(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 31st year, coming to
you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Professionals are brought together
by the American Theatre Wing for these seminars, to help provide an insight into what it’s
like to work in the theatre. Today’s seminar is with six leading performers. We hope to
learn not only about their preparation for a career in the theatre, but also about the
drive, passion and temperament needed to survive in the theatre. I’m Isabelle Stevenson,
Chairman of the Board of the American Theatre Wing. I would now like to introduce our moderator
for this seminar, distinguished television interviewer and critic and a member of the
Wing’s Advisory Committee, Pia Lindstrom. Pia, would you start? (APPLAUSE)
Thank you, thank you. I can tell that we have a very passionate panel here today, full of
ideas, wonderful actors, and I’m so happy to be amongst you. Brian Stokes Mitchell,
who is Broadway’s leading musical man today (APPLAUSE), on the end. Clare Higgins, winner
of the Olivier Award, now on Broadway in VINCENT IN BRIXTON. Brent Spiner, on Broadway. You
know him from television movies, as well as the gentleman on my left, Alec Baldwin, of
course, you know from movies, television, and he’s been in the theatre. I saw you
first in ’86, in LOOT. Ooh!
Ooh! (LAUGHTER) A girl I fell in love with, when I saw her in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.
Sutton Foster burst onto the stage in the most incredible way, took my breath away.
And a gentleman who has not taken my breath away yet, but we don’t know! (LAUGHS)
And never will! (LAUGHTER) You’ll keep your breath! Or else you die, and that’s really
bad. A comedian, Eddie Izzard, who is now in A
DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG, which is a very serious play, and you’re a very funny man.
I’d like to know how you were cast. Well, it’s got a huge amount of comedy in
it. I mean, being the story of parents bringing up a mentally and physically disabled child,
doesn’t look like a big sort of, “Hey, let’s go see that straightaway!” (LAUGHTER)
But it’s based on the life story of Peter Nichols and his experience with his own daughter
Abigail, so he’s got a lot of comedy in that, which is dark. I don’t think he likes
called it “a black comedy,” but you’re just laughing right up to the end, and it’s
quite amazing, having been sort of a student of comedy, the amount of laughter he can get
into the play while everything is getting more and more hellish.
So I was cast – I mean, he actually said he wrote it for a stand-up comedian. But I
wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. I only got into [comedy] – well, I couldn’t
get any parts at school and whatever, so I ended up doing comedy. Then I ended up in
stand-up. And so, it’s this big curvy route back to trying to do drama, and so, I’ve
been trying to do more and more dramatic roles. It’s a crossover role for me. So I was kind
of a logical choice, ‘cause it’s got sketches and it’s got him addressing the audience.
And I come from that area. And it’s got the drama, which is where I’ve been trying
to drive myself since about ’93. You’re all so well-known and so accomplished.
Do you still have to audition? Brian, do you have to audition? Does anybody ever, to get
a part? (LAUGHTER) Not in the theatre world so much any more,
but still in film and television. They’re very, very separate worlds. And one of the
things that is always a little disheartening to me is the fact that a lot of the people
that kind of run film and television don’t spend much time in the theatre. Some of them
do, but the vast majority don’t. So when you go in, I go in very much as an unknown.
There’s an advantage to that, too, that I find. One of the things I like about performing
on Broadway is you kind of have a bit of fame, but you still are able to retain some of your
anonymity, which is very important to me, ‘cause I’m actually rather a private person,
and I really cherish my anonymity. So it kind of gives me the best of both worlds. In New
York people know me, and then I go to Wichita or, you know, Buckhannon, West Virginia, and
people don’t know me so well there, so that’s just fine.
Sutton, how did you get that great part? Oh! Well, I originally wasn’t cast as the
part. I was cast as the understudy, in the out-of-town, the pre-Broadway tryout of MILLIE
in La Jolla, California. And I was thrilled to be a part of it, ‘cause I really enjoyed
the show. I thought the show was brilliant, and I just wanted to be a part of it in any
capacity. And I had auditioned to play Millie, but never could really show the creative team
that I was capable of doing it in the auditions. I’m not a great auditioner. And so, I said,
“I’ll be the understudy!” and they said, “Sure.”
So I went out to La Jolla, and about a week before we started previews, I think the universe
took over, and I found myself being fitted for costumes. And I was thrust into the spotlight
and opened the show and cried for hours (PIA LAUGHS), not knowing what the hell I was doing!
And then, they asked me at the end of the run if I would do it on Broadway, and I said,
“Okay,” and here we go. Well, you seemed to burst forth, fully formed,
you know, like Venus. You came out, boom! I imagine it took a lot of training, though,
before you got there. Absolutely. And I’m still constantly training.
I mean, I still have so much to learn. And I’ve learned so much this past year about
the business and about what it is to do eight shows a week and to be in the spotlight, and
the pressure and the responsibility of starring in a major Broadway musical, with (LAUGHS)
millions of dollars behind it! And I’m constantly trying to become a better performer and keep
stretching and become a better artist. Do you have to audition, Alec? Or does everybody
know you now? Well, you know, it depends. I mean, I haven’t
had an audition for a play or a movie or anything like that, except one time recently, I got
asked to audition for a musical. (LAUGHTER) And I don’t sing, and I never sang! And
now, that’s the thing. Everyone’s going to take voice lessons and sing.
I just did a film with Matthew Broderick and talked a lot with Matthew about that, who
hadn’t sang [SIC] until he did HOW TO SUCCEED. He hadn’t sang legitimately and professionally.
And so, I was approached by Cameron Mackintosh, for the – what’s the movie that Nicholson
did? – WITCHES OF EASTWICK. Oh, yeah!
Oh, oh, right. And they did the production over in London,
of WITCHES OF EASTWICK, the musical. And they said, “Would you come in and would you meet
and have voice lessons with Joan Lader (PH) and do the work and go in and read for Mackintosh
and the music director,” who was in New York. And that audition ended my musical career.
(LAUGHTER) Under twenty minutes, my musical career ended!
Did he say you were bad, or did you feel it was?
In unspoken ways, he said I was bad. (LAUGHTER) In inaudible ways.
But are you good in the bathroom? I am good in the bathroom! Well, I think I
can sing, but for me, that whole world, it’s so binary. Acting, I feel like you can fake
it. Acting is so subjective. Some people are crazy about someone’s acting technique,
and other people don’t like it. And for me, I have such respect for singing that to
me, you either can sing or you can’t. And if you can’t really sing beautifully, as
people here can do, why bother? I don’t want to do – I’ve had people contact me
– Well, what about Rex Harrison? To me, you’ve
got to do that patter thing. Exactly. They say, “Do you want to Rex Harrison
your way through some part?” and I say, “No, I do not want to.”
You don’t want to do that? (LAUGHS) I leave that to Rex. (LAUGHTER)
There’s a haiku that says, “Even in the insect world, some can sing, some can’t!”
(LAUGHTER) Right on!
Can you sing, as well as act? Do I sing? Yes!
You do? Well, it’s, again, subjective. (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) But I think I do. You’re ready for them to ask you to do a
song? (STARTS TO STAND UP) Well, I’d be happy
to do that. (LAUGHTER) No, I have sung on Broadway, a number of times.
Oh! Oh, all right. You’ve reviewed them, actually. (LAUGHTER)
Did I like you? Poorly, I might add! (LAUGHTER) No, no, no.
I don’t do that now. (LAUGHS) But I think what’s amazing, and I want to
say this for your benefit, is the people up here who sing in these shows, they can sing
and act! Yes, yes.
I’ve gone to musical recitals. I went to one the other day, and a guy got up and sang
a number (TO BRIAN) from your show! And he sang, the guy was incredible. He had a beautiful
voice, he was fantastic, but I wonder, can he act? I mean, very often, people can’t
do both. Right.
They can not do both. Not at all. Clare, do you have to audition
at this point in your life, or do they just call you up on the phone and say, “Come
and do this”? Yeah, I mean, the English theatre world is
pretty small, really. And I’ve been in it for quite a long time now. (LAUGHS) So no,
usually I get sent a script or somebody will call me up, call my agent up. But it’s a
very small world, and as Brian was saying, it’s the same in England, the theatre world
is very different from the film and television world. They’re really separate entities.
And I agree with you, a lot of film people don’t really bother to go to the theatre,
which I think is a real shame, because that’s where actors generally learn their craft.
Why is that, do you think? You know, I really do not know! I’m really
puzzled by it. I don’t know why there’s this huge divorce between these disciplines,
when they’re exactly the same thing. Yes!
It’s a mystery to me. I think it’s probably attention span, crossed
with – you know, if you’re going to see – if you get to a place where you’re,
you know, you can get tickets by saying (MIMES A PHONE CALL), “Could you get me some tickets
for this?” and just get it sorted out because you’re Hollywood or whatever. Then if you’re
going to a show, you’re probably going to see people. If you see a film, you can just
see it, not see it, walk out halfway through. It’s more involving, I think, going to theatre,
and it seems more of a mental effort. You have to try hard.
