Liberated from One's Own Subjectivity

Liberated from One's Own Subjectivity

"One of the first, knockout exercises that you can do with actors, which is used in lots of theater schools where they use masks, is putting a plain, blank, white mask on someone.The moment you take someone’s face away in that way, it’s the most electrifying impression: suddenly to find oneself knowing that that thing one lives with, and which knows is transmitting something all the time, is no longer there."

~ Peter Brook

Happy Talk

"In a searching dialogue, that in hindsight seems prescient, [Phillip Seymour Hoffman] wrestles with the concepts of happiness, love, and death with the same courage and compelling insight that he brought to his roles. Recorded at the Rubin Museum of Art on December 17, 2012."

See also: 


It Can Unmoor You

"You never stop questioning who you are and therefore how you would empathize or step into someone else's shoes. So it can be a relentless work of knowing yourself, getting out of your own way, knowing your flaws, knowing your weaknesses, knowing your strengths, and it's so much self-reflection. [The characters you play] definitely expand your worldview -- if you're smart…and it can unmoor you, slightly, because you find it easier, perhaps, to imagine what someone else would do than what you might do." 

~ Lauren Graham, from her conversation with Leonard Lopate (5/14/13)about her new novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe

If You Take the Time

"In the course of the play, what I learn — and it's why I view it as a Zen play — is that if you take the time, which often old age and disease forces you to do, you slow down and take the time, you begin to see things differently. Things that might on the surface look mediocre, but that in fact, when you pierce them and delve down into them, are beautiful."

~ Jane Fonda, discussing 33 Variations with Susan Stamberg, Morning Edition, Mar. 1, 2011

Absorbing America, Absorbed by America

“So my grandfather told me when I was a little girl, ‘If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.’ And having grown up in a segregated city, Baltimore, Maryland, I sort of use that idea to go around America with a tape recorder — thank God for technology — to interview people, thinking that if I walked in their words—which is also why I don't wear shoes when I perform — if I walked in their words, that I could sort of absorb America. I was also inspired by Walt Whitman, who wanted to absorb America and have it absorb him.”

~ Anna Deavere Smith, from “Four American Characters,” TED Talks, Feb. 2005


See also: “What has happened to the human voice?Studs Terkel, from a 2005 interview.

There’s No One Way to Be

“A lot of people think that how you behave is a given or that behavior is character. When you move around a lot, you learn that behavior is mutable. I would change, depending on where I was. I would go to one school and everyone would dance one way and, then, at a new school, you’d notice that no one picked up their feet when they danced. You’re like, O.K. — I’ll shuffle my feet like them. You learn that there’s no one way to dance or be. For some reason, a lot of actors come from these peripatetic backgrounds — army kids, missionary kids, kids of salesmen. It teaches you to watch, to reinvent, that character can change.”

~ Julianne Moore, from “Julianne of the Spirits,” by Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times T Magazine (February 28, 2010)

The Emotion is the Obstacle

“One of the things I’ve always been taught as a drama student was not to play the emotion. That doesn’t mean to say you don’t express it, you don’t have it, you don’t find it. The emotion is the obstacle. The person doesn’t want to be unhappy, and the unhappiness is the obstacle that gets in the way.”

~ Colin Firth, from “He Wears a Revealing Sort of Restraint,” by Sarah Lyall, New York Times, December 2, 2009

The Very Best Sound an Audience Can Make

Mike Nichols, from “Mike Nichols, Master of Invisibility,” by Charles McGrath, New York Times (April 10, 2009):

“Movie acting was invented less than 100 years ago — movie acting with sound. You know how Harold Bloom says that Shakespeare invented us? It’s a fascinating idea, and you can go quite far with it. You could say that it’s in talking movies that The Graduateinner life begins to appear. You can see things happen to the faces of people that were neither planned nor rehearsed. This is what Garbo was such a master of: actual thoughts that had not occurred before that particular take. And you can see this taking tremendous leaps with Brando and Clift and then with Streep.”

“The greatest thrill is that moment when a thousand people are sitting in the dark, looking at the same scene, and they are all apprehending something that has not been spoken. That’s the thrill of it, the miracle — that’s what holds us to movies forever. It’s what we wish we could do in real life. We all see something and understand it together, and nobody has to say a word. There’s a good reason that the very best sound an audience can make — in both the theater and the movies — is no sound at all, just absolute silence.”

Meryl Streep said: “What makes Mike so great is one of the hardest things for people temperamentally drawn to directing. People who direct tend to want to be in control, and Mike’s gift is knowing when to take his hands off and just let it happen. A lot of directors are still dealing with the text when you’re on the set. Mike has done all that beforehand, so when you get on the set you feel it’s a secure world where all the architecture is in place. You can jump as hard as you want and the floor won’t give way.”

Fleetingly Happier

From “When All You Have Left Is Your Pride,” by Benedict Carey, New York Times (April 6, 2009):

Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.

Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.

However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.

[Thanks Dōshin!]

Always Trying to Make it Grow

Rupert Everett photographed by Richard Burbridge for The New York Times “I wanted to be a movie star. You can’t say about work that I didn’t try very hard. That really wasn’t true. I’ve always been a great opportunist, but the opportunity was not always there. I had a difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly for a movie career. Being gay...just doesn’t work.”

“Everybody sabotages their careers to a certain extent, not consciously, but I don’t think I have more than anyone else. People get distorted ideas of themselves; being in this business, you can’t fail to. Suddenly you think you should be playing the Marlon Brando role in ‘On the Waterfront’ when you should really be playing a Noël Coward role. I think success in show business is a very heady wine when you’re a kid, particularly if it happens small, because you’re always trying to make it grow. There’s no happy moment in it, because you’re just grasping and elbowing, elbowing, elbowing your way to the next stop. And you make lots of wrong decisions because of it.”

