Actors on Performing (Working In The Theatre #343)


Hello, I’m Sondra Gilman,
chairman of the American Theatre Wing. Welcome to our Working in the Theatre Seminars. Today we’re going to focus on Acting.
We’ll be back, in a short period of time, to tell you a little more about the American Theatre Wing. But right now, let me turn you over to our panel,
and our moderator, president of the Rogers and Hammerstein Organization,
Ted Chapin. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, and welcome to this seminar. We
have today a panel of extraordinary performers, with distinguished careers on both sides of
the Atlantic, all of whom are appearing currently in shows in New York. Let me introduce the
panel to you. Lynn Redgrave, currently appearing in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music. (APPLAUSE) You can each get it! Jonathan Pryce, currently
in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. (APPLAUSE) Zoë Wanamaker, who’s in the Lincoln Center Theatre
production of Clifford Odets’ AWAKE AND SING! (APPLAUSE) Eileen Atkins, in DOUBT.
(APPLAUSE) And Richard Griffiths, in the Royal National Theatre production of Alan Bennett’s
THE HISTORY BOYS. (APPLAUSE) So welcome, and thank you for doing this.
I thought any conversation that involves American and British theatre invariably gets to a point
of talking about audiences and how different they are and how similar they are. But I thought
I’d ask Richard the first question because THE HISTORY BOYS has not only played a lengthy
run in London and is now in New York, but in between, it’s done sort of odd out-of-town
engagements in Sydney and Hong Kong and Auckland, or somewhere?
Wellington, New Zealand. Wellington. How did it play, that British
play play in all those places? Well, it really was bizarre. Hong Kong was
very strange, because they had these big screens on either side of the stage with the text
in, I believe, Mandarin Chinese and English. I don’t understand why it was in English.
(LAUGHTER) Surtitles, like the operas.
Yeah, yeah. And apparently, a couple of Chinese people I met at receptions afterwards said,
“You know, the Mandarin’s awfully good!” (LAUGHTER) So I have no idea. It’s all – I
mean, it’s Mandarin to me! (LAUGHTER) And it was just very strange because we would
do the show and there’d be a big, you know, “This is a terrific line, this always gets
a great [response] … keep going, keep going, keep going!” (LAUGHTER) And then, “Oh,
there’s a big laugh coming!” and keep going, keep going, keep going! And it was
really tricky, you know, just timing. You time lines sometimes depending on the
anticipation that there will be a laugh, so just hold back here, let – you know, it’s
George Burns’ advice, you know. “What’s the secret of comic timing?” He said, “I
say something. They laugh, so I shut up. (LAUGHTER) And then when they quit laughing, I’ll say
something else. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.” So you come to rely on this,
sometimes foolishly, you know, certainly if you’re in China. And you say the line that
you rely on and nothing happens, and suddenly you look like you’ve forgotten your lines.
And it’s not, it’s because you’re waiting for a laugh that is not ever going to come,
you know. So that was tricky. Then in New Zealand, I thought, “Oh, we’re
all right now. These are English – this is like – ” They say of New Zealand, it’s
like England was fifty years ago. England was never like New Zealand! (LAUGHTER) I mean,
not even a thousand years – well, maybe a thousand years ago. But – and that was
very strange as well, because there were modern things that we would say, although the play
is set in the late eighties, and the audience is, (LOOKS PUZZLED AND TURNS TO EILEEN) “ … do
you know what that was? I didn’t get that one at all!” (LAUGHTER) And so, that was
another stuttering thing. Whereas, the audience that we felt closest – apart from our own
home audience in London, is the one here on Broadway, which has produced the biggest buzz
in the guys and has produced the most focused, excited bunch of young actors I’ve seen
for a long time, since – virtually since we started doing the play.
Do you have to (WAGS HIS FINGER WARNINGLY) keep them in line here, the actors?
Well, you do, but don’t wave a finger! Don’t say, “You ought to do — ” Don’t – actually,
really the best way to keep them in line is just to shut up and then do it. Give an example,
but don’t complain to anybody because they are so vicious. (LAUGHTER)
The students, the boys? The boys, yeah. They’ll stand there, they’re
quick and they’ll fight. “We could take you down, in that!” (SNAPS HIS FINGERS;
LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So I don’t even go there. You know, discipline is some – like,
you know, with children at home, grandchildren and stuff, I say – well, I say, but I don’t
get heavy-handed with them, because it ultimately always backfires. (EILEEN LAUGHS)
We have a little clip of THE HISTORY BOYS. Let’s see what the Professor is all about
here. Let’s look at the clip. Okay. (THE CLIP STARTS)
Diffidence is surely to be encouraged! In an examination. They seem to have got hold
of this notion that the stuff they do with you is off limits, so far as the examination
is concerned. Well, that’s hardly surprising. I count
exams, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education. Which isn’t to say I
don’t regard education as the enemy of education, too. However, if you think it’ll help, I’ll
speak to them. Thanks, I appreciate it. And for what it’s
worth, I sympathize with these feelings about exams, but they’re a fact of life. I’m
sure you want them to do well, and well, the gobbets you’ve taught them might just hit
the bow (PH). What did you call them? Gobbets! Is that what
you think they are, gobbets? Handy little quirks that can be trotted out to make a point,
gob-bits? Codes, runes, spells, call them what you like. Do not call them gobbets!
I just thought it would be useful. Oh, it would be useful! Every answer hung
like a Christmas tree with the appropriate gobbets. Except that they’re learned by
heart (POUNDS HIS CHEST), and that’s where they belong. And like other components of
the heart, they are not to be defiled by being trotted out to order.
Right. So what are they meant to be storing them up for, these boys? Education isn’t
something for when you’re old and gray and sitting by the fire. It’s for now! The exam’s
next month. Hah! Yeah, and after the exam –
I – Life goes on!
And what if they don’t pass the final – Gobbets! (END OF TAPE; APPLAUSE)
It’s actually quite depressing to see that, because I notice two things. One of them,
I’m right about cross-lighting stinks, because you stand on the stage and you – the pair
of us are sort of moving up and down – Yep.
I’m asking him, I’ve got to go upstage – oh, better keep downstage, he’s got
another line to go. All of that’s going on is a waste of breath. And the other one
is, Stephen Campbell Moore looks very good on T.V. (LAUGHTER) So, it’s very good. I
remember Paul Jeston (PH) once went – he went to – I am telling stories!
Yes! Shut up! (EILEEN LAUGHS)
Jonathan, I wanted to ask you, because you certainly did MISS SAIGON, the same production,
in London and New York. And then other shows, you’ve done different productions, the same
part. What was it like with MISS SAIGON, with the audiences? Were they different? Did they
respond differently, or were they – Well, I have to say that the – well, the
Drury Lane audience was – because it’s two and a quarter thousand people, the entire
– and it was such a huge event in London, it was – it didn’t feel that much different
to the response in New York. And in fact, I couldn’t hear when you – it’s a completely
sung-through musical and the orchestra’s playing all the time. And you can’t always
hear the – the music never stops, so you can’t really hear the audience response.
And it was only when some kind person at the stage door gave me a bootleg CD – he taped
the show in New York, and he thought I might like to listen to it, and it was taped from
the audience. So I could hear, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve been getting laughs!” (MUCH
LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I had no idea. All you heard was the big cheers and the applause,
but the laughter that was going on, you – (SHAKES HIS HEAD)
Not aware! No.
Amazing. But it was – but there is certainly an added,
I think, it’s not – I mean, it’s more to do with yourself, I suppose – the added
excitement of working on Broadway. It just feels a bit different. You – there’s a
bit more of – you sense more of a buzz in the theatre. But it’s probably – it’s
– it’s probably just the same at home. We’re a little more reserved, I think.
Any other thoughts about British audiences, and America?
I’d agree about the a little bit more reserved. I don’t actually perform that often in England,
but I did – the last thing I did was NOISES OFF, about three or four years ago. And we
always knew when the audience was predominantly an American tourist audience, because they
behaved like Americans (LAUGHTER), which means, if they really liked it, they really let you
know! And not to knock British audiences, but there is a reserve, and as we’re all
British-born people here – No.
No, you’re not! No, American-born! Sorry, Zoë. There, I’ve got it all wrong. Yeah,
of course, I know that! There is a sort of, you know, “Well, let’s not get too excited
here. We’ve paid our money. The seat’s a bit narrow. We’re really enjoying it.
It was very good.” (LAUGHTER) Just a bit, do you know? And then – but American audience,
I love playing. I mean, I’ve – really in the last thirty years, I’ve played far
more over here. And if they like it, they really like it. If they don’t like it, they
walk! (LAUGHTER) And that – you know, the great thing is, “Nobody walked out today!”
I mean, you know you’re doing a good job. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, it’s good.
But I’ve rarely finished a soliloquy in Shakespeare and had “Awesome!” shouted
out. (LAUGHTER) Whereas, at DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, we’ve had that at the end of a couple of
numbers. (DOES AN AMERICAN ACCENT) Awesome! (LAUGHTER)
We’ve had a funny thing in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, in Los Angeles, where we
would have a lot – we had a lot of students come. And at the moment when we’ve finally
discovered who Earnest/Jack is, and Gwendolyn says – is very, suddenly very worried, she
says, “My own! But what own are you?” And invariably, they’d yell, “Cousins!”
(LAUGHTER) So it was wonderful. And they were so right!
Yes, too smart. Yes!
