I've said it more than once: I don't like doing celebrity interviews. 9 times out of 10 you're not really there to interview them so much as you're there to help them sell their newest movie, and while those conversations can sometimes lead to some quality copy, it's more likely that you'll be stuck asking the same nine questions that 15 other entertainment writers just tossed out. And that makes for boring copy.

But when it comes to a celebrity like Jeffrey Tambor, who does NOT have a new movie coming out next week, I find it really hard to say no. Partially because I love actors like Mr. Tambor (and have been a fan of his since THE ROPERS, for cryin' out loud), but mainly because I think it's very interesting to chat with an actor about his/her entire body of work ... or at least a few random sections that I find most interesting. But ... this is not an interview piece. (Sorry.) I did spend about 15 minutes talking to Mr. Tambor about his films and the directors he's worked with, but I'm too busy to transcribe that piece right now.

And so I'll just tell you about the man's SXSW presentation itself. You're actually in luck, because Jeffrey Tambor's Acting Workshop was probably 19 times more fascinating than the brief Q&A session we shared. Easily one of the most popular "panels" I've ever attended at SXSW (and I've seen a bunch), the workshop was packed with hundreds of eager attendees. Mostly actors, of course, but also a lot of film critics, filmmakers, normal-joe badge-holders, and film / TV fans in general.

And to say that Jeffrey Tambor has a gift for public speaking is like saying the Titanic had a gift for unexpectedly submerging.

The beginning of the nearly two-hour chat session was a fascinating little mini-workshop between Tambor, actor Mark Reeb (of the new and very good The Overbrook Brothers) and the pretty-as-she-is-talented* Jess Weixler, whom Cine-regulars will remember from Teeth, Peter and Vandy, and the new Joe Swanberg film Alexander the Last. If you've ever wanted a taste of how emotionally challenging it is to be an actor, this workshop would clarify a lot of things. Both Reeb and Weixler dazzled the audience with an unexpectedly powerful display of dramatic improvisation. It was like watching two gifted painters get started on a new canvas, basically, as a warm-yet-forceful mentor looks on from afar. (* For the record, she's very pretty.)

And then it was basically Jeffrey Tambor talking about STUFF for 90-some minutes. I could think of a dozen adjectives that wandered through my head as Mr. Tambor forged on with his addictively fascinating insights and anecdotes -- but when he turned his attention to the "starving actors" of the audience, well, that's when I started to notice a little bit of magic. Jeffrey Tambor, it seems, loves the craft of acting like most of us love our moms, and the advice that popped out of his mouth was simultaneously supportive, insightful, and frankly (sometimes shockingly) honest. THIS is the sort of mentor you want: Vast stores of experience, an impeccable devotion to professionalism, and an unwavering commitment to the craft, the artistry, the collaboration...

I'm not an actor (and I never will be) and I don't live in Los Angeles (and I never shall), but given another opportunity to enjoy Jeffrey Tambor's acting workshop ... yeah, I'd grab a seat in a heartbeat. If you ARE an actor and you DO live around Los Angeles, I have good news: This weekend (March 21) is your shot. Jeffrey Tambor will be at the American Film Institute this weekend from 10am to 4pm. I welcome anyone who attends to shoot us some feedback on the event, and if you need any additional information, you can click on JeffreyTambor.net.

And if you want to see how a real professional approaches his craft, raise your hand and ask Jeffrey about his time spent working on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Muppets from Space, And Justice for All, or the Hellboy flicks. Only don't ask about Arrested Development: The Movie, only because EVERYone does, and that project seems to be in the "hush hush, sorry" stage of development right now.

[ Photo credit: Cassie Wright, SXSW ]