So Hollywood’s got to fly over and go and see it, if it’s that kind of thing. So the
film people tend not to see it. I don’t know whether the independent film people of
New York see a lot of theatre. Does that happen? I think you’re right. I think that theatre
is much more of a – I mean, the French don’t say, “I’m going to see a play,” they
say, “J’assiste a une piece.” “I’m going to help with the play.”
Oh, really? Ah!
That sounds nice. Which is much more a sort of joining-in thing.
And I think that’s right. That’s cool.
To me, it’s almost the only sort of – well, one of the only – meaningful kind of public
rituals we have left. It’s a sort of secular ceremony, almost. And I think it’s a joyous
thing, and a wonderful thing. And I kind of almost – I’m slightly in mourning for
the ease with which we can access television and film. As you say, it’s on, if I want
to see this – off, if I don’t want to see it.
Right. There’s no commitment to one’s enjoyment
of it or to one’s – But films are very different, wouldn’t you
say? Film’s a bit – you have to sort of go out for film. I mean, television, on, click,
click off. But that film still has that commitment of going out, and for people making a night
of it. And the price, obviously, is the other thing.
Oh, yes. With the higher prices, a certain section
of society goes to theatre. Yeah.
That’s true. An older segment.
And film is more egalitarian, everyone goes to film.
Anyone can go. So people feel kind of, somewhat “cooler”
by film, because it’s more street-y. Theatre is more pulled-away, reserved, kind of ivory-tower-ish,
so an audience – and it sets up that image of it.
And I think in the theatre people have to, you know, obviously, think more. I mean, you
know, a lot of people who want – film entertainment, for the most part now, is like a snack food.
Yeah. You can sort of check out. You know, there’s a minimal amount of work
you have to do. I mean, think of a film that compares to Stoppard on the level of intellectual
exercise you have to do while you’re watching the piece. But the divorce you talk about,
that’s interesting to me. I know a lot of film and television producers who love the
theatre, and who go to the theatre and are crazy about the theatre, and still won’t
consider – not that they boycott predominantly theatre actors – but they don’t think
about them, because they think about them as people who are very devoted to acting and
very muscular in their acting. And that’s not what’s required in films very often
these days. But sometimes, we go through periods where the biggest stars in the film business
are people who replicate the same thing over and over again.
Do you think the movies got smaller? (LAUGHS) Well, I think that the acting has been taken
out of the movies. Right.
Not in independent film. I mean, there’s a whole world of film where acting is what’s
called for, but in big Hollywood studio film-making, the acting has been subtracted from those
films as much as possible. That’s why effects and explosions and design and all these things
[are so big]. You don’t have to coax a computer out of its trailer. (LAUGHTER) You don’t
have to worry if the computer just broke up with its boyfriend or is ill or whatever.
The more they can take the human element out of the movie, ‘cause it’s a technical
medium, the happier they’ve become over the last twenty, twenty-five years, I believe.
Yeah. Well, let’s get back to theatre, because
we’re here to talk about it. This is the seminar for the theatre! (LAUGHTER)
Yeah. Yes, please! I beg of you. Yes! So I heard an actor say on another seminar
I did that her true teacher – and I like that expression, her “true teacher” – had
taught her how to find the voice of her character in a play. And I’d like to ask each of you
how you find the voice, unless you’re using your own voice, which presumably, on the stage,
one doesn’t. For example, I’ll start with you, Brent. How do you find the voice of your
character in LIFE (X) 3? In my case, it had to be beaten out of me
by the director, basically. (LAUGHTER) But we’re in a theatre, actually, a unique theatre
– we’re in the round, at the Circle in the Square. And that has its own peculiar
difficulties, because at all times, there’s someone behind you, as well as in front of
you. So you really have to be loud. And the first week we were in the theatre, I kept
going to the director and saying, “Are you sure I’m not screaming?” and he said,
“No, you’re not! I can barely hear you.” And I was shouting. And I’ve asked people
since, “Does it seem like we’re unusually loud?” and they say, “No, you sound just
like a normal person talking.” What do you mean by voice?
What do I mean by voice? When you say, “find the voice of the theatre,”
what do you mean? Find the meaning? Well, that was –
That was your question, wasn’t it? Yes, you’re asking me a question! Well,
I think it means the sound of that particular character, because you can’t – unless
you’re doing something that’s all aspects of yourself –
Well, I think all characters are ultimately aspects of yourself, because then you can
root yourself in reality. Millie – sorry I’m [interrupting]. Hello!
How dare you? (LAUGHTER) I know, how dare I speak! Millie is definitely
rooted, I mean, from me. I take aspects of my own self, because then therefore I’m
completely comfortable when I’m onstage for two and a half hours each night. But as
far as, like, little colors that color Millie, a lot of my character came out from my body.
I watched a lot of films. BRINGING UP BABY, I watched Katharine Hepburn, and THE WOMEN,
and got the style of the times. And you know, it’s like everything just sort of came from
there. But as far as the way I speak or the voice that I use, it’s Sutton.
What about in your [performance]? I think you have to find the sound of your character,
don’t you? I don’t.
Or the style of the – It’s interesting, the way you’re putting
it. I’ve come to acting, even though I wanted to do it when I was seven, I’ve been late
getting there, so I’ve come through other different mediums, of comedy, actually, before
I came in. So my approach, I’m still on a learning curve. And I sort of know some
very weird things about – oh, I’ve picked up in just a very odd way. (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL) I’ve come in there, not there! I’ve come in there with a lot of other baggage.
I’ve done street performing, for God’s sake, you know. And it’s just weird.
So for me, I’m now at the stage where I’m trying to pull characters to me. I don’t
know if that is the technique that other people use. And I get the impression that, like,
Olivier was pulling, obviously, some aspects of his characters, but some of these diverse
characters – not just Olivier, but anyone who’s doing an acting role, they could do
an acting role that’s quite away from them. You know, playing Nazis. Hopefully, most people
who play Nazis aren’t Nazis. And you know, they’ve just got to take certain aspects
of themselves, and then fill in a whole of others from somewhere else.
At the moment, I found that people would say to me, “You were in that film? You were
in that film? So you …?” Like, I was doing very disparate acting, as if I was trying
to get that guy, then that guy. And I thought, “I’d better pull some more of this out
of myself.” And so, I’m really making it up as I go along, ‘cause I don’t know.
I did accounting. (LAUGHTER) And so they don’t teach you –
That’s before? That’s how you got into show business?
Yeah, accounting, financial management, with mathematics. (LAUGHTER)
Oh, that’ll do it. That’ll do it.
Well, you played Macbeth. That can’t be – you weren’t yourself on stage, if you’re
doing Macbeth. Good God, no. (LAUGHTER)
So, where do you find his [LOWERS HER VOICE] sound?
Well, I mean, to me, you know, there’s two things I find when you do these pieces. Sometimes
I love to play someone who’s as far away from me as I possibly can. Let’s do funny
voices and let’s do accents and let’s do dialects, and I want to get as far away
from my own, you know, demeanor as I can. And for me, I guess the voice comes from the
disposition of the person. I often sit, when I do a piece, and I think, “Is this person
brave in the world? Are they confident in the world? Are they timid in the world? Are
they sexually confident? Are they sexually insecure? Are they someone who walks into
a room and they have a lot of clarity about what they’re doing in the piece and why
they’re doing it, and they have a lot of strength? Or are they a weak person and someone
that is insecure and questions themselves?” And I think, more often in film, you can make
that work, because you can modulate your voice more naturalistically in film. And in the
theatre, you have to send it out there, you know, especially in a Broadway house. But
I find for me, it all begins with the disposition of the person. Are they a confident and secure
person, or are they kind of a wounded and fragile person? And you know, when I did Macbeth,
it was like, you know (LAUGHS), everything was about the action! You know, everything
was about when – everything, to me, had to be “very.” You know, when he was upset,
he was very upset. (LAUGHTER) And when he was homicidal, he was very homicidal.
And when he killed people – I mean, I remember Zach Braff, who’s now on that show “Scrubs,”
on NBC – I remember I would kill him every night, and I would stab him with this sword.
And he would be downstage – this is the audience, and he’d be facing upstage, and
I’d stab him with the sword. And then I’d just kind of leave it there and look at him,
‘cause it’s like a moment. I’d just, like, savor the kill. (LAUGHTER) And then
I would put my foot on his chest and peel him off my sword. And I thought, “How can
we make it as vulgar and disgusting as you can and make it as violent as you can?”