I read somewhere, Eileen, that you had said that you wanted to do DOUBT here, which – and
you replaced Cherry Jones, because it’s a play that would never be done in London.
Is that a misquote? Yes, it’s a bit of a moot point at the moment
altogether. Yes, every English person who’s come to see it averagely hasn’t liked it.
And I always seem to be (LAUGHS) in plays about sex (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), and then
you get in a very different situation, like the first play I did on Broadway, THE KILLING
OF SISTER GEORGE. They were truly shocked, the audience then. But the wonderful thing
is, yes, the British are not just reserved, they’re embarrassed. Now, in England, they
were too embarrassed to make any noises of shock. But here, they actually gasped. And
the wonderful thing is, in DOUBT, they gasp at the thought of what the priest might be
doing to the boy. And I don’t think the British would care a damn what the priest
was doing to the boy. Nnnn-nnh. (SHAKES HER HEAD)
We don’t have Catholics – we don’t have that many Catholics. Don’t forget, (LAUGHS)
we were the ones who became Protestants! (ZOË LAUGHS) We’re not overwhelmed with Catholic
schools. We don’t have – I mean, every time you come to the stage door, somebody
says to me, “Oh, I had a teacher just like you!”
And, I mean, the fun – I mean, I think it’s huge fun, the difference in the audience.
I find it much bigger than everybody else seems to find, because I mean, yesterday,
somebody in the audience, when Ron [Eldard] was speaking to me and getting very angry
with me, they shouted out, “Kill her! Kill her!” (LAUGHTER) And they said it twice.
And sometimes I get booed at the curtain call, which I love! (LAUGHTER) I mean, they take
it – So, you’ve done your job right!
Yes, but they do take it much more seriously. But we used to get that – I mean, I don’t
think – it’s, at times, peculiar to America. But we used to get it in Liverpool, when we
were playing to audiences in the seventies, which were a less sophisticated – certainly,
it wasn’t a London audience, but it was a less sophisticated audience that we were
attracting into the theatre at the Everyman [Theatre]. And they would shout out, I mean,
kill me was a shout that would go up. And it was again to do with Catholic and Protestant.
And I was playing a Protestant figure in a John McGraw (PH) play, who got beaten up by
two thugs on the stage. And there were nights of “Kill him! Kill him!” For real!
And also, I didn’t do THE GOAT here, I never saw it here, but I did do it in London. And
from what I could gather, they were very different sensibilities here than in London, where the
London audience was certainly less prepared to walk out and be shocked. Whereas, I gather
in New York, it was much more active (LAUGHS). They didn’t want to know. It was a slightly
more prudish view of it. But I found that the London response, across the board with
THE GOAT, was a – it was a kind of an intellectual approach to it. And they appreciated it for
what it was, beyond the fact that it was a man who was having an affair with a goat.
They found that quite interesting. They got the metaphor better than people here.
Yeah, we’re good on metaphor! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Now, Zoë, you’re in a new production here of a Clifford Odets play at Lincoln Center,
directed by an American. So this has been creative here?
Yes. How has it all come together? And the audiences
are liking it, yes? Oh, yes, very much. It’s the second time
I’ve been directed in America, with an all-American cast. And it was a completely new thing for
me. It all started because André Bishop, who runs the Lincoln Center, has always wanted
to do AWAKE AND SING!, and in some ways, he wanted to, I think, bring Clifford Odets back
to America in a way. Because since the black-listing, since his trial when he named names, he was
sort of – he’s never really been done on Broadway since, strangely. And I think
it’s just sort of given Clifford Odets a new airing. And it’s quite interesting,
because the poetry and the language in it is so beautiful. Well, not beautiful! Yes,
it is, it’s stunningly written. It is! It’s like French words. (PH)
Yes, that’s exactly it. I mean, the audience goes, “Ohhhh!” (ZOË
LAUGHS) And quite right, too. It’s a major poetic force, yeah.
And it’s also interesting, because it’s about the politics in the 1930’s, which
were very, very strong. And that’s another thing, it’s quite interesting how that period
was so important. And yet, it was trodden and it’s now negated. But it was a very
powerful time. A lot of socialism and communism, and liberalism was very important then. And
the dreams and the hopes of Americans were very, very strong. And that’s what it’s
– it hasn’t lost its energy, because of that. That’s what’s exciting about it.
Well, we happen to have a little clip of it. Why?
Should we take a look? A clip of Zoë Wanamaker in AWAKE AND SING!
Oh, my God. You don’t have to watch. (THE CLIP BEGINS)
A family needs for a rainy day. Times is gettin’ worse. Prospect Avenue, Dawson, Beck (PH)
Street, every day, furniture’s on the sidewalk. Just forget it, Mom!
Ralphie, I work too hard all my years to be treated like dirt. It’s no law that we should
be stuck together like Siamese twins. Summer shoes, you didn’t have. Skates, you never
had. But I bought a new dress every week? A lover I kept, Mr. Gigolo? Did I ever play
a game of cards, like Mrs. Marcus? Or were Bessie Berger’s children always the cleanest
on the block! Yeah, I’m not only the mother, but also the father. The first two years,
I worked in a stocking factory for six dollars, while Myron Berger went to law school. If
I didn’t worry about the family, who would? On the calendar, it’s a different place.
But here, without the dollar, you don’t look the world in the eye. Talk from now to
next year. This is life in America! (END OF CLIP; APPLAUSE)
You know, our dads were in an Odets together. That’s right!
Sam Wanamaker and Michael Redgrave were in WINTER JOURNEY, which sometimes is called
THE COUNTRY GIRL, sometimes WINTER JOURNEY. I was old enough to have seen it.
Oh, my! Yeah. It was wonderful. It was one of those times
that I remember very clearly. Yes, because he directed, and it was the first
time that England had seen a Method actor. Is that right?
Yeah! And he sat in, and Dad sat in the audience,
started the play as the director of the piece, playing the director.
Yeah, yeah. And sat in the audience, and nobody had ever
seen that before! That was 1950-blah! God, I can’t remember when it was.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, Method acting is something which we hear
about on this side of the pond. Is that something that’s anathema over there or -?
My dad, Michael, actually was really the first British actor – I don’t – the first
British actor of renown to very much embrace Stanislavski and his book, which is still
in print, “The Actor’s Ways and Means” is really the clearest guide to Stanislavski
that I’ve ever read. But generally, people – I think there are loads of people who
really do work in that way, it’s just they don’t identify it as that.
It’s all that stuff about – I don’t know, when I was a student in Manchester,
the terrible rows with people about the difference between emotional recall and stage technique.
And I was in the minority party, because I thought there was a place for technique, whereas
everybody else seemed to think that what you had to do was use your guts and exhaust yourself
and throw yourself into it every night. And I would say, “Yeah, but what happens when
you do a show for six months?” You know, you can’t just keep finding the emotions
of murdering somebody every night. It would be treacherous.
I mean, please! What are you doing to your brain? You know, and it was a terrible – you
know, it was an unresolved argument, because as students, you’re never actually put to
the test. You do two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival. That’s about the height of a student’s
experience of doing a run of a play. So you know, you had to wait till you actually went
out and worked in the business properly. Then you suddenly find –
That the technique is rather important? Technique is pretty important, too.
But it is a way of working which is, for some people, I think it’s – at least it’s
a – well, if you get lost. If your instinct stops, if you’re – you know, that you
have a way of finding out how to delve – to enrich, enliven what you’re –
Oh, yeah. No, no, I understand. The piece that you’re doing, and it’s
quite – the group of actors I’m working with, one actor has worked with Stella Adler
for six years, trained with Stella Adler. So that’s – I mean, that’s the whole
– that was part of the Group Theatre. So that was the legacy. And it’s fascinating.
You know, and there’s another actor who’s got a book, and he’s writing everything
down, all the time, all the time, all the time. It’s just fascinating how other people
work. And then it makes me feel guilty. I start – so I got a book. (LAUGHS) So I start
writing things! Oh, you mean he’s writing notes to himself?
Writing notes to themselves. Oh, right, yeah.
And doing character stuff. And – But I find when that happens, what tends to
happen is that that person you’re working with tends more often than not to internalize
and stops working with the other actor. Yes, I think.
Mine – if I have a process at all, it’s about (LAUGHS) – this is embarrassing, because
we’ve all worked together. (EILEEN LAUGHS) So, you know how I work, darling! (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) But I have an instinctive way of working. I generally, if I’m working
on a text like THE GOAT or an intense text, not necessarily a musical, I want to sit round
the table for two weeks with the actors. And it’s mostly – it’s text-based.
Well, yeah! And I relate what happens in the text to me,
and I don’t externalize – I don’t – you’ll see many – lots of my scripts don’t have
a single mark on them. And in the same – I’m a bit confused about it, in a way, but I – it
works for me. But when I was here in the seventies, I went and watched Lee Strasberg teach. And
he would have his open crit sessions on the Friday. And I have to say I didn’t take
to the man at all. I found him a bully – and maybe I shouldn’t say this? We’re recording
for life! No, you should! It’s good.
But I found him a bully, and I found it all about him. And I found that very difficult
to watch. It was like his show, yeah.
Yeah. That was the crit session. And also, I watched him teach at the school, and he
seemed to enjoy bullying people into an emotional response. They were doing emotional recall
things. If someone cried, there was a great sense of achievement.
Mmm-hmm. And there’s two things happened. I went,
as a guest, I had lunch with him, and I sat next to his wife, who was – Lee was talking,
and Anna said, “Isn’t this an extraordinary man? Don’t you think he’s absolutely brilliant?”
