, for just exactly the reasons I stated above. At least most of them do. Bow Wow reportedly refuses to take acting lessons and likes to brag that he can do most of his scenes in one take. But most other towering talents of Hollywood love, just love, their mentors, almost as much as they hate the idea of an acting class.

Take Jet Li, who played Danny the Dog in the film Unleashed.

"I'd never taken an acting class before," Li told a Cleveland newspaper. "I learned just by working. This time, [the director] found a wonderful acting coach from London. She helped me study Danny and discover what he was like, what he's thinking, how he walks, how he reacts.

"We also went to observe real dogs."

Some actors don't mind sharing their coaches. Take Ivana Chubbuck. Chubbuck, as reported by NPR earlier this year, "works every day with true professionals: Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt and a host of not yet famous others who crowd her studio several nights a week."

Famous actors often include their acting coaches in their inner circle, insisting that they are "dear friends." "Dear friends" fall somewhere between acquaintances (a daughter for example) and a "best friend," such as actor's publicist or the editor of Vanity Fair.

Take Maria Bello, who turned to an acting coach and "dear friend" for help in developing a love scene with William H. Macy in The Cooler.

"It was the night before we shot that scene," Bello told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "and Bill and I and our friend Leigh Kilton Smith, who is my dear friend and acting coach from L.A., were talking about the scene and what happens when two people really connect, sexually. When they fall in love, what does it look like? And we said, surrender, vulnerability, showing each other's pain.

"But then we said laughter, there's laughter, too. And how does one show laughter?"

Well, through the tutelage and dear friendship of a coach, of course. But never through a class.

The exception--and there's always an exception--is adorable little anchovy-faced starlet Mary-Kate Olsen. Shortly before leaving New York University--to concentrate on her business ventures or her personal life or something--Olsen was seen taking an acting class there.

"Assigned to perform a monologue in front of her fellow students," one report intoned, "Mary-Kate chose to play the role of a phone-sex operator."

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