‘Cause this was a guy that loved to kill people in battle. That’s what his main meat
was, so to speak. Clare, in your part that you’re playing,
this is a woman who has a secret. She’s in love with young Vincent Van Gogh. (TRIES
TO PRONOUNCE IT) Fun Hocchh! (LAUGHTER)
Van Hoff! Or “Van Go.”
And how did you find her style, her demeanor, so that you would convey she’s keeping this
secret? Well, really, I’m not sure I’d quite put
it like that. I agree with Alec, and I think it does come from disposition. And for instance,
if you’re playing a severely depressed person, which I am in this play, then you’re going
to have to find a way of being true to that, but yet being able to communicate it to the
audience in a perfectly audible manner. Right! (LAUGHS)
I think the thing that I do really is, I always imagine myself – and I think Sutton was
saying something rather like this – I imagine myself as being an organ, and I pull the stops
out to various points. I don’t turn into somebody else. I use bits of myself, and pull
them out at various levels to modulate a new person.
Mmm-hmm. (NODS) And the voice automatically becomes a part
of that process. And I find a rather wonderful thing happens between you and the text, as
it were, with a well-written piece. The text will have character tricks in it, almost.
The author will have written certain little tricks that you can hear, so that becomes
part of your vocal work on this character. A character may use one word a lot or may
have a certain way of driving a sentence through. So that then becomes part of your vocal mannerism
with that character. Then you will start to hear yourself in rehearsal perhaps speaking
(DEMONSTRATES) rather higher than you normally do, or rather lower. But that then becomes
part of the process. But for me, the image is very much this organ with the stops out
at certain levels. And through rehearsal, that may change, and through performance,
that may change. Brian, do you have an image that you use when
you approach a character? I kind of let the script tell me what it wants
to be. One of my master teachers, one of the things that he always said is that the actor’s
first obligation is to the playwright. So I always make sure that I’m being as true
as I can to whatever the intention of the playwright was, as best as I can see it.
A show like MAN OF LA MANCHA is kind of fun. It’s a great playground, because I kind
of get to play three characters in the show. I get to play Cervantes first, who’s closer,
I suppose to me, although it takes place in the fifteenth century. And because the style
of the writing is not contemporary, I can not really use my contemporary cadence and
voice. It just doesn’t lend itself to the material. And then, as you go into the next
character, I introduce Alonso Quijano who is this character then that becomes Don Quixote.
Alonso Quijano is this old, frail man, basically, who in real life, in real times, was probably
sixty years old, but in now days it would probably more like somebody well into their
eighties, nineties, you know, like that. So I wanted to choose a particular sound and
voice for him, that would set him apart when he becomes Don Quixote.
And one of the interesting things about it was, you know, well, how do you do that? Because
you can’t sing “The Impossible Dream” like an old man. (LAUGHTER) People want to
hear “The Impossible Dream,” you know, the way “The Impossible Dream” is sung.
So one of the ways that I started rationalizing it in my head is, kind of when he becomes
Don Quixote, it reconnects him to his youth. It reconnects him to that solid part of him.
It reconnects him to his gut, to his passion and all of that. So that, in a sense, when
I start singing most any of the songs that I sing as Don Quixote, I’m singing as he
thinks he is. He thinks he’s this young, vibrant man.
But you find out at the end of the show, as he gets this confrontation with the Night
of Mirrors, as it’s called, he looks at it and sees, “Oh, I’m not that! I’m
not this young person that I feel.” And I don’t know if there’s anybody in the
world who stops feeling young. I think we always feel young, the older we get, and we
look in the mirror and go, “Wow! That’s me? (LAUGHTER) I don’t feel like that at
all!” And I think that’s the confrontation that begins. And then, at the very end of
the show, he becomes very, very frail, Alonso Quijano again, and we kind of hear him at
his weakest point. So it’s fun. I get to explore all these different voices.
Many. And then, switching in between them, because
the story switches in between it, and finding the clearest way to be able to do that. But
it’s not only with my vocal voice, it’s with my physical, my body language. And that’s
something that I’m just obsessive about, and I love people’s body language. And that
really, I think, is one of the great joys of the theatre. Whereas film is right in your
face, right in your eyes, in the theatre you get to use your whole body.
Yeah. In very subtle, interesting, fascinating ways!
And in New York, Clare and I were talking about it, one of the great things about New
York, wow! You can see all kinds of body language! (LAUGHTER) Just on the street, it’s the
best teacher in the world. To continue with you just for a moment, there
are – I was going to say none, but I can’t think of another one – leading men, now,
of your generation in the American musical theatre. Is it like being a tenor in the opera?
There are just so few of you? (BRIAN LAUGHS) Why is it so hard –
Oh, I don’t know, I just – in my – I mean, it must be so incredibly complex to
become a man who can sing and dance and act, and who’s good-looking! I mean, you’ve
got to have all that to be a leading man in the musical theatre.
You’re good-looking? (LAUGHTER) (LAUGHS) I don’t know! I don’t see myself.
And I think there’s a lot of people out there who want it, you know? It’s not like
you do what you do, where there’s not a lot of people out there that want to have
You scared them all away! (LAUGHTER) Good!
KISS ME KATE, I mean, everything. There’s no room for anybody else, you’re doing them
all. But I just wonder why – if the technique of doing this is something that – you said
you had a great teacher. I had great teachers. I’ve had many, many
great teachers, and some have been acting teachers and some have not been. Some have
been like Joseph Campbell, or some have been like –
Oh. Life teachers. Life teachers, absolutely! And I think perhaps
my deepest teachings have come from them. My teachers have been my parents. My teachers
have been people that you see on the news or in all these other areas. That’s the
great thing, I think, about acting, is that once you – or anything, really! Once you
learn how to learn, all you have to do is start – the world is a most wondrous, incredible
place! And people are so incredibly fascinating! And once you learn how to learn and learn
how to look at it and learn how to observe it, and I guess the trick is what you learn
in acting, is learn how to then take that into your body and then be able to bring that
into a stage and turn that into something that is meaningful and communicative to an
audience. I think that’s the real trick of it.
But how do you do that? How do you learn that? I’m not telling! (LAUGHTER)
Okay. Wise man! Wise man!
What do you think, I’m stupid? Come on! Brian Stokes Mitchell, ladies and gentlemen.
(LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Well, did you have a great teacher?
I did have a great teacher, actually. I think of him more as a Mr. Chips, sort of. ‘Cause
I’ve learned nothing from life, actually. (LAUGHTER) I keep hoping. Maybe today! (LAUGHTER)
But no, I had a great teacher. I had this great teacher in high school who made a difference
to so many people’s lives, everyone who came into contact with him. And there are
many people who are in professional show business today who were in my class in high school.
Both the Quaid brothers, Randy and Dennis Quaid, were in this class.
Who? Where was this school? In Houston, Texas.
Houston, Texas? Really. Yes. Breeding ground of great talents. (SUTTON
But he made such a difference to me, and I really consider myself incredibly lucky to
have come across somebody that early in life who sort of set me on a path and said, “You
can actually do this, by the way. And let me encourage you and send you on your way.”
And I’m ever grateful for that. Has anybody been discouraged? Was there somebody
who said, “Don’t do this”? My mother.
Your mother. (LAUGHTER) Really?
She said, “Don’t do it”? Yes.
“You have no talent,” she said. (LAUGHS) Well, no, I was about thirteen. I came from
quite a large family, and I remember wanting desperately to become an actress. And I actually
used to steal money and go to tap-dancing lessons and things, and run away from school.
And I came up with this plan, because I thought we were a bit overcrowded anyway in our house.
And I came down one Sunday after church, and I said, “Mummy and Daddy, I’ve got a plan.
I’m going to go away to stage school, and I’m going to train to be an actress and
make lots of money and it’s all going to be marvelous.” And my mother slapped me
across the face (LAUGHTER) and said, “How dare you?!” It was though I had announced,
“Mummy and Daddy, I’d like to go walk the streets.” And I was sent upstairs to
do extra Latin. And you thought that would discourage it.
I felt pretty discouraged about that. But that didn’t stop you, apparently.
No, I just got very silent about it all. I see. Anybody else was discouraged from a
life on the boards? Oh, yeah. In college, I went to Carnegie-Mellon
University. It’s a lovely school. It wasn’t the best school for me, but it’s a fine
school for some. (LAUGHTER) But I did go for a year, and was told by professors that I
would never succeed, never make it. And now you’re like, “Hey, how about this
Tony?” (LAUGHTER) Yeah, “Now I’m an award-winner!”
(MIMES A FRANTIC PHONE CALL) “Hello, Miss Sutton! (LAUGHTER) Miss Sutton?”