And I said, “Yes, yes, of course!” And then Al Pacino was at the table, and she said,
“That scene in DOG DAY AFTERNOON, where Al was outside the bank, shouting, ‘Attica,
Attica!’ and all the people surrounded him,” and she said, “That was one of Lee’s exercises.
That was the Caged Animal exercise.” And I said, “Oh. Why couldn’t he imagine he
was outside of a bank?” (LAUGHTER) He never talked to me again! (LAUGHTER)
But to be fair – and then Pacino said that he – who was a devotee of Strasberg, said
he did take just what he needed from that, and he was, you know, he had his own process
and his own emotional responses to it. But I do find, instead of internalizing, it tends
to externalize, I find, you know. But there isn’t – surely there isn’t
just one way. And even in one’s whole lifetime of doing it, I’ve – it depends on the
role, and it depends on the demands. I certainly have had times – I did a production of THE
MASTER BUILDER, playing Mrs. Solness, and she’s a woman who really is completely in
her own terrifying world. She’s not really communicating with Solness or with Hilda,
until she tells about the dolls. And so, it was enormously helpful to have this whole
interior life that did involve (LAUGHS) a great deal of notebooks and ritualistic music
and things, just to be able to come on with that sort of – particularly for me, because
I’m a gregarious sort of company person. And to be that solitary, as I felt, in order
to play her, I needed to be, so I found that fantastically helpful. Can’t say I do that
as Lady Bracknell, actually, no, you know? (LAUGHS) So, you know –
It is – I think it –
So, it just depends on what the demands of the show are, for me.
I think you’re right. I think it’s merged a lot more now. It used
to be an American way of acting, a British-y way. I think it’s merged a great deal now.
I mean, Ron Eldard and I approach our work in exactly the same way. There’s no difference
at all. I think one of the troubles you come across – unfortunately acting is a fashionable
job. I mean, if you look at past performances, you’re often – I mean, how many bits of
even film? I mean, even someone like Bette Davis, who I thought was a wonderful actress
in her day, I look at now and laugh at a bit. And it is – it changes – I mean, you have
to be amazing to survive over – so I think that we’ve sort of merged a bit now, American
and British. I don’t think you could tell much difference now.
It’s fashionable, in that it is susceptible to fashions?
Yes, absolutely. Yes.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Of its time, always. Yes.
I’m beginning to wonder exactly how Shakespeare is going to sound, too, now. And I know I
must keep an open mind. I know I’m an old person, and I mustn’t shut my mind off to
it. But when I hear everyone talking like this? And asking me if I’m all right? And
there’s always that little question? Oh, yes, yes.
At the end of the sentence? I think, “Are we going to have Shakespeare like this?”
And I think, “Yes, probably! It’s probably going to be, ‘To be or not to be?’”
Especially “To be or not to be,” it’d be very good! (LAUGHTER)
“Is that the question?” And it will be accepted, and it will be – someone will
say, “That’s brilliant!” Because it will be of its time. We’re all of the time,
and I think the best actors have to roll with that, rather.
Did you ever see that marvelous thing in films, if you look at costume dramas, if you look
at just movies about the days of ancient Rome (ZOË LAUGHS), what’s wonderful is that
whenever that film was made, the look of the Romans – which is always basically togas
and tunics – is exactly of the period in which the film was made.
Yeah! If it was the I, CLAUDIUS in 1934, everybody’s
rather, you know, sedately down here (GESTURES TO HIS KNEES) – the chaps, they’ve got
things that come here. And then, if you go to Steve Reeves in the sixties and all that
stuff (LAUGHTER), it’s like – it’s almost like a jock strap with a fringe on it, you
know? (LAUGHTER) And then, or the small – The hairstyles, as well.
The hairstyles are all – Yeah, exactly, yeah! The tailor’s mucking
(PH) about! I mean, it’s bizarre, that – you look
at it, you think, “That was made in ’35, ’36, around there sometime.” And even
though it’s always the same thing, you know, “This is the story of ancient Rome,” no,
it’s not! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It’s also why I can’t watch the – you
know, that thing on, that clip, because that was a – that was for the stage, a performance
for the stage. It’s a theatre! It’s not for telly.
I find it unbearable! Yes!
And that’s why that’s unbearable to watch. Yeah.
Because you just think, if this was on film, then you’d do it completely differently!
Absolutely! Yeah.
And that’s why these things are lies! They are terrible lies! (LAUGHTER) We all
hate them, I believe. Yeah, it’s true.
We all hate them. And we’re only doing it because they say
it’s “archival.” It’s for historical purposes, you know.
Exactly, yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Historical, yeah. Or they say you have to
plug the show or it’s not going to – But really, the only really good use of it
is if it gets revived in five years’ time, and people need to know what the blocking
was, so that somebody could do – that’s useful.
Or how not to do it! (LAUGHS) Or how not to, (MAKES A CROSS WITH HIS FINGERS
TO WARD OFF THE DEVIL) whoo!, do that. Ix-nay, yeah.
But you’ve made a film of HISTORY BOYS, in the middle of all this. I wanted to ask
you – Yes, but as a movie, and that’s completely
different. Was that a clip that we saw of the movie,
or was that of – I don’t think that appears in the movie
at all. No, that’s stage. That’s the stage.
That scene, that’s the stage, absolutely. And it’s the emptiest point of the stage.
Yes, of course! It’s the corridor scene. (PRETENDS TO SNORE;
LAUGHTER) And was that one done specially, not with
an audience? Or it was with an audience? No, that’s one of the archival –
This is called “B Roll,” and since you’re all in shows that are being archived –
B Roll. Yes, yes.
Yeah, but, I mean, as Zoë recalls it, I mean, I looked at it and I thought, “Dear lord,
imagine that being on TV and the audience will say, ‘Well, see what’s on C-Span,’
you know? (LAUGHTER) ‘It’s got to be more active than this,’ you know?” But it is
awful to look at those. I mean, I find it very hard to watch stuff anyway.
I can’t! They used to do those live things in England,
didn’t they, of West End shows? Yes!
Of Act One, anyway. “We take you directly to the Whitehall Theatre!”
(LAUGHTER) “The excitement is high! The buzz is enormous!
(LAUGHTER) And the curtain is going up!” “Another Faust by Brian Rick (PH)!” (LAUGHTER)
Now I’m terrified to show the rest of the clips!
Very, very big acting! Huge acting! I’m terrified to do this, but should we
look at another clip, or will I get stoned? Oh, God, are we looking at me now?
Well, would you like to look? I don’t know – whatever you say.
We have a little bit of Lady Bracknell. I know we’re going to go – we’re all
in for it, I know! (LAUGHTER) I can tell, it’s been set.
But the people who watch these like seeing this, so okay. Let’s look at a little Lady
Bracknell. Then let them have their pleasure! (LAUGHTER;
CLIP BEGINS) However, I am quite ready to enter your name,
should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?
Well, yes, I must admit I smoke. I am glad to hear it. (LAUGHTER) A man should
always have an occupation of some kind. (LAUGHTER) There are far too many idle men in London
as it is! How old are you? Twenty-nine.
A very good age to be married at! I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires
to get married should know either everything or nothing. (LAUGHTER) Which do you know?
(LAUGHTER) I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
I am pleased to hear it! (LAUGHTER) I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural
ignorance. (LAUGHTER) Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit; touch it, and the
bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately,
in England at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. (LAUGHTER) If it did,
it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence
in Grosvenor Square! (END OF CLIP; LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE)
You see, and that was filmed at the Ahmanson, which is a two thousand seat house, and we’re
all acting very big and a little slower, because it’s huge there.
That’s right. You have to fill the space. I could hear it slower than absolutely you
would have been doing it if that had been – you’d known that – you know, if you
were filming it. Oh, if I was filming it, I think it would
have done it quite differently. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, yes. I think actors know and sort of take it in.
Nicole Kidman would be playing it. Yeah, Nicole Kidman would be playing it! (LAUGHTER)
You’re getting all your laughs there, darling! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Now, you’ve all done films, and I believe that Zoë and Richard have done a couple of
films about this kid’s book of some kind, I can’t remember what it’s called?
Uh-huh. Oh, yeah! Yeah, children’s book –
They’re changing the lights for it, for Harry Potter!
(IRRELEVANT MATERIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED) Speaking of films and acting in films, I believe
that the two of you, Zoë and Richard, were a couple of films about a couple of kids’
books? Oh, yes! She [J.K. Rowling] only ever wrote
five so far, and she’s worth eight billion dollars. Oh, yeah!
You’ve been in America for a while. I like the way he said “eight billion dollars”!
Yeah, I can say it now! I can actually say it. I have never seen it, I wouldn’t know
how many trucks you need to carry it. (LAUGHS) Right, right!
But Joanne Rowling has it for Harry Potter, oh yeah. It’s great me, ‘cause as Uncle
Vernon, I’m expected to be horrible to kids, which I like, because I am, you know? (LAUGHTER)
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love kids! But I couldn’t eat a whole one. (LAUGHTER)
And they come up to me and they expect me to be nice, you know, and they say, “Oh,
would you sign this for my son?” and I say, “No! Go away, odious little brat! You should
be in bed. It’s eleven-thirty at night. You’d be arrested if ever I had anything
to do with it. Take him away!” And they say, “I’m so – oh, I’m sorry!” And
the kids say, “Oh, it’s okay, he’s like that, so – ” (LAUGHTER)
How you get away with it. Because the kids are all clued (PH) about
me being horrible, you see, so the more horrible I am, the more they go, “Oh, yeah, fine,
okay.” But are you recognized in strange places?