~ Rupert Everett, from "Rupert Everett Is Not Having a Midlife Crisis," by Alex Withcel, New York Times Sunday Magazine (Feb. 18, 2009).

The Hardest Cut

VULTURE: What’s the hardest cut you’ve ever had to make?

DARREN ARONOFSKY: The hardest was while making this movie, actually. We had a scene near the end with Mickey in front of the mirror, where he’s talking and he just went to some incredibly deep, dark place. Seriously, it was possibly the finest piece of acting I’ve ever seen in my life. It was absolutely intense. And I had to cut it. It would have totally upset the balance of the film — it was that powerful. It was heartbreaking.

From “…on Mickey Rourke and the Benefits of Having a Small Music Budget,” New York Magazine (12.17.08)


What’s On Their Faces

Somebody “…when you are a child who is unwanted or unwelcome, and the essence of what you are seems to be unacceptable, you look for an identity that will be acceptable. Usually this identity is found in faces you are talking to. You make a habit of studying people, finding out the way they talk, the answers that they give and their points of view; then, in a form of self-defense, you reflect what’s on their faces and how they act because most people like to see reflections of themselves.”

~ Marlon Brando, talking about how his childhood insecurities provided emotional material which he used as an actor, from Songs My Mother Taught Me. This quote was part of a review by Michiko Kakutani of Somebody: the reckless life and remarkable career of Marlon Brando,  a new biography of the actor written by Stefan Kanfer.


Already Inside

From an interview with actress Michelle Williams in the New York Times yesterday:

Photo by by Simon Max Hill/Oscilloscope Laboratories[While portraying a character whose financial situation unravels] “I thought a lot about what you look like when you think nobody’s looking at you, when you feel completely invisible. Your entire life happens inside because you don’t think anyone notices you. Which is very different from me. Not that I don’t have any inside life, but I feel watched, all the time.”

“...Acting sometimes reminds me of therapy in that the more you talk about a traumatic or profound event, the more it loses its emotional tension. Switch on a bright light and find there is no boogeyman in the closet. So it is the same with a scene. Never tell the other actor or the director what you are doing.”

[She explained that the trick is to allow herself] “to live in so much mystery, to rely on a feeling, an instinct, on faith, really, that everything I need is already inside me, and best I just don’t block the exit.”

The Father

The actor Max Von Sydow photographed by Julian Schnabel.

“After Julian sent me the script, we didn’t discuss it very much. He didn’t tell me that, in some ways, I would be playing his father. But movies are like that — I had never met Mathieu Amalric until the day of our first scene, and he had to shave me. It was rather intimate, and he did cut me. But it’s always that way: you’re supposed to be involved with someone in the film and you’ve just met them for the first time and then, 10 minutes later, you say, ‘I love you,’ and you are in bed.”

“When I was making the film, it was impossible not to think about my father. I was born in Sweden, and my father, who was a professor of Scandinavian folklore, was 50 when I was born. When I was 20, he was 70, and on the day of his 70th birthday, he had a little stroke. Small strokes followed for the next four years. That changed him. And I regret that I was not more curious about him at that time. All the questions I would like to ask today, I haven’t asked.”

-- Max Von Sydow discussing his role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with Lynn Hirschberg (The New York Times, 1/27/08)


"Your art is too delicate. If you margot2desire the pat on the back too much, then you're not going to be true to the purest form of it. It's a constant struggle not to need the feedback, to try and stay true to your innermost voice. You need to protect it with a strong force field."

-- Nicole Kidman

"As an actress you have to be willing to be bad. margotYou have to be willing to jump off the ledge, which is a lazy metaphor but the best I can do right now. But, you know, a willingness to fall on your face and know that your director is going to catch you. If you don't have that, if you're protecting yourself in your performance, it's not going to be good."

-- Jennifer Jason Leigh

From separate conversations with Michael Cunningham about their new film Margot at the Wedding for Interview Magazine.

The Beauty of Building an Image

"I was once told that the age you are is the age you were when you became who you are. Does that mean I am perpetually 11? portmanI’m not sure I want to have that strict an image. In the movie business, there is such a temptation to stick with a particular persona. There is a kind of artistic branding. Sometimes I think I like the Glenn Gould approach. He obsessively played Bach’s Goldberg Variations over and over until he achieved a kind of perfection. Julia Roberts has a Glenn Gould-like career. And then there is Cate Blanchett. She is different all the time. I respect both approaches, but I don’t really want to always play a version of myself. The beauty of building an image is then you have something to break."

-- Natalie Portman, "Screen Goddess," Lynn Hirschberg, New York Times Style Magazine, 12/2/07

Concentrating, Being Nice, and Being Terrified

Insights from my in-flight reading:

“For me, it’s about concentration, right? Now, I’ve done scenes that people are like, ‘Oh, that’s so heavy. Do you stay in character? Do you take it home with you?’ I don’t. I do it and I get it done. It’s really just about concentrating very hard.”

—Clive Owen, Details

“You don’t have to do a lot to be seen as nice. I guess some of these people must be such rampant pricks that people are amazed when you say hello. I don’t know why people like me, and I don’t know if I want to know. That might be the kiss of death. I’d rather people not know a lot about me and go see the movies.”

—Matt Damon, Entertainment Weekly

“I think your work can be great when you’re completely terrified and don’t know at all what you’re doing. Took me seven, eight years to figure it out—I’m a slow learner. Acting to me now is interesting because I feel like I’ve achieved a base level of brutal competence.”

—David Duchovny, Entertainment Weekly