No, and I left school. I left school and I moved home and waited tables and was looking
at colleges to go into something else. I just thought, “Well, I should look at other things,”
and then ultimately was dragged back into the theatre. My heart wouldn’t let it go,
so. Well, you come from a family of actors, so
perhaps there was no escape for you. Well, for them it was different. I got into
this and I was working and the first job I did was a soap here in New York for a couple
of years, and I was living in New York. And my brothers would be sitting home in my mother’s
house, and you know – I think I can say this safely – they would probably be stoned
and drunk out of their minds or something (PIA LAUGHS), sitting in my mother’s TV
room, watching TV. And I think they literally would sit there and go (PRETENDS TO DRAG ON
A JOINT), “Oh, man … if he’s on TV … ” (LAUGHTER) “We should be on TV!” (LAUGHTER) “I
don’t get it, man! If Bozo’s on TV … ” (LAUGHTER) Because I’m the most hated oldest brother,
you know? So they were like, “Man, why not us, man?” And they all just ran with it.
And they did. Familiarity breeds real contempt! I think.
Eddie, were you ever discouraged? Did anybody say –
Well, yes, I think generally not getting any parts at school was this initial thing. And
I thought it was either because they thought I was crap or I was crap, and I can’t work
it out! (LAUGHTER) With pure objective hindsight, maybe I was just crap and got better a bit
later on. Or maybe they just thought I was crap … I don’t know. So there was that.
But I just had a long period of “No!” And then, you know, got to college, and I
said I was going to leave, stuff accounting, because I wasn’t doing that in the first
place. I mean, I was just pretending. Well, you know! (LAUGHTER)
But I said to the guy who ran the drama place there, I said, “I’m going to go get an
agent in London,” and he laughed in my face. And it was that kind of [thing]. (PIA LAUGHS)
But this is not anything specific. My dad was saying, “As long as you’re happy,”
and my step-mother wasn’t into it. And then nothing happened for ten years, as well. So
everyone was sort of right. I didn’t, I couldn’t do it, and there was nothing happening,
and it was all proving that it wasn’t going to happen. Then I turned it round, yeah. So
it’s all – Was there a teacher in your life?
No, not really. Not really?
There was a teacher at school who gave me my first parts, but there was no big life
teaching. I mean, I just sort of stumbled. I’m trial and error.
I mean, coming out as being a transvestite actually was probably the biggest weird thing.
Sounds very bizarre, but you know, to tell everyone you’re a transvestite and not then
hang yourself in the third reel, that normally happens in films. Because they do, don’t
they? “Hey, the guy wears a dress! Oh, he’s dead, oh!” (LAUGHTER) “He was a mournful
soul, yes! All transgender people, they calms (PH) us.” You know, and it used to be gay
and lesbian people were in that boat, and they now run things or have “Will and Grace,”
where the whole building … (LAUGHTER) But if I was a transvestite character who’d
come in, I’d still hang myself probably. So getting outside that loop, and getting
into a very positive frame of mind on that was some sort of weird life teaching experience,
gave me confidence from outer space. So that then applied – that sort of came through.
I also changed my methodology. Most of my stuff is accidental. I used to try, I wanted
to get somewhere very fast. I was watching television – well, I wanted to be a child
actor (LAUGHS), then I wanted to be a teenager actor, then I was eighteen and I was ready,
and then I was thirty and it started happening. So there was an enormous amount of, “God,
when does it start?” (PH) (LAUGHTER) So nothing happened. And I’d try to get somewhere
very fast. You’re eighteen, let’s go, let’s go. Okay, right, right, television
there! I used to hitch down from college to places
and try and phone up people, pretend I was agents recommending myself. (LAUGHTER) I used
to do real long shots. I was going to get in there, you know, right? And then I was
going to get something. By the time I was twenty-five, I was supposed to get in a comedy
television series, like Monty Python. And I was twenty-four-and-a-half, and I thought,
“This plan is not working!” (LAUGHTER) So I changed it into, “Okay, I’ll get
somewhere as long as possible. Stuff the speed thing. Let’s just make it so good that eventually
people go, ‘Oh, wow, what are you doing?’” And then when that started working, I thought,
“Yeah, this is much more fun!” Because stuff the age thing, who cares that “Oh,
it’s crap, but he’s only seven!” (LAUGHTER) And who says, “This is genius stuff! It
took a hundred years to make. Still, it’s genius!” You know, so I realized, the time
thing was not important, it was just trying to do good stuff. And that’s the mantra
that I apply. And I went solo as well, and then I could just develop my own weird thing.
So it’s come from that. Have there been any teachers who have been
harmful, for instance? Did you go to RADA? I went to LAMDA, London Academy of Music and
Dramatic Art, in London. Yes.
No, I have to say I was extremely lazy at drama school, having got there. I was really
rather badly behaved and rather lazy, and hadn’t ever been to London before. (LAUGHS)
And I was sort of almost sacked from drama school. And I didn’t have any bad teachers.
I would say I didn’t have any particularly inspiring teachers.
I did have a very inspiring teacher at school, who was completely mad. Miss Clements, she
was amazing. She had long hair all in a bun and she taught us English and drama, and at
the end of the class, she’d take the pin out and her hair would go, and she’d say,
“Scream, girls! Scream!” (LAUGHTER) And we would! And it was the best bit of fun that
we had at school. (LAUGHTER) She inspired me. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be
mad, with a lot of hair. (LAUGHTER) And I have!
Do audiences teach you anything? Every single night. I have to say, that’s
probably the best teacher I have ever had, is an audience. And I was talking about this
to someone yesterday in the play and saying, “It is extraordinary now. I can tell, as
soon as I walk on stage, the quality of the silence, what kind of audience it’s going
to be.” Mmm-hmm. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
And that is, to me, amazing when I think about that. I can tell you exactly what kind of
house they are before I’ve even opened my mouth.
What is it, a vibrancy? Yes. It’s an actual tangible feeling to
me, yes. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
Mmm-hmm. I agree. And you have the same?
Yes. Absolutely, yes. Yeah. I can tell within the first three minutes
of the show. Yeah.
But when you say that, what can you tell? They’re going to applaud a lot?
It’s just a sense. It’s like, the first line, I’ll say, it just depends. Sometimes,
if no one laughs, you go, “Oh. Uh-oh. Either I’m really off or the audience is tired,”
you know, or it’s hot, or something you know. You can just sort of tell.
You can actually – it sounds like rubbish. It’s this way, “Hey, we’re all mystical,
and hey, we’re touching crystals and stuff!” (LAUGHTER) But as a street performer, I can
actually do it for venues as well, and as a stand-up. I can actually go in and vibe
a good room. It’s very odd. You can actually vibe spaces that will work, and which won’t.
Even on the street. Specifically, on the street, we found we had to do that. You’d actually
just stand there, and almost go glazed-eyed, and you could feel from the human traffic
walking around whether the energy was low enough that they would stop and watch. ‘Cause
certain places, people just keep going ‘cause it was a way through. So you can actually
vibe the rooms as well, on their own, before people come into it. It really sounds very
mystical, but it’s – Well, maybe it is a little bit mystical. There’s
nothing wrong with that! (LAUGHTER) It’s fantastic.
A little bit mystical. Do you find that to be the case?
Mystical is the wrong word. I mean, it sounds airy-fairy nonsense.
Well. But it is, in fact, mystical.
Don’t hang yourself in the bathroom! (LAUGHTER) But that’s what – people who are not mystical
would say that. I mean, I consider myself “spiritual,” rather less mystical.
In LIFE (X) 3, can you tell in the audience what they’re reacting to?
I’m not sure what they’re reacting to exactly, but I do have this sense that there
is a collective audience personality. Yes.
And it’s so strange, because it’s made up of sixteen hundred people.
Exactly. But for some reason, they’re all thinking
the same thing. (LAUGHTER) It’s so weird, every time!
Yeah. And you can do a show night after night, and get enormous laughs on the same line,
and then suddenly this night comes when not one person in the audience thinks that line
is funny! It’s the weirdest thing! (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL) And I think it’s established –
What is that? Probability.
Well, I personally think it’s one person (LAUGHTER) who comes in and has such a strong
vibe themselves that they say, “Okay, everyone, follow me!” And you do!
It’s so true! That’s true, that sometimes [happens].
I totally agree! It’s the alpha audience member, perhaps.
Exactly. I think it’s an absolute tribute to the
reality of the collective unconscious. Yeah.
I mean, I really absolutely agree with you. An audience assumes one identity on any given
night, they become one animal. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
It is extraordinary! It’s real. Have you had that experience?
Well, it depends on the material, you know. I mean, the first play I did on Broadway was
Orton, when I did the Orton piece [LOOT]. And they had done the play at Manhattan Theatre
Club, and then they moved it. David Merrick moved to it to Broadway. And you could tell
when you had an Orton crowd. There were certain lines that you’d float out there, and there
were certain English phrasing, you know, things that aren’t common usage to an American
audience. And we knew when we had a kind of blue-haired, Broadway crowd, and we knew when
we had some Orton-philes there. But you were talking about teachers before,
and I wanted to make sure I mentioned this, that for me the people that I’ve learned
the most from in the work I’ve done – well, there’s two things I wanted to mention.