Oh, tell me! Strange places.
My elbow. (ZOE LAUGHS) No, no, I do get recognized, but I just hate it. The one that most upset
was being in a Tesco (PH) Supermarket, you know? I mean, it was about midnight. I was
prowling around, I can’t – I dread to think what I was looking for. But there was
this kid! And he said, “Would you come and tell my twelve-year-old that you’re Uncle
Vernon?” and I nearly wanted to just bite his head off, you know? “No! I’m not here
for your entertainment! I’m very busy, I’m looking for the pharmacy section. Now, get
away from – you should be in bed, get out of here!” (LAUGHTER) The kid was, “Yeah,
fine, that’s okay!” And that’s basically –
Because he knew how you were! Yeah, yeah. Because I have very mixed – no,
I don’t. I have very clear feelings about autograph hunters. There are some that like
to collect autographs, and they’re fine. Then there are others for whom it’s almost
a profession, and they are loathsome, because they take your stuff and then they sell it.
And I really – so I don’t do photos anymore. So if anybody’s watching this, don’t ask
me for a photo, ‘cause I don’t do them any more. I used to spend a lot of money on
it, but no more. And why, you know? Anyway, that’s all kind of – gets in the way of
stuff. But when it’s just stories, that’s fine.
Yeah, it’s to do with cash, now, that. Yes, it’s horrible.
As you say, there are few who are genuine. Yes. You can sort of tell.
But somebody once said to me that television actors, because they’re in everybody’s
living room, when you’re in an airport, people will, you know, deal with you like
you’re an old friend. Whereas movie actors, there’s a little bit more respect. And theatre
actors, if, you know – do you find that or is it –
Is there a bit more distance? I think so. A little respect?
Not in New York! One of the things I love about New York is, nearly every time I come
back, and I know it happens to Jonathan and the others, but they – because I spend more
time in London than living here, when I come in, people actually say to me in the street,
“Hi, Eileen, nice to see you back!” I mean, people I don’t know at all! “What
are you doing?” You know, that is genuine. That’s a real interest in what’s going
on, on Broadway or Off-Broadway, or wherever. Plus, they know who you are!
Yes, that’s exciting! Yes, yes.
Dean Martin said, “They don’t know your name, you’re nobody.” And they never know
mine. Oh, they will!
I think they will, Richard. No, they don’t.
They will. But is there a different community of theatre
artists in England than there is here? I think it’s to do with geography. (GENERAL
AGREEMENT) Here, I love it. You are like a village, and it is a theatre community, really
here. We allow some film stars in, (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) but averagely – or TV –
Nicole Kidman, a couple of years ago. But it’s a theatre community. And then you
have to choose here. I feel sorry for actors here, because they have to choose. Here or
the coast? Are they going to make movies, or here? Very few of them manage both, too
easily. But in Britain, we’re all in London, really. I mean, we go to the other places.
But – if you’re going to make a movie, you might go on location, but you get it from
London. You don’t have to – so it’s also –
So it’s easier to move – So it’s a nice small group of theatre here,
and it really is like a village. Whereas London’s somehow bigger and more spread out, we can’t
all live there. It’s also actually more fun to work in New
York, because I was – I mean, like today, we wouldn’t be all doing this in England
if we were in shows in London. No.
There wouldn’t be a venue where – There are places – there is a venue, sorry.
Well, there may be, but – no, I’m not saying there isn’t. But I’m saying that
the times I’ve played in London it’s been very rare to come across another actor. Partly
it’s transport. Exactly.
After the show at night, London is so spread out, people often live outside. They’re
worrying about the car service or the tubes ending or whatever. Here, on little tiny Manhattan
– and Brooklyn! (LAUGHTER) – you can – you know, the chances are, any time you do a run
here, you go into – either get to know or re-meet many of your friends and colleagues
and have a really fun time meeting up, saying, “How did yours go?” “Oh, we had a lovely
show tonight,” blah-blah-blah. And now, because the Internet – there’s
a huge Internet industry surrounding theatre in New York, and site and site after site.
Yeah. And you don’t get that at home at all.
You really can’t. I mean, I – you just don’t see it.
No, you barely get a mention in the newspaper. Yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
And if so, it may not be what you want to read!
And no other actors know you’re on in anything, and you don’t know they are either!
There’s a kind of a hunger here, there’s a –
Yeah. You know, you can – which is an enjoyment
of going to see other people doing shows – Yeah, yeah!
And sharing experiences, sharing – and enjoying other people’s performances and going to
see it. So people turn up at your – the most enlightening people turn up in your dressing
room! And they’re openly genuine and nice and interested and excited by it.
Yeah. We don’t get that in England at all!
No, no. It’s all very subdued and – and, you know
– But it is that we are all spread out!
Come to my dressing room, then! (LAUGHTER) I have to – oh, you were going to say –
They wouldn’t let me in, I tried! (LAUGHS) It’s just that you can’t even meet now,
after the show in London. No, you can’t.
I mean, here, it’s so easy! You walk two blocks. Or you’re driven two blocks! (LAUGHTER)
That’s a line of demarcation! And let me tell you, in London, you are not
driven! I don’t know, maybe one person is, I don’t know. But it’s so hard. I mean,
one of my best friends, Sean Phillips (PH), who’s just moved to North London, and I
live in West London. Well, I hardly ever see her now.
You never see her now! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’s an hour and a quarter for me to get
to her, you know? I mean, it’s ridiculous. So it is lovely. We’re all together here,
and that’s really nice. I have to say, though, as a native New Yorker,
I’m honored by what you’re saying here. One of the things that I’ve always felt
about the sort of difference between British theatre and American is that there seems to
be an imagination that is encouraged in the English theatre that I don’t know that it’s
encouraged here, just in terms of production, in terms of way of performing, way of directing,
way of conceiving productions. Am I crazy or do you feel that or — ?
I don’t know. I haven’t done enough over there in recent years, so.
Well, I think the National Theatre’s made a huge difference. I mean –
Yeah. It’s a little size, but maybe it’s an
influence from, we’re closer to Europe and to other things that are going on, a little
bit more experimental still. But certainly, Bart, who directed AWAKE AND
SING! – Bart[lett Sher], yes.
Is a text – he’s a – Very text-orientated, very, very much so.
But also, loves European theatre, and has been a scholar of it. I mean, Cantor (PH)
and Pina Bausch and people like that who is – you know, he thinks that they’re fantastic.
So that’s an area. And also, you know, went to university in Leeds – (LAUGHS) for God’s
sakes, I don’t know why! – did it. And so – and he’s very political, and that’s
sort of quite interesting. So he brought all that European-ness to his productions, I think.
Well, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, I think, has that kind of feel of it. It’s very strong.
That’s great. We’re now ready to take a little break and hear a few words about
the American Theatre Wing. Oh, goody. (APPLAUSE)
(BREAK) I want to talk a little bit about the institutional
theatres that are in London, specifically the National. But I want to start with a confession
that the very first job I ever had in the professional theatre, when I was sixteen years
old, was assisting John Dexter, who taught me a great deal at age sixteen, I have to
say! But I know that you worked with John. He was sort of quin –
I’ve worked with him several times. And I adore John Dexter, though I saw him be pretty
harsh to many, many people. And I think the reason we got on well was, John was utterly
brilliant, but he was a bully and he would pick on the person who could least take his
bullying, and therefore then they would become it.
My first job for him, I was a student ASM for a pound a week at the Royal Court, and
he was just re-doing a production of WEST (PH) GOES THE KITCHEN (PH), with Robert Stephens,
and Jeremy Brett was just taking over from Robert Stephens. Anyway, I was the coffee
girl, and I was very excited about making coffee the first day. I’m coming out in
the break with twenty-five or thirty coffees, with my special Lynn touch, hot milk. And
I dropped the entire tray (GASPS) in the middle of them, going – and he screamed, “You
stupid – ” and then he used a word I actually hadn’t heard before, but I knew it was really,
really bad. (LAUGHTER) And I just – I wanted to die and I wanted to cry. And out of sheer
hysteria, I laughed. (LAUGHTER) And from then on, we got on great. And we
did a lot of shows. I did several shows at the National with him. I did BLACK COMEDY
on Broadway with him. I did his first film, which was THE VIRGIN SOLDIERS. And in BLACK
COMEDY, he would sometimes say – you know, suddenly come ‘round and say, “Call that
a performance?” and I would say, “Call yourself a director?” And then we’d laugh,
and then he’d give me some fantastic notes. And he was brilliant, but I did see him be
quite, quite harsh to people. I’m sure some others here have worked with him.
I never worked with him. He was brilliant!
But I’ve been around him, and he did pick on someone, always. Did you not find that,
when you worked with him? Were you the pickee? Well, I learned the same word, which I hadn’t
known as well. Yes, yes!
But “dizzy” came first, and it was about another actor.
Ah, yes! Which I thought, “Oh, that was strange!”
No, I mean, he breathed – I mean, when the show opened, one of the reviewers here said,
“John Dexter breathes theatre the way the rest of us breathe air.” And I thought,
to me, that’s part of the sort of tradition in the British theatre that there’s kind
of a theatricality and – a built-in theatricality, which, in places like the National and the
Royal Court – He was astonishing. He really was astonishing,
they way he would – I mean, the Wesker plays, like CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING that came here.