And that is, other actors are the people that I’ve learned the most from. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
I have learned the most from other actors. And following that, is this idea, when you
talk about how do you deal with the frustrations in the beginning, for me, it’s harder – the
way I feel about what I’m doing, it’s harder the older I am than when I was young.
Like, when I was young, when I was twenty-two years old and I was running around New York,
and someone sat me down when I did my first TV show, I did a soap opera – and I look
back retrospectively, and I could see that they knew I was a complete idiot! I was like
Gomer Pyle to them, you know? (PIA LAUGHS) And I could see them looking at each other,
they go, “We’re gonna pay you three hundred and fifty dollars an episode to do this show.”
(DEMONSTRATES WAITING FOR A RESPONSE; LAUGHTER) And they were watching. And I sat there, I
went, you know, “Gollee! Y’all gonna pay me three hundred and fifty dollars an episode?
(LAUGHTER) Man, I never made so much money in my entire life!” And literally, the producers
of the show were like, (PUTS A HAND TO HIS HEAD IN RELIEF) “Oh, thank God, we got a
live one!” (LAUGHTER) “We got a real boob on our hands!”, you know what I mean? In
the beginning, it’s all almost for fun and for free and you’re having a good time.
Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’s when you’ve been doing it for twenty
years, and you hit a patch – I mean, I had a year of my life, when on a creative, self-expression
level, I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do. I couldn’t do anything. And you have
to go a year where you’re going, “I can’t get it going,” you know what I mean? “I’m
going to do movies, to make a living, that are all eannnh! (PRETENDS TO THROW UP), you
know, things that I don’t want to do.” And you’re not getting off, so to speak,
on anything you’re doing. I’d love to hear people talk about that, what they do
when they hit a lull or a dip in their feeling for what they do?
How do you keep it up? Well –
Not about careerism. Yeah.
Well, I don’t know! (LAUGHS) Well, I keep it up, so to speak by – well,
I have a sort of other life, so I’m quite lucky, really. I trained to be a psychotherapist,
and that’s a whole other world. Except that it isn’t, in a way, because of course the
boundaries – they’re both studies of the human condition, acting and psychotherapy,
so really the boundaries merge a good deal. And I’m going on to study Jungian psychology
in more depth now, and that for me is the most exciting and fascinating world.
And I will never be bored again as long as I live. That is a fantastic feeling! That’s
just a brilliant feeling. And it’s also a good feeling of safety because, if the whole
of your creative endeavor is predicated on acting, I think you’re in a very shaky position
as a human being. Yeah! Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
Ego-wise, and creatively, and every other way. I think when it’s predicated on a rather
greater mind than your own and you’ve found an original thinker you can believe in, and
you want to go on and on and study that, and it’s an endless study, then you’re in
pretty good shape to keep yourself busy (LAUGHS), on your off days, you know.
Yeah. In theatre in the round, how does the audience
affect you? They’re practically on stage with you.
They are. And so, how do you work with that?
Well, you know what, I think the lesson we’ve learned from doing it is not to work with
it, is to do the play and hope that they come along for a ride in one way or another. And
not to have expectations of the audience and to trust the play and what you’ve rehearsed
and just do it. But don’t you have to act with the back
of your head or something part of the time? (SUTTON LAUGHS) Because those of us who are
looking at your back (LAUGHS), don’t you have to do things?
Well, the back of my head is one of my best angles, actually. (LAUGHTER)
In the round! Here, let me show you, actually! You don’t
know what you’re missing! (STANDS UP AND TURNS AROUND)
Thank you. That’s just amazing! (LAUGHTER)
There is a history for that. You have to send out energy behind you, perhaps?
You do. You do, indeed. Well, you normally act with your whole body
anyway, don’t you? Yes. Oh, yes.
You don’t just sort of turn things on and off. (LAUGHS)
Well, I don’t know. But I would think I’d just be going forward. (LAUGHS) Television,
you just go forward! I get the sense that the audience wants me
to turn around, though! I don’t know! That is it! (LAUGHS)
I’ll tell you, it’s a bit of a nightmare doing stand-up in the round, because there’s
no other person facing the other direction. Right.
So you just go around and around and around! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Trying to bring
everyone in closer, you know? And you go nuts. So as far as that [is concerned], one-person
shows, solo shows don’t do it. Yeah!
Ooh, not in the round, not in the round. Do you try to adjust to an audience? Do you
try to change? No, no, I think you try and persuade that
if they’re not reacting right, they’re wrong. (LAUGHTER) I’ve dismissed a couple
of audiences, which is amazing for performers. You dismissed?
Yeah, I sent them away. They were crap. (LAUGHTER) You must all go home!
You can only do it in street performing – Oh!
Because they don’t pay till the end, so there’s no deal here. And they came out,
and me and my partner, we were busting our guts, ripping our guts out there, putting
down stuff that was not very good but was done with such (LAUGHTER) stuff, and they
were just, “Aaaannnh.” So I said, “No, you’re no good, go.” (GASPS FROM THE AUDIENCE)
Oh, power! And then they wouldn’t go! Then they got
very interested. They became very theatrical. (LAUGHTER) I did this twice. The second time,
my partner thought I was joking, and I said, “No, they’re crap,” and I was off. (PIA
LAUGHS) And he kept coming on and saying, “Do you want him back on?” And I’m like,
“I’m not going on! They’re just rubbish.” And he just thought it was a joke, and the
audience wouldn’t go then. (LAUGHTER) What about these noisy audiences? Like phones
going off, is that bad? Oh!
Oh, man, oh! My favorite are when, in the front row – this
has happened several times at MILLIE – you’ll have some children passing a bag of Doritos!
(GROANS) Oh, gosh!
It kills me! I’m like, why are they eating? And the parents are just sitting there!
Oh! (GROANS FROM THE PANEL) Sometimes you do a show, and the audience
– like, let’s say you do a straight play, and there is some comic element to it. So
it kind of throws you, because you do the play and sometimes an audience will laugh
at all the laugh lines but give you a very mild reception at the end of the show. Then
there’s people who don’t laugh at all the hot button lines in the show –
And go crazy! And they give you a standing ovation, they’re
sobbing! (PIA LAUGHS) I did STREETCAR on Broadway, and I had to learn that there were people
sometimes who, their great respect they’re paying to the performance and to the production
is that they’re just listening very intently. Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
They might not be very vocal in their appreciation. And one time, this young woman, like in the
front row, she took a picture of us on stage, in the middle of like one of the biggest scenes
in the play, the rape scene. And so, when it was over, the following scene begins, the
lights come up and we’re playing cards, it’s the last scene of the play. And I’m
talking to my friends and I have this beer in my hand (DEMONSTRATES WITH HIS COFFEE CUP).
And I’m doing my lines and we’re talking, and I walked up and I poured the beer right
on the girl’s head in the front row of the theatre.
Oh, no! (LAUGHTER AND GASPS FROM THE AUDIENCE) And I – (LAUGHS AND POINTS TO A MAN IN THE
AUDIENCE) Look at him! He’s like, “Oh my God! He did?!” (LAUGHTER) Oh, I wish
I’d took a picture of that. So I dumped this beer on this girl’s head, you know?
I just was so – I mean, I got that way. I would do the show, and I would like mutter
to the audience. If I thought we’d really nailed it, because you know collectively in
the company when you’ve done a good show. Yeah.
And when we’d do a really [good show], everybody was on, and everybody scanned it and we rode
that wave and we’d do it, and then everybody in the audience would be like this (CLAPS
LISTLESSLY). I would take my bow and I would literally be going, (SPEAKS UNDER HIS BREATH)
“You bastards!” (LAUGHTER) And you’d like mutter oaths to the audience, you’d
hate them because they’re so unappreciative. I know, yeah! You try not to let it throw
you. “I hope I never see any of you ever again!”
(LAUGHTER) I have to say, you know, sometimes when actors
come off, and this really annoys me, actors say, “Oh, they’re a terrible audience.”
And that always makes me say there’s no such thing as a terrible audience. It’s
always the actors, as far as I’m concerned. I honestly don’t think so.
You think so? (LAUGHTER) No, I don’t, I really don’t. And to me, if an audience
is unresponsive, there’s something going wrong with the energy on stage. And even stuff
like cell phones, you know, people go, “Oh, my God, a cell phone went off!” Well, you
know what? You can gauge two things from that. First of all, when the audience hear a cell
phone go off, if the audience go, (WHISPERS, SNARLING) “Oh, stop-s-s-stop-s-s-stop!”,
it means they’re on your side! That’s nice to know.
Yes. If you hear someone go, “Hello?” (LAUGHTER)
Then you know that’s a problem! And secondly, it’s a good test for you as
an actor. Why should it interfere with your concentration? It’s not in your world. So
don’t buy into it. I’m quite tough in that way. I’m quite tough, really. I don’t
think there is such thing as a bad audience, and if there is, it’s my job to make it
a good audience. I really believe that. I know. It’s true.
Yeah. A lot of times, too, an audience, when I was doing one of the first Broadway shows
that I did, I ended up being out early on in it, because I sprained my ankle. And I
remember sitting in the audience, towards the back of the orchestra, and somebody had
gone down in the lobby and was having a coughing attack. And you couldn’t hear it from the
stage, but the last half of the orchestra was looking around, going, “What’s going
on? Is somebody dying down there?” Now, the people on stage would not have a sense
at all that that’s something that’s going on in the audience.
Right. And you just think, “Well, what’s wrong?
Why am I losing the audience?” There are all sorts of things that happen. People get
sick or whatever. Sometimes you don’t know. But for my taste, though, I think the audiences
– I consider them the last character of the play, to come into a play. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
They really help, I think, everybody shape the show, shape your character, shape your
laugh, shape your timing. And then it changes, and that’s, I think,
what’s so fun about the theatre, is that it’s never the same way every night. Audiences
— we’re all talking about reading audiences – they’re as different as every individual
in an audience. And just as we as individuals can start becoming good at reading individual
people, I think once you start performing and doing eight shows a week for any length
of time, you start becoming a connoisseur of audiences also. (SUTTON LAUGHS) And appreciating
and enjoying what they are. And sometimes, it’s even sections of an
audience that needs a little picking up. Or sometimes you’ll go in and you can feel
like, before the show starts, “Oh, this audience is really giddy. Okay. Well, I can
play this laugh a little bit different here.” Or, “This audience is really dead. Let me
hit this section a little bit quicker than I normally would, and then it’ll get to
this punch line in a different way.” But it becomes –
It’s like an art. (LAUGHS) An art! Yes, exactly!
It is an art. And that’s what’s different about the
theatre than anything else. I consider it a long-form arc, because if you’re lucky
enough to get a show and a run that lasts a long time, over a long, long period of time,
you’re not only playing with this character and the other actors on stage, you’re playing
with the audience. You’re playing with this very subtle kind of esoteric energy almost
that pervades a room and sometimes pervades the world. Wow, after 9/11 or after the war
started – Right.
Or after things like that, you feel, “Not only are we depressed as individuals, an audience
is depressed.” And you understand that. And sometimes you just do your best, and you
just know, the audiences can only do so much. They just don’t feel like laughing right
now. I mean, you know what? As just a final footnote
to this thing about audience noise, we had somebody last Saturday, we came and did the
matinee and then actors came off and said, “Who the hell is that man coughing?! That
man, that terrible, terrible cough!” And this man was coughing. And a man wasn’t
coughing, he was dying. Oh! (GASPS FROM THE AUDIENCE)
So you know what I mean? So before you start going, “Oh, God, they’re such a nightmare
and why don’t they shut up?” … hey. Did you have an experience with an audience?
This is my favorite funny story of this, because I did the Off-Broadway production of PRELUDE
TO A KISS in 1989, with Mary Louise Parker, Circle Rep Theatre, and there was a very old
woman and a very old man in the front row. Hundred and ninety-nine seat house, very intimate,
very, you know, reveling in the material, we were all grooving and connecting with the
audience. Had to talk to the audience and address the audience as a narrator.
And if anybody knows Craig Lucas’ play about this kind of soul-swap thing, as soon as I
have this really tender scene, I kiss Barney Hughes or something I have to do, it was like
some really achingly beautiful poignant moment, the older woman turns to the older man and
goes, “Murray, the girl is in the old man’s body! (LAUGHTER) The girl has gone into the
old man’s body, Murray! Do you understand?” I mean, she just announced it to the audience.
Oh, my gosh. They do this at the end of VINCENT IN BRIXTON.
Oh, do they? There’s a scene where Vincent – this takes
place all in silence, and it’s the end of the play and it’s all rather marvelous and
all that. And we sit there and Vincent starts to draw the boots, you know, this famous drawing
of the boots. And this deep, dark silence. (WHISPERS LOUDLY) “He’s drawing the shoes!
He’s drawing the shoes! (LAUGHTER) Murray, he’s drawing the shoes!”
It’s the same woman! It’s the same woman! “Shh, shh, shh, shh!”
Did you have an experience with cell phones? Well, I did, but you know, we all do, I’m
sure. The audience that I most remember, I was doing a show a few years ago at the Gershwin
Theatre, 1776. It’s an enormous theatre! I think there are like a hundred seats less
than Yankee Stadium or something. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, it’s enormous.
I mean, it’s like, huge! And every Wednesday afternoon, they brought in an entire audience
of inner-city children, which was a great idea, school kids. But they also all had candy.
(LAUGHTER) And there seemed to be a cue, it was time to open the candy, and I swear, it
sounded like it was raining in the audience. (LAUGHTER) And that was a play – I mean,
I respect the audience and I know there’s no bad audience, but that was a show where
we all saved our voices and just went (MIMES SPEAKING) (LAUGHTER) Because they had no idea!
What about directors? How do you work with a director? How do you look for a director?
Look for in a director? A director’s usually in place, isn’t it?
Well, in my gigs. Yeah, usually. I mean, you hope – I hope
that they’re going to be somebody – it depends on the show, really.
Do you audition a director? Not usually. This last time, I sort of got
to have approval of a director, so that was kind of a nice thing. But usually, no, they
audition you! They audition you, yeah! (LAUGHTER)
So you know, you’re trying to do your best to impress them! But I do, in a sense that,
when I was doing KISS ME KATE, which was a show at first that I did not want to do because
I didn’t care for the show. But Michael Blakemore, everybody kept coming up to me
on the street and saying, “Oh, Michael Blakemore is doing KISS ME KATE and I hear they want
you to do it, and he’s the best director you’ll ever work with, the greatest experience
you’ll ever have in your life.” And this is, you know, totally unsolicited.
And I thought, okay. And he directed NOISES OFF, one of the funniest plays that I’ve
ever seen, and I thought, “Wow, I can learn a lot from this guy.” And that kind of comedy,
that kind of high-wit comedy was not something that I had done, really. So I thought, “Great,
I’m in good hands here. Let me keep my mouth shut, listen to what he has to teach me and
do that.” And he taught me great, great things. He was a wonderful, wonderful, knowledgeable,
fun man. And he directed in a very funny way, because
he wouldn’t give you a line reading, but he would say things like, “Well, you know,
when he comes in, you know, you should say, uh, uh, uh, ‘Yes, how ARE you doing today?’
No, don’t do it like that!” And he’d always give you the perfect line reading!
(LAUGHTER) Every time he would say, “Don’t do it that way!” He would kind of respect
the fact that you still needed to explore on your own. But otherwise, I like directors
that kind of just let me go free and kind of guide me –
Yeah. And give me ideas and concepts and a big playground
to play in and kind of give me gentle guidance and just let me play and do what I want. But
when I’m lost, like with Michael Blakemore, in a realm that I don’t really know, it’s
great to have somebody like that. So it changes, I think, for me, from show to show.
Is a director important to you? Oh, yeah! You hope that the director that
you’re working with has the ultimate vision. Because the problem sometimes with the shows
is that there are like eighty cooks. And you hope that one person has the ultimate vision
and can therefore guide the rest of the creative team and the entire cast so that everyone’s
on the same page. And then, you also really want to have a trust. I would have never – I
was thrown into MILLIE with a week of rehearsal, and I would never have been able to have done
it without Michael Mayer completing guiding me in La Jolla and here in New York. I completely
trusted him and he trusted me, which was amazing, because you know, I barely trust myself. So
it was really nice to have someone that just completely guided me in the right direction.
And of course, actors and actresses can’t really see themselves, isn’t that part of
the – Yeah.
You have to learn how, though. Yeah. I’m still learning.
To see yourself? Oh, yeah.
Oh the stage? Do you need a director? Well, I was going to say that I think that
for directors, you have to have a little of both. Meaning, if you’re not somewhat self-directing,
especially in films, you’re dead. Because a lot of them don’t know anything about
acting, they don’t know anything about characters, they don’t know anything – they’re technicians.
In the theatre, you’re more likely to walk into the room and throw yourself into the
arms and the trust of someone. If I’m going to work with Dan Sullivan, if I’m going
to work with George Wolfe, if I’m going to work with Greg Mosher or people like that,
then I’m more likely to say, “What do you want me to do?” In film, many of the
people who are working in film, you know, you don’t have an answer to that question.
You have to become very self-directing, you know? It’s very painful in that way.