But are there others like him, in – or was he unique? Because he did run the –
Oh, no, no. No, not unique. There are lots of – surely, lots of marvelous directors.
They seem to have all disappeared, haven’t they?
What, the good directors, are we talking? (LAUGHS)
Directors of the heart, or the tough ones. People who directed like that.
Another generation. Yes, that generation was really –
I think – And then there was a gap.
And what’s there now? What’s the generation now? (JONATHAN SIGHS; EILEEN LAUGHS)
Well, the number of good directors are always only on one hand, really. I mean –
Yeah. You’re lucky if you can fish around for
five. Yes, I would totally agree with that.
Right? Yes.
And there are some new ones coming up. Yes …
There’s some new – there’s some very good ones, young ones. And also a couple of
women, which is thank God! It’s about time there were some good women on that directorial
side. Yeah.
Yes, absolutely. Another experience I had was Alan Arkin, who
was an actor who became a director. So in early years, I had John Dexter, who was – it
seemed to me to be about the totality, and Alan Arkin, who was as an actor so brilliant
at giving actors what they need. Do you find that that’s what – which is rare.
It is rare. All I know is that sometimes, I mean, there
are directors who can not direct traffic. And literally, they cannot direct traffic.
And they get away with it because if it’s a good play and it’s well-cast, and you
know, we’re not all stupid – you know, if it’s a moment we need to take focus,
we’ll all help each other do that. And there are directors, amazingly, and I come upon
them from time to time, who actually don’t like actors very much. And when I get one
of those, I just remember that until there was electric light, there were no directors,
because the day they got electric light and they went, “You – excuse me, Richard,
you need to move over there, ‘cause that’s where you’re lit!”
Yes. And a director was born. (LAUGHTER) And so,
while I have the greatest respect for an extraord – you know, this, the five that –
Yeah. We won’t name any names! But it’s rare
to find that combination of wonderful actor-directors who know how little or how much some – some
people want their hand held. Some people want a million notes. Some people function best
left alone a bit, depending on what it is. It’s very rare to find somebody who can
direct traffic and truly set the actor free. And so, I’ve done a lot of sort of, you
know, remembering of the invention of electricity in my life.
Yes! Peter Hall loves actors, I have to say, so
that’s always nice. Yeah.
Really, it’s always to do with language, isn’t it, as far as the director is concerned?
It’s what language they can use that can open – is the key that opens your imagination.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that’s your imagination.
Yeah. And if they understand your personal use of language as well, that’s terribly
important. Yes, exactly.
But we’ve all been there with the person who’s said – I mean, I recall somebody
at the RSC at Stratford years ago, whose basic technique used to be to say, “Good! Uh … let’s
run it again!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And then you’d do it, and he’d say, “Good,
let’s run it again.” (LAUGHTER) And this needle was never lifted out its — (LAUGHTER)
The next part, it’d be, “Good, let’s run it again.”
I think people would be stunned if they knew how often the actor pulls the show through.
Yeah. Really! I was in a quite famous production
of HEARTBREAK HOUSE years ago, and I’m sorry, dear – I – he was – I don’t know whether
to say it – yes, he’s dead, I can say it! It was John Schlesinger, who’s a wonderful
film director. Wonderful! Knew everything about the camera! He knew nothing about the
theatre at all. And we used to go in early – we all agreed, within a couple of, about
a week, two weeks, that it wasn’t going to be any good. And we got in early, and we
used to rehearse in somebody’s dressing room until John came, and then go and do what
he – and it went down as one of the great productions! It was totally done by the actors,
rehearsing on their own. Really. Yes, yeah.
Yeah. That’s right – again, it was famous for pulling these shows out of the bag. And
it was actually actors saving their lives in exactly the same way you’ve just described.
Well, I don’t know if this is a good segue, but should we take a little clip of DOUBT?
Oh, gosh. All right. (LAUGHTER) Well, equal pain for everyone.
Yes, absolutely. This was happy directing, wasn’t it?
I don’t even – who? It was happy directing.
Happy directing. Doug Hughes directed this.
Good time? Yes, but it was very difficult, because it
was the first time that I had ever taken over. I had never done that before.
Oh, right. And it was the first time he’d ever had
anybody taking over, too. I know Jonathan has just had this. I don’t know whether
Jack [O’Brien] was more used to it. But he – with all of the good intentions in
the world, when I was finding my way to something, because in his head, he knew Cherry’s answer–
It’s – oh! He want – you know, I knew he was wanting
to give me that answer. Oh, yeah.
Which probably wasn’t your answer. Exactly. It was not at all my answer, because
I gather we’re – I never saw her. I couldn’t do a performance of anything if I’d seen
the actor do it. So I – it was very, very different. In the end, I think it was okay,
but it was a bump – it was bumpy sometimes. Yeah, it was bumpy. We, you know.
I think it’s more than okay. Let’s take a look at it. (THE CLIP BEGINS)
You have not the slightest proof of anything! But I have my certainty! And armed with that,
I will go to your last parish, and the one before that, if necessary. I will find a parent,
Father Flynn. Trust me, I will! A parent who probably doesn’t know that you’re still
working with children. And once I do that, you will be exposed. You may even be attacked,
metaphorically or otherwise. You have no right to act on your own! You
are a member of a religious order! You have taken vows, obedience being one of them! You
answer to us! You have no right to step outside the Church!
I will step outside the Church, if that’s what needs to be done, though the door should
shut behind me. I will do what needs to be done, Father, if it means I’m damned to
hell. You should understand that, or you will mistake me. Now, did you give Donald Muller
wine to drink? Have you never done anything wrong?
I have. A moral sin?
Yes. And?
I confessed it. Did you give Donald Muller wine to drink?
Whatever I have done, I have left in the healing hands of my confessor, as have you! We are
the same. Oh, we’re not the same. A dog that bites
is a dog that bites! I don’t justify what I do wrong and go on. I admit it, desist,
and take my medicine. Did you give Donald Muller wine to drink?
No! Mental reservation?
No! You lie. Very well, then. If you won’t leave
my office, I will! And once I go, I will not stop. (END OF CLIP; APPLAUSE)
Oooh! I must just tell an extraordinary thing that’s happened to me, because it just made
me feel very strange – odd things, not really to do with acting. But in trying to get it
– I’d been to a dialogue coach, to try and get sort of American Irish. And I was
longing to hear Frank McCourt talk, because of him – you know, in Ireland he was nineteen,
which is what I imagine this woman probably was, and then coming here. And in the middle
of rehearsals, I came back from rehearsal one day and just pinged on the television
to watch a thing, and there was Frank McCourt being interviewed and I heard half-an-hour
interview with him. On Sun – Sunday night or Monday night, I
can’t remember, I did this thing for Alan Bennett – it must have been Monday night.
And I had to do a whole lump about the Queen, the current Queen Elizabeth the Second. And
I was just thinking, “Gosh, if I was at home with her 80th birthday, I could have
heard her! And I can’t quite remember the voice!” And I didn’t go to the party of
THE HISTORY BOYS, ‘cause I went back to work. And I had done – I thought, “Well,
you’ve done as much as you can now.” And I pinged on the television, I got the Queen
in the middle of a speech. (LAUGHTER) So I’m beginning to feel there’s some work going
on somewhere that I don’t know! (LAUGHTER) There’s a strange feeling, a spine-chilling
thing! Now we know what television is for! (LAUGHTER)
Yes! (DOES THE TWILIGHT ZONE THEME) Doo-dee doo-dee,
doo-dee doo-dee! I imagine in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, you
– was there a little more freedom to re-create the part? Or create the part that John Lithgow
had created originally? It was – yes, there was freedom to re-create,
based on – I was very fortunate. I had never done this before, but it was – what I had
was the footprints, as it were, to – what they call the choreography! (LAUGHS)
Right! To work on, so the first things I did, I learnt
all the songs in London to save time. I didn’t have much time when I got here. I learned
all the songs. How much time did you have, rehearsal time?
About four weeks. Four weeks. That’s good.
Yeah, and not all day, ‘cause they were all working.
No way! Of course. Just a few hours in the middle of the day.
And I worked with the understudies for most of that time, just learning the choreography
and learning the songs. And then on top of that, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.
And the people I was working with, eventually when Norbert [Leo Butz] came in and when Jack
O’Brien came in, they were thrilled to get something – after two years for them, almost,
to get something new. And I find it inspi – rather than being inhibiting, that whole
process of replacing John, it was actually liberating. It was quite a good experience.
Well, we do have a clip! (LAUGHTER) DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Jonathan Pryce. (THE CLIP
BEGINS) (singing)Love sneaks in, when everything seems
quiet! Sets the bait, and like a fool, you buy it!
Your famous self-possession’s vanished from your repertoire!
This is what can happen when you leave the door ajar.
And love sneaks in, and whispers to you sweetly. Silly words, that change your life completely.
You’re fumbling in the dark, the master’s now the mark,
You’re out of luck if love sneaks in on you!
(THE CLIP ENDS; APPLAUSE) Lovely!
It makes a better (PH) film, I think! Look at me all sweating, and then, “Here we go,
now he’s gonna –” (TAKES A BIG GASPY BREATH) And then –
It’s about the three minutes that I stand still. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Right! The rest is all me running around like an
idiot, yeah. But I heard you say in an interview that when
you did MISS SAIGON, which was your first musical, that you found yourself – you found
the rigidity of having to stay in the rhythm of music somehow freeing.