I mean, I’ve been doing MILLIE for over a year now, eight shows a week. And my director,
he’s not there all the time. He’ll come in every other month or so. So it really is
up to me, as an actor, to maintain the level of what I’m doing each week. So many things
play into it, the audiences and also the craft of how exciting you get eight times a week
to try to do your best. But it is [that] you have to be your own director, in a sense,
because if you start going down the wrong path, you have to be the one to keep yourself
in line and keep telling the story. I think there’s always for me a level of
confusion about this. I’ve always understood as an actor, it’s my job to produce a character.
I’m always confused by actors who say, “I don’t know what he wants me to do,” because
it’s my job to produce a fully-fleshed character. That’s my job! I don’t think it’s my
job to sit there and have a director say, “I want you to play like this, this and
this.” (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I think it’s the director’s job to say, “Does that
fit into my big scheme of things?” And if not, then we can modulate.
Right. But my job is to produce a fully-fleshed character.
You’ve got to come in prepared. That’s right.
You’ve got to do the work before the first day of rehearsal, and then hopefully, the
director will guide you. You know, together you guys can guide down the right path.
We’re going to talk a little bit more about your preparation, but first we’re going
to have a pause, to hear some words from Isabelle Stevenson.
Before we get back to the American Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminar
on Performance, I would like to remind you that these seminars are only one of the many
year-round programs undertaken by the American Theatre Wing. You are probably familiar with
the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards, given for achievement of excellence in the
Broadway theatre. Well, we also have an important grants program, providing aid to Off- and
Off-Off-Broadway theatres. We have also expanded our scholarships, to promising students to
pursue studies in the theatre arts. We offer a comprehensive guide to careers in the theatre
to those seriously interested in entering the profession.
As a long-established charity, dating back to World War One, and World War Two, and our
famous Stage Door Canteen, all of our programs are designed to reward and promote excellence
in the theatre. We just love to introduce young people and their families to theatre
and the magic it unfolds. We take great pride in the work we do and remain grateful to our
members and everyone else whose contributions help make possible the dynamic programs of
the American Theatre Wing. Our work is so important to the theatre and the community
and we are proud to be part of this exciting industry.
So now, let’s return to our panel on performance, and those wonderful people who have given
their time and energy and knowledge to make this program possible, and our moderator,
Pia Lindstrom. Would you please go on? And thank all these people for me, too, as well.
Thank you, thank you, Isabelle. (APPLAUSE) And all of you! Now I want to ask this very
astute panel a very serious question, and it is this? What do you do when the prop’s
not there, the door doesn’t open, the gun doesn’t go off? Alec?
God. I go through the window. (LAUGHTER) I went
through the window when the door wouldn’t open.
Did you? And that’s smart of you. I did a play, and
the doorknob falls off the door. And the door is facing downstage, fourth wall, so the wall
is the house. And I am doing STREETCAR, and I gotta go pick her up and do, “Stella,
Stella, Stella!” And all the guys throw me in the shower and they all run out and
they slam the door and the knob falls off. (LAUGHTER) So I come out of the shower to
go get my wife and apologize to my wife, and the doorknob falls off. And there’s a screen
inside the door, ‘cause you’re in the South.
And what I should have done! – (PIA LAUGHS) and I will never make this mistake again,
we learn as we go! – is I should have put my fist through the screen, as the person
would have done, and opened the door with the other knob and let myself out. But instead,
I stood there, and I walked around the door. (LAUGHTER) And the audience erupted into the
biggest laugh I ever got in the history of the run of the show! And applauded. And then
when I came back, I realized after the fact, I have her in my arms, that the other knob
is off. So this time I wasn’t going to be outdone, and I kicked the door off its frame
and it broke right off the frame. That’s pretty good.
And my favorite thing is this, ‘cause of everybody’s who’s worked on the show,
there is nothing like New York stagehands in the world. And the New York stagehands,
I used to say to them, one time I’d say, “I’m gonna punch the table,” and I punched
this. Really, it was a heavy, heavy oak table. And I would say that line, I’d say, “Remember
what Huey Long says, every man is a king. (PUNCHES THE COFFEE TABLE) And I am the king
around here, and don’t you forget it!” I would say to my wife – to Blanche and
her sister, and to Stella. And I kept punching the table, and I crushed my knuckle. You know,
my hand was numb. So I said to the stagehands, “Could you
cut this section of the table out and put like a foam pad in there for me, and I want
to be able to punch the table?” And the stagehands literally stood there, like two
or three of them, and they went, “You want us to cut the corner of the table out for
you, Mr. Baldwin? And put some foam there? So you can smash the table wid your hands?
Why don’t you do something else? Why don’t you say, (SMACKS HIS HANDS TOGETHER) ‘And
I am the king around here!’ (LAUGHTER) Wid your hands! Or hit yourself on the thigh,
and say ‘I am the king around here!’ (LAUGHTER) ‘Cause you do another gesture. You don’t
have to punch the table. It’s a lot of work to cut the table out.”
Eddie, did you have an experience? Did you think they had a point?
Maybe. These stagehands must know a lot of things I don’t know, yeah. So the rest of
the show, I wound up hitting myself on the chest. (LAUGHTER) I go out like an ape, I
go, “I am the king around here!” But I’ll never forget their faces. Then when I kicked
the door off the hinge in that scene, there’s a curtain after that for the first act, and
I come backstage, and they’re all standing in the wings, they’re all going, “Oh,
that’s bad. (LAUGHTER) That’s so bad. We’re never gonna be able to fix that before
the next act. Why couldn’t you go around again? You did it once. There was no shame,
no shame! Go around again!” Anybody else have the props not there? All
your props are there, Brian? You never – Yeah, I’ve been fortunate.
You’ve been lucky. I’m sure there haven’t been, and I probably
put them out of my mind. But I can’t think of a specific.
Did you ever forget your lines? Oh, man, yeah. (LAUGHTER) The worst one was
in the middle of a song, “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?” During KISS ME KATE, I
was always terrified of that song. I blew those lyrics when I auditioned that song.
And I thought, “Oh, man, I just can’t! This song just won’t go in!” Every night
I was terrified that I would forget the lines for that song, and one night, I did. And usually,
I can make up lyrics pretty quickly and usually make ‘em rhyme and make ‘em up. This time,
(LAUGHS) I just started saying nonsense words, and nothing came out! And finally, I just
stopped the show! And said (LAUGHS) – the audience knew I was in trouble, what else
can you do? I stopped the show, and I look at Paul Gemignani, and I say, “Maestro,
help!” And he looks up at me, and looks down where his score wasn’t, and goes … (SHRUGS
AND SHAKES HIS HEAD) Oh, no! (LAUGHTER)
What did the audience do? Oh, they laughed. You know, again, one of
the fun things about the theatre, is people love being there when something like that
happens. When something goes wrong.
Yes, yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) They were there the night he dried! There you go!
Exactly. And that show was so much fun, and so silly, anyway. They’re already in the
mood for that, so they just love it when something like that happens. So thank God, they were
in good humor, and we got back on track. And of course, at the end of that I think I got
the biggest number [SIC; HE MEANS “APPLAUSE”] I ever got.
Sutton, did you have a prop not appear? Well, I’ve had more of a –
Forgetting? Or a breaking of character. I’m not proud
of it! But we have a scene in MILLIE where it’s me, Millie, Jimmy and Mr. Graydon,
and it’s a very serious scene and we stand up and sit down and it’s this sort of very
farcical scene. And I was on stage with Gavin Creel and Mark Kudisch, who always tend to
have little twinkles in their eyes, as if something could just send ‘em over the edge.
Mark Kudisch, especially. (LAUGHS) But one night, I say a line, “Sad to be all alone
in the world,” and the audience applauded, and Mark Kudisch just held for the laugh,
and I was frozen like this, you know, (LAUGHS) “Uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.” (LAUGHTER) “Uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh!”
And all I saw were Gavin and Mark’s shoulders going and I thought, “Oh, no! We’re gone!”
And then the audience realized that we were laughing and they started laughing, and it
was over! I literally at one point had my head in my lap going, “Just – just go!
Someone say a line! Just go!” (LAUGHTER) And Mark Kudisch was like, “We have to start
over! We have to do the whole scene over!” I’m like, “Oh, my God!” He made us do
the entire scene over. It was one of the most – it was like the Carol Burnett show.
Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh! I’m not proud of it! But it was probably
one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had on stage. (LAUGHTER)
Have you forgotten a line, or had a door not open, Clare?
This is a very dangerous thing to say. I’ve never yet! (KNOCKS ON WOOD; LAUGHTER; LOOKS
TO THE HEAVENS) Oh, please, don’t do it! You’re lucky. And Brent, has something happened
to you? I had a situation once on stage. It was very
similar to this. The audience was pretty much where you are, a little bit closer actually,
and I was playing with an older gentleman and he was playing my father. And what I had
to do, there was a blackout, and the two of us were on stage in a big easy chair. And
during the blackout, I was to turn the chair, find him, put him in the chair, sit at his
feet, and the lights would come up. And the lights went out, I turned the chair,
I reached for him, and I heard, “Hunnh!” (LAUGHTER) And I realized he’d gone into
the audience! (LAUGHTER) So it was completely black, and I stood at the end of the stage
in the blackness, doing this. (REACHES OUT WITH HIS HANDS) And finally, grabbed his hands,
pulled him on stage, put him in the chair, lights came up, and it was a guy from the
audience. (LAUGHTER) You made that up!