It was a new discipline, aged forty, to come to that! It was the first musical I did. And
when I had done – as I did Shakespeare with these guys – and –
We were going to do a musical. What?
We were going to do one. We were going to do a musical. Guess which
musical we were going to do? What? What?
And we blew it! I blew it. Guess what we’d be good casting for? (ZOE
LAUGHS) When? Thirty years ago.
Come on, tell us then. Laurel and Hardy!
Ohhh! Oh, I’m so sad you didn’t do that!
Oh, that would be good! Fantastic! It never happened.
Yeah, I couldn’t put the weight on! No! (LAUGHTER)
It was like that. Hysterical. I still regret it.
Oh, God, I would like to – I would have enjoyed that.
But having done Shakespeare, when I didn’t necessarily, you know, keep to the iambic
pentameter. I always treated it like a new text, and if it fitted in, it fitted in, so
the rhythm, what I wanted to say. And then I started working on the musical. And I was
trying to work on it in the same way as I worked on any other text, and sort of faltering
my way through it and thinking my way through it. And they indulged me for a while until
I stopped at one point, ‘cause it was all sung, there was no dialogue. And I stopped
in it, and the conductor said, “Right. That’s the last time I’m going to let you stop.
From now on, whatever happens, I and the orchestra will – because I can not stop a forty-piece
orchestra while you think.” Wow!
Oh, great, yeah. So it was a great discipline to let – it
was think – you know, think, speak – which is what you tell actors all the time, “Don’t
think and then speak. Think while you’re speaking.”
That’s right. And in music, you have to do it. And it was
wonderful. It was a great relief for me to know that there was this guy – eventually,
down the line, we were able to work a little bit more together and it became a bit more
like jazz or something, where it was – he would listen to what I was doing. But I found
it very freeing. And it meant you could do something for two years, which is what I ended
up doing that for. I also remember Nick Hytner talking about
the tech week. Because of the technical advances in the theatre today, he had rehearsed you
all in the rehearsal studio into the theatre, and now, for a week, it was all about computers
and helicopters and lights and, you know, sort of –
Yeah, yeah. And we’ve sort of gotten to this point,
and now we have to sit and wait while the technical gets it, and then put the show back.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But very exciting when they did put everything together, brilliant.
Oh, I would certainly think so. Let’s talk a little bit about Shakespeare. You – obviously,
those of you – well, you all – you grew up in England, right? Or did you grow up — ?
I grew up in England, yes, basically. But you’re American-born?
Yes. But I mean, obviously Shakespeare is very
– still important in the training and the theatre?
Well, I think so, yes. Well, training, but not in schools.
No, not in schools. No, less and less.
Really? I didn’t know that. Yes.
Yeah. It’s removed from some syllabuses, yes.
Is it? Scary, yeah.
That’s sad. Because people think it’s – ?
Too difficult! ‘Cause it’s too difficult, archaic. Nobody
knows how to teach it anymore. That’s really it.
I’ve heard about it. Yes, it’s a lack of skill, I think.
I think it’s a lack of skill. Yeah. But the whole theatre thing is in such
trouble in England. I mean, when I was a student, it was over thirty years ago, this – you
know, it’s like a hundred and fifty years’ experience, at least, right here, of all our
stuff. And in those days, there were – virtually every town over seventy thousand people had
a rep theatre. And I mean, the money was terrible, but it was a job there. And all the cities
had two or three theatres. And of course, London was chock-a-block.
And now, thirty years down the pike, all of those sources are pretty well gone. There
are about twelve, fifteen regional theatres now. And the Royal Shakespeare Company’s
in serious trouble, has been through a terrible lacuna in its history, a terrible gap there.
And the National Theatre is on a big roll at the moment, because Nick Hytner’s done
fantastic things. But it’s significant by its rareness. You know, it’s not like – this
is happening everywhere. Everywhere is in decline. And there’s a lot of denial about
this, but in fact it’s true. The other thing is, that’s bizarre, it’s
apropos of students, is that when I was a student, there were twelve – count them!
– twelve recognized drama schools pumping out three or four hundred kids a year into
the business. Today, if you look at the contacts, professional magazine with everybody in the
business’s names and addresses and numbers, there are seventeen pages of drama schools
pushing out upwards of six thousand kids a year. But there’s only four hundred jobs,
so. And the majority of those are – they’re
no longer – it’s not necessarily training you for the profession.
Yeah. It’s for a degree, it’s all part of –
Mmm-hmm. Just to get a grant, you have to, right? Now,
right? Yeah, you have to have it, yeah. And why?
Oh, and I feel so fortunate, because I grew up – a great deal of my childhood was at
Stratford-on-Avon, because my mum and my dad played there so often and I had a best friend
there whose father was the manager, so even if it was a season that they weren’t there
I just grew up going to Shakespeare. The first play I ever saw was my dad as Hamlet when
I was four. You just went to Shakespeare. So I – it – there was never a barrier,
perhaps because I was so fortunate to be, you know, a Shakespearean actor’s child,
that there wasn’t a barrier between us and the language because that was part of my growing
up. And indeed, I think in my childhood – as you say, it’s changed now – but most people,
you know, they went to their Shakespeare, didn’t they?
Yeah! That’s how I first met Eileen, at –
Yes, yes, we played tennis! We did!
And I met Zoë, she doesn’t remember, when she was two! (LAUGHTER) Because her father
was playing Iago. Yes!
And my then-husband was understudying him. And –
I was ten! You were ten?
Ten! You seemed to be tiny! (LAUGHTER)
And you were crawling, yes! And you were only crawling, too!
Are you sure? You were ten then? Gosh, you were tiny. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I remembered
you as a really tiny little girl. But I can remember your father saying to me – to me,
and I was (LAUGHS) a walk-on in the company, only just in the company – I can remember
him, the wonderful openness of him, saying, “Look, I don’t understand. You talk about
these – not me,” he said, “But you talk about these iambic pentameters. I’ve a – ” You
know, and he was looking a half line. And I thought, he can’t – and I said, “No,
but you finish it on the next page.” And he said, “Oh, thank you!” And he was probably
just being nice to me, but I – he was so open to everybody. This was one of the first
people we’d had at Stratford who talked to the – (TO LYNN) I mean, your father was
wonderful! But he was very much separate; he was a very shy man, anyway.
Oh, yes! He was, yes. And Sam was one of the first people who really
talked and was marvelous. And he would say, “I don’t know. I haven’t been brought
up in the Shakespeare, tell me!” to almost anybody.
I don’t understand why he got this obsession for the Globe [Theatre], then!
Well, then he did – I think he then did get a massive obsession.
Well, it was from a very early age I think he got this bug.
I think it was just he couldn’t believe it.
The Globe is fantastic! I mean, what – the legacy that your dad began, and that –
Yeah, we should talk about that a little bit. That he continued on, I mean, it’s extraordinary
to – I’ve seen a lot of productions at the Globe, Shakespeare’s Globe –
‘Cause, of course, Corin [Redgrave] – And seen foreign productions, as well! We
saw an extraordinary Argentinean street theatre ROMEO AND JULIET – extraordinary!
Yeah, yeah. Just it – and it – just to go in there,
and it’s so vibrant and it’s so full, and that’s a fantastic thing. And honestly,
I – since we’ve talked about American-English theatre – I don’t think an English person
could ever have got the Globe built. It was –
No. It had to be –
Yes, I agree. And it was under such a terrible British opposition.
I mean, even I – Yes! Oh, fantastic.
I thought it was an anathema, and I thought it was – I mean, I was embarrassed by it,
when he was trying to start – When he was trying to do it?
When he was trying to get it done, because nobody really wanted to know.
No! No sort of – and I think he felt very American
then, and very ostracized, because he was treated – it was treated like it was going
to be a Disney thing. Yeah.
And I was even slightly embarrassed, because I thought, “Well, if all my friends think
he’s – ” You know, I just – I was shy about it! Then of course he – it took
him twenty-seven years to build the bloody thing.
But his whole life – it’s strange, wasn’t it? I mean, his whole life projected this
idea. Because he started out, he told me once, in the World’s Fair – was it Chicago or
New York? Yes, yes!
And he was a kid, and he took part in, like, a dozen cut-down versions of Shakespeare in
a mock-up of Shakespeare’s Globe. So he had a real feel for it, and he had the thing
of the people coming in and, you know, being in the pit and all of that stuff. So he had
it in his mind in a way that no English actor had it at all. So that he came to England
and was able to work here, and then he – he just, like a tourist, went down to the South
Bank one day and said, “So where is Shakespeare’s Globe? Where was it at?” And nobody knew!
And he prowled around, until on a dirty, you know, soot-stained brick wall there was a
little plaque on the side of a brewery, and on this plaque it said, “It is believed
(LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) that this is the site of Shakespeare’s theatre, the Globe.”
And even that vanished, that – the plaque – they tore that – that place down, the
brewery was that, redevelopment, you know. And not even the plaque was there anymore.
And he, so he got the bee in his bonnet, “There should be something! Probably just a nice
kind of, you know, I’m thinking of a little Chinese theatre plaque, you know, in the sidewalk
might have done. If they’d have done that, he’d have probably walked away and said,
“Oh, okay, that’s where it is,” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) and forgotten about it.
I don’t – Well, how much do you think that the institutions
at the RSC – especially the RSC – has contributed to the decline of the appreciation
of Shakespeare? (RICHARD SIGHS) I feel that the answer to that question, the sense – there
was a sense of the RSC that they, every year, had to do Shakespeare.
Yes! Yes, they have – they used to have a chance
to do the whole canon. And they have to repeat – they have to find
– to churn up yet another reason for doing that play yet again.
That’s what gets me. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
And I felt it’s – that’s kind of run its course.
Yeah. I don’t know. I felt like that at one point
– when I was – I think one changes in age. I think that I did think at one time,
when I was there, “Oh, I wish nobody would do Shakespeare for ten years! I’m, you know
–” Yes.
“Sick to death of the plays, just stop it all!” But now, I’m really grateful that
it’s – and I’m terribly sad to hear it’s been taken off so –
Well, it did kind of – they did stop it all for a bit, ‘cause nobody was going.
(LAUGHS) And productions weren’t coming to London, so there was a lull.
But I think it was – And then a hunger began, and people started
looking for other places, like in the Tobacco Factory in Bristol and –
Right. Oh, yes, that –
Innovative productions of Shakespeare, so it’s –
Innovative productions, people who found a, you know, a true reason to do it, other than
it’s on the school syllabus, the students are studying MACBETH this year, so we’ve
got to do a production of MACBETH, and they push in a thousand school kids to watch it.
And they don’t want to, no. But I just must say, you said, “Innovative
produc –” No, I’ve been down to the Tobacco Factory, and it’s quite the reverse.
What was happening was that the RSC were trying to be too innovative –
Yeah. They’ve gone back to the text. And when I went to the Tobacco Factory, and
you suddenly get the play, just spoken, by a new cast, you think, “Oh, this is wonderful!”
Yeah, yeah. No sets, nothing! And then you suddenly thought
it was wonderful again. Because I think they’d been over –
See, now that’s innovative! Yes! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
I’ve lived that long, yeah, okay! There came a point where they’d sit around
in a production meeting and say, “We have to do six titles next year, that’s the season.
What on earth can we do to make them interesting?” Yes, yes.
And it drives me absolutely wild, because you don’t have to do anything to these plays
to make them interesting! Right.
What they mean, they’ve not finished their own thought, which is, “What on earth can
we do to make these things interesting to us?” First thing to do is get yourself out
of that job and put somebody else in it hasn’t done it before!
Right! And just let’s hear the damn play! Because
the play does the work. And that’s where it went wrong. And it was all about the building.
And theatre is absolutely nothing to do with buildings. I mean, you take a bunch of actors
and a text, that’s it. Mickey Rooney said it, you know: “We could do the show right
here!” (LAUGHTER) Yes!
But the point is, you can! None of that matters. Yes, yes, yes.
And they’ve lost track of that. And I think that the problem is – all right, I’ll
say it – I don’t know, you always reserve things because it gets political and back-stabbing
happens and all that stuff (EILEEN LAUGHS). But I think the problem with the company was,
was that they lost track of the fact that when we were there, me and Johnny and Zoë
particularly, it was the last time it was kind of “hot,” in the seventies, it was
hot because it was a hot bunch of people. And it was the company that was – we were
The Company. Not the theatre, the bunch of actors and directors that were there, and
artists and designers. And everybody was very pushy – I remember
Richard on the stage door used to say, “You know, not everybody likes this company because
it’s very aggressive and the people are all – you know, they’ll tread on each
other’s toes to get there.” And I said, “Richard, that’s ambition! That’s drive.
You know, that’s actually very exciting on stage, ‘cause it’s dangerous, and the
audiences may not know what it is, but I’ll bet you they like what they see!” And of
course, they did. And that was allowed to go, and the company was allowed to break up
and disperse, but it was never rebuilt or re-established. And I think that’s what’s
happened all across the board, at home. Were you all put together sort of by accident?
Yeah, yeah. Was it just a happenstance that you were all
there, sort of – It was a happenstance – a good one, mind.
Yeah, but there could be another one, in theory. Yeah!
Yes, of course there could. Of course. But the company is the people. It’s nothing
to do with the fabric of the building. Yeah.
Or even, you know – well, I would like to say that people got some good salary. (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) You see, the funny thing is, you always talk about the German theatre,
where every town sets aside – in respective importance in the country – like, if you
imagine Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, all of them, in Germany all of their equivalents
have a branch of the German National Theatre, funded hugely at the level, like in our part
of the world, the way that the opera is funded, which is to say quite lavishly. And I’ve
heard stories of German actors in the German National Theatre who wouldn’t do movie jobs
because they get paid less than they get in the theatre, right? (LAUGHTER)
So you’ve got continuity there, but I don’t hear about German actors taking the international
world by storm. What’s wrong with Goethe, Schiller, or Lemke (PH), you know? Let’s
bring it on, let’s have a look. Because there’s an international audience that is
prepared to sit still for that stuff, just as there is an audience for Shakespeare. It’s
about the quality of the work, and as long as the workers can work –
You see, right now, all that you can afford with subsidized theatre is leading actors
who will come in off the back of some movie work, so they’re not worried about meeting
overhead for the next three months, and baby actors who are straight out of college who
will work for tuppence or ten cents, whatever. They’ll work for nothing, and that’s what
you’ve got. And in the middle, the people who are the trained, skilled, principal actors,
they’ve all been – like daffodils, they’re like dandelion seeds. They’re all just parachuted
out and gone! But you certainly talk about a feeling of
community and family, and I wanted to ask – I know that you have certainly worked
with family members. Mmm.
And you appeared opposite your life partner in –
Yeah. Well, wait, with all her family members! We did something together a long time ago.
Does it allow you to speak shorthand, or is it terrifying to be with somebody who you
know that well in a rehearsal period? Oh, in the case of my – I mean I very recently
worked with Vanessa [her sister] and Natasha [her niece] in Shanghai, in THE WHITE COUNTESS,
and it was kind of fabulous, actually. I mean, a lot of what was fabulous was (LAUGHS) it
was so sort of scary being in Shanghai that going back to the Hilton was what was fabulous!
(LAUGHTER) But being on the set was also fab – I think it does give you a certain shorthand.
When Vanessa and I and our niece, Corin’s daughter Jemma, did THREE SISTERS some years
ago in London, what we didn’t have to work at was being relations, you know? I mean,
so often a lot of what our work is, say, if you’re playing three sisters, is “How
can we – ” you know, say, Eileen, me, Zoë, all do THREE SISTERS, we’ve all got
to kind of work on being sisters. Well, we didn’t have to work on any of that, because
we – It was a given.
Yeah. And a certain sort of dis – Your method had been done.
Sort of dis – a certain disrespect that one sometimes has for one’s family, too.
That’s what happens. Yeah.
So that I think it made for a very interesting thing. I mean, in the scene – the scene
where there’s the fire and Masha finally tells her sisters how she’s in love – of
course, this was a very fabulous and extraordinary production, by Robert Sturura from the Republic
of Georgia – but Vanessa as Olga slapped me when I started going on about Vershinin.
And I don’t know if we’d have come to that if we hadn’t actually been sisters.
You know, she was so pissed off that Masha was in love that she just slapped me! And
sometimes a little too hard, but anyway. (LAUGHTER) It was a brill – I mean, theatrically, it
was fantastic, because usually it’s all moony-Juney, you know, “Oh, my sisters,
I’m in love!” “Oh, are you? How lovely!” But when you’re real sisters, it’s “Geez!
Get off! Shut up about this love thing! I haven’t got anybody to be in love with,”
and that’s wonderful. And didn’t you cut her hair off in –
I cut her hair off in BABY JANE. She was very, very, very good about that. I gave her the
most terrible haircut, with two cameras rolling, and she was so game about it! (EILEEN LAUGHS)
That actually scared me much more! (LAUGHS) What was it like in THE GOAT, in England?
Working with Kate [Fahy]? Well, it was – there’s a lot about it, I don’t even think about.
See, so much of it was a given between us, especially – (LAUGHS) me and goats! (LAUGHTER)
No, it was an extraordinary time. Not just Kate, but the other members of the cast I
was working with. It was one of the best working times I’ve ever had.
And it was fantastic, I saw them. Yes, it was good, wasn’t it?
My danger is working with people I know too well, that’s the – ‘cause then I just
laugh. That’s the other thing, too. Oh, mine, too!
My best friend, Nick le Provost played Pickering in MY FAIR LADY with me. And we could not
– if we caught each other right in the eye – it’s difficult, honestly – as ourselves,
if I looked at Nick and he looked at me, I’m afraid we were gone! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Yeah! And all the absurdity of theatre would come
home. “What the hell are we doing?” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Right! When you learn that trick actually, ‘cause
staring intensely at the point just in between the person’s eyes, so you don’t catch
the true look, and you can carry on, you know, otherwise –
There was a night – the opening of the play, there was two and a quarter thousand people
sitting in Drury Lane, and they assumed that I always sang “Why Can’t the English?”
with this vibrato, because I was laughing at Nick’s moustache flapping. (LAUGHTER)
So it was coming out as (DEMONSTRATES, VOICE SHAKING) “Why can’t the English teach
their children how to spe-e-e-eak?” (LAUGHTER) It went on for the whole song! Oh, dear.
Did you ever work with your father? No! God, I would have been terrified. Terrified.
I mean, he was pretty – I worked with your father once.
Did you? Very briefly. (LAUGHS) And I met him, he was
very charming, came and said hello to me. Very charming.