You waited to tell that story?! I’ve never heard –
You can’t get a better story than that! No, really. What happened to the other guy?
(LAUGHTER) The actor!
He was still laying on somebody’s lap. (LAUGHTER) Oh, that’s the worst I ever heard.
You were saving it for Charlie Rose, right? Did you carry on?
Yeah, we carried on. The guy was actually a better actor. (LAUGHTER) And that man –
Is Sean Penn! (LAUGHTER) Sutton, you’re the epitome of “You’re
going out there and being a star!” Now, how does it work with you now, that symbolism?
How did you get up? How did you get to be –
Well, the difference between going out and stand-up on your own, and doing theatre, you
Well, you gotta stop for the other people to talk, which is always a bit weird. (LAUGHTER)
Well, actually, that’s the difference between improv and stand-up. I always wanted to be
an actor, you see. When I was seven, I wanted to be an actor. So I never wanted to do stand-up.
When I couldn’t get any parts at school, I thought Monty Python was my big image, so
I wanted to kind of do comedy like that. Comic acting, really, kind of Peter Sellars, Monty
Python. And it’s been a big curve round, to getting to here.
So I’m very open to learning. I’ve been through so much humiliation getting here,
which is an important thing. Because once I dumped sketch acting, I learned street performing,
and that was so humiliating that I broke myself. People talk about going to acting schools
and, “They break you down and build you up, sometimes!” Or they just annoy you,
or whatever. (SUTTON LAUGHS) But I accidentally lost all my confidence. I was a real pushy,
arrogant pain-in-the-ass. And I ended up asking strange people how to street perform, ‘cause
I couldn’t do this stuff. And when I eventually learned to do that,
almost just by – I couldn’t think of anything better to do, I applied that humiliation technique
that if you learn something in a new medium of performance, that you have to go through
a humiliating period where people say, “This is rubbish!” (PIA LAUGHS) And go to, “Hey,
he’s not so bad!” and to, “Oh, he’s very good.” And so now hopefully, it’s
kind of, “Hey, okay.” (LAUGHTER) Stuff in the right area, he’s pointing in the
right direction. So I just let it assimilate out.
I wish to be a student when I’m, you know, ninety or a hundred, and saying, “Now, I’m
going to learn this!” Because I feel you can. If you know the center of yourself and
the center of your creativity, I feel you can apply it. You should be open to being
down the Renaissance end of town, of just saying, “Hey, I want to do this and I want
to do that!” I’m not sure if it’s right, but I’m just open to learning. And hopefully,
I can say, “I’m bad at that! Please tell me what to do,” and just say, “I don’t
know.” What’s also weird is when you work with
people that are playful on stage. Like, when I did that Orton play and I was so nervous,
and I thought, you know, “This is like being in church to me,” and you had to take it
all very seriously. And you’re with someone who is really accomplished, like Joe Maher,
the late, great Joe Maher. Who, there’s a scene in the play which is a big comedy,
but he would take this book and he was supposed to turn to Zeljko Ivanek and I and say, you
know, “You have before you a man who is quite a personage in his own way, Truscott
of the Yard.” And (MIMES THIS) he would take a book, and with a flourish he’d open
the book to indicate from, you know, the annals of Scotland Yard, his place in this book.
He’d say, “You have before you a man who is quite a personage in his way, Truscott
of the Yard!” And Joe would go and get male porno magazines
(LAUGHTER) and cut pictures of male porn stars and glue them into the book. “You have before
you a man who’s quite a personage in a way, (LAUGHTER) Truscott of the Yard!” And our
line was, “It’s you!” And Zeljko Ivanek would sit there and go, (SHRIEKS WITH LAUGHTER)
“No-ho! It’s you!” And there would be like some guy like this, leaning on the bed,
you know? (DEMONSTRATES LEANING BACK, HANDS BEHIND HIS HEAD; LAUGHTER) You work with people
like that, it’s so insanity-inducing, you know?
Yes. It’s always dangerous to have letters, isn’t it? (SUTTON LAUGHS)
You’re working with John Turturro. Indeed.
Now, that’s a personage to deal with, isn’t it?
Well, in a sense. I would have thought so, too, prior to working with him, but he’s
actually a very, very smart, very serious actor. And he doesn’t really fool around.
He does his job really well, and it’s just exciting to be in his presence and watch him
work. I have to ask you about your voice. When you
sing, the two of you who have to sing, such a long thing, does your voice get tired?
Oh, yes. And you have vocal problems with this?
I’ve been doing MILLIE for almost a year and a half now, and it is the hardest thing
I’ve ever had to do, and I do all eight shows. And each week, it’s a victory when
I make it through to each Sunday. By Sunday, I’m like, “Ah-ha!” It’s just a goal,
to be able to do all eight shows. Pretty much, my entire life revolves around not talking
too much. I study with an incredible – (GESTURES TO BRIAN) we both study with the same teacher.
Oh, do you? I have a voice lesson every week. My voice
is my life. And it’s really hard when, you know, if I can’t sing, I can’t perform.
But it’s also hard because my relationships have suffered. I can’t go out. I can’t
go out and talk or go out anywhere and have to speak over music or anything. So I really
live a little bit like a nun. But it’s sort of a sacrifice that I pay for starring in
a show. And you must have the same thing.
Pia, I’d like to know where they came from. I don’t mean, from Brooklyn. But how did
you get to where you are in the city, go to school?
Went to – did accounting at Sheffield, which didn’t help. How did I get here? God, I
don’t know! Yeah, I did sketch comedy at the Edinburgh festival from 1981. I spent
a year watching television. (LAUGHTER) Came out with being a transvestite. Then went to
street performing, but not wearing any makeup. And then once I’d got the hang of – well,
sort of broken myself apart and re-built, then it was street performing into stand-up,
from ’88. And then, when stand-up started taking off, I held it back, tried not to do
television so I could try and do dramatic work. So I started from 1993, trying to just
do dramatic stuff on film or theatre, and then do comedy over in that way. So I’m
just a complete mess! (LAUGHTER) Sutton, did you go to an acting school?
I started dancing when I was four. I had boundless energy as a child, and as I was running into
walls and things, my mom thought it might be a way for me to get some grace. And she
was also a big fan of the movies. But I grew up in a very small town in Georgia, three
different towns in Georgia and Michigan. And I started dancing, I really liked it, kind
of had a knack for it, you know. And my brother – I have an older brother,
Hunter Foster, who’s also a Broadway performer. And he did a production of YOU’RE A GOOD
MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. He was sort of bribed to be in it through our church. They needed
a Linus, and they were like, “You!” And they made him do it, and he was like, “I
don’t know … ” We were these Southern kids who’d never – my father works for
General Motors, my mother was a homemaker. No one in our family is involved in the theatre,
and we just sort of fell into it. And Hunter and I both kept – we were just
good at it and we just kept doing community theatre and high school theatre and moved
to Michigan and just started working in professional little theatres around Michigan. And they
had a call for the first national tour of WILL ROGERS’ FOLLIES, in Detroit, and I
went. I was seventeen, just turned seventeen. Did you get an agent?
When I came to New York, I did. But later, much later. I had already been working professionally
before I got an agent. But I was seventeen years old, and I went to an open call for
the first national tour of WILL ROGERS, and got a callback and was flown to New York.
And never been to New York. Was on the stage of the Palace Theatre. Never been to a Broadway
show. Auditioned for Tommy Tune and Cy Coleman, who were in the audience. I was a child! And
I got cast. And next thing I knew, I was a senior in high
school, and I was on the road with WILL ROGERS’ FOLLIES. And then ever since then, I just
sort of kept working. And I got an agent once I came to New York, and I was doing the national
tour of GREASE! and they had seen me in the show and asked if I needed representation,
and I said, “Yes! Please!” Alec, did you go to an acting school?
I went to NYU drama school. But you know, the thing that I think was most determinative
for me was when I came into the business and I did a soap, was the first job I had, at
30 Rock. And it was one of the last half-hour shows in New York, and so, everyone in the
cast could go do theatre. Oh, that’s good.
And they had contracts where they could get out, and they would pre-tape their scenes.
And it was interesting for me that my first professional gig, and this is why I say I
learned so much from other actors, was the world I was in was a show that was a half-hour
show, that was an older show and its audience was an older audience, the actors were older.
It wasn’t this kind of youth trip that soaps have become