He had just finished slashing his wrists in a film, and he was covered in blood and he
said, (DOES THE AMERICAN ACCENT) “Jonathan, Sam Wanamaker!” (LAUGHTER) Charming man.
(LAUGHTER) Blood everywhere! It’s a take-off to him.
You had said earlier that he moved to London permanently during the blacklist period.
Well, yes. It was a – he knew he was going to be subpoenaed to go before the committee
and he’d been warned. And he happened to have a job that had come up in England, a
film. And so, he took the job, and then my mother, who was a radio soap star at the time,
put the two of us onto the boat, and we left on the Queen Mary. They thought that it would
be over in six months, and they would be back, and their furniture was in storage in Connecticut,
I think. And then, we didn’t get back. And then, his passport (SIGHS) – his passport
ran out at a certain time. I think it was in the fifties. It must have been – well,
we came in the fifties, so it was about ’52, I think? We came in about ’51. And his passport
ran out, and he applied for a new passport at the American Embassy, and it was refused,
because of his “un-American activities,” so-called. And he’d been a member of the
Socialist Party – some party, for two minutes, I think. So he was – it was divide (PH)
– so his state was passport-less, as was my mother. So they were – I don’t think
it was until – for about twelve years, until he went back to – came back here and did
his first film. TARAS BULBA, I think it was. Wow!
Interesting little slice of a period of our history, and that’s the man who bludgeoned
the Globe. Yes. But I think maybe it was a good thing.
I mean, his movie career was completely ruined by the McCarthyism. But maybe it was – I
mean, he started the Liverpool Shakespeare season, a little Shakespeare theatre there,
and that was the first so-called repertory theatre – that was open seventeen hours
a day. It had a coffee bar and a restaurant and an art gallery, and a duh-duh-duh. So
it was – maybe something was good came out of it, in a way. And I, you know, I got to
meet my husband, and also, I got to work with such nice people.
And he never frittered away – he didn’t just sort of go down in the dumps after a
terrible blow like that must have been, with the McCarthyism.
Yeah. Yes, he got up and went out and did stuff,
you know, and had a life. And it produced all this extraordinary history.
There was an American energy, though, that came to England. I mean, ‘cause it was –
Yeah. He announced, with blood on it!
Wonderful! Yeah, yeah. Yes, exactly.
He was a real hands-on kind of guy. That’s the handy exchange, that energy.
Mmm, that’s right, yeah. And then, a bit of “hang on a minute!”
(LAUGHS) That’s right, yes, yes! (LAUGHS)
That’s handy here. Speaking of sort of doing it, I know that
at least two of you have written plays. And did you come to that to do something, to write
a good part for yourself, or did you – I did – my first one, I did write to give
back myself a job, SHAKESPEARE FOR MY FATHER. I had reached that point that we all go through
from time to time, where suddenly it appeared I had dropped off the face of the earth. And
so I – I had always been kind of making excuses to myself, like “If I was Willy
Russell, I’d write a SHIRLEY VALENTINE.” And I originally wrote it so that I would
go to colleges, and I did a twenty-seven city, six-week tour, one-nighters. And I’d go
and I’d teach a class at, you know, whatever university or whatever.
And about halfway through, I was – it was my fiftieth birthday, and I was in Sarasota,
Florida. And about halfway through the first act, there was a man in the front row – ‘cause
I broke the fourth wall a lot – who started sort of laughing, or his body kept leaning
over. And I kept thinking, “That’s probably a dentist who looks like José Quintero.”
And in the second act – José Quintero at that point had had throat cancer, and he had
a little, you know, one of those microphone-y things –
Oh, yeah. And so, you know, couldn’t speak without
the aid of it. And in the second act, when I think I was doing my scene where I was Maggie
Smith, Noel Coward and Edith Evans at the same time, he literally keeled off his chair,
making these noises. And I went, “Oh, my God, it is José Quintero!” And he came
back with his little microphone, saying, (DOES THE VOICE) “The world must see this! The
world must see this!” And that sort of changed it suddenly from being a job to just, like,
give myself a job, into what it became. And then I realized how wonderful it was to write
your own work, and how freeing that was. And I have a new play, actually, that’s going
to be on in the fall, so. Great.
That’s the one based on your grandmother? Well, it very very – not even really – based
on the fact that I found that her gravestone in England, in Chiswick, had – all the dates
and her name were washed off by the acid rain. And that got me thinking, “What happens
to people? What happens to us when we die, if we haven’t done something to leave a
mark?” Yeah!
So I’ve sort of invented – speculative fiction, I call it. (TED LAUGHS)
And you wrote a play that – I don’t call myself a playwright, I hasten
to say that. I mean, I’m a jolly good adaptor, but I don’t –
Brilliant adaptor. And that was started, literally, because I
simply hate doing poetry evenings! Mmm-hmm! (LAUGHS)
I hate getting up and reading poetry. And you’re often asked, as an actor – I don’t
know how many – you know, you each do things for charity, when you get up and do that.
And I thought, “I wish I just had an evening that I could say, ‘Look, I’ll do this.’”
And so, I found the letters of Vita [Sackville-West] and Virginia [Woolf], and I thought, “Well,
that’ll make an evening for two women, and that’ll probably do for something.” And
then I did it, like Lynn – I did it, thinking, “That’ll do for that Sunday evening.”
And then, people just loved it! So (LAUGHS) I thought, “Oh, hang on! Maybe we could
turn this into an evening.” And then, you know, the Minerva at Chichester offered me
their studio to try it out. And then people offer you things, and then it, like – it
just grew and grew. And now we’re doing a movie of it. And the sad thing is, everyone’s
too old for it! (LAUGHTER) But you and Vanessa were fantastic.
Everyone who’s ever played it, we’re all too old.
Well, you and Vanessa Redgrave were extraordinary. You were fantastic.
Well, it was huge fun to do. Huge fun to do! But I’m – I adapt. I couldn’t possibly
sit down – I’ve tried! So now I know I can’t do it. Something come into my mind
and I write a play, I can’t do that. That isn’t a gift of mine.
And Jonathan, you ran the company in Liverpool that you started with briefly, yes?
I did it for – I worked there for two years, and Alan Dosser, was taking a sabbatical,
and they wanted somebody to go in and – he’d taken most of the company with him to do his
Beatles show, in London. So I went back and formed a company and ran it for about six
or seven months. Do you yearn to do it again?
It made me never, ever want to do it again! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) No, I’m coming
round to it again now. And it was – possibly, starting working with students. Because what
we were saying about earlier, there was a gap – there’s a gap in directors. And
I think my contemporaries, we have so much to give the younger actors now. And I go to
drama schools and I talk to them, and it’s – their jaws drop when I describe what we
did and what we were capable of doing, when we started out as young actors. But I had
a great company in Liverpool. Julie Walters, gave her her first job.
Yeah. Took her off the streets! (LAUGHTER)
Do any of the rest of you teach? No, I could never teach.
I’m the worst teacher in the world. I really am so bad.
I do, from time to time, yes. I’m qualified, but I can’t be paid enough,
you know? So. I can give tips, (LAUGHTER) but I can’t,
you know – Give tips!
You give very good tips. Yeah, tips. Like how to get through an audition.
But do people still actually audition, have to go on auditions?
Oh, God! Oh, yeah.
They do, still? Oh, yes, more than ever!
Not just reading? I had a dresser in London once, and she threw
a party, and I said, “Darling, how lovely. What’s the occasion, is it a birthday?”
And she said, “No, my flat mate’s got an audition.”
Oh! Oh. (LAUGHS) Oh, that’s a darling story!
Party about an audition, for an audition. Oh, for an audition.
“She’s got an audition, let’s have a party!”
It’s just I never, ever, ever, ever got a part. I used to go to an audition, I used
to do it as well as I possibly could, and it was always, “Next one,” on, on, on.
And I auditioned for Peter Hall one day, and he was in some kind of state, ‘cause I think
a wife had just left him. (LAUGHTER) I had had to wait a long time for him. And I started
to speak – I do it, go straight through. And somebody started Hoovering behind. And
I just thought, “This is all too much, I can’t go on!” And I stopped and said,
“I can’t – I can’t go on through the Hoover.”
And suddenly, he came down to the front and really looked at me, and said, “Yes, you’re
quite right.” And I realized that at last I’d got somebody’s attention, you know,
that they were – And so I always told drama students, when you’re auditioning, pretend
to hear something, or just – even if you say, “I’m sorry, do you mind if I start
again?” If you’re a woman, all the men will feel sorry for you. (ZOË LAUGHS) It’s
easy – The title of your biography now – “Through
the Hoover.” (LAUGHTER) Never! Never will that be written. Actually,
I would have – I auditioned for my company Bill Nighy, who
did exactly that. There you are!
He started the speech, and Bill is still using that technique – (LAUGHTER)
Yes, he is! It’s a great technique.
To this day! But he was so intriguing. He kept starting – “Uh, uh, sorry. Can I
start – uh, do it then – uh, sorry, can I just – ” And I thought, “This guy
is either a genius – ” Exactly.
“Or it’s rubbish!” (LAUGHS) So anyway, I gave him the job, and he’s good.
Now look! I’m very bad at auditioning.
It’s a trick that works! And on that note, with “genius,” we’ve
come to the end. Thank you all very much for being here. This has been a great pleasure,
thank you. This has been the American Theatre Wing Seminar coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Thank you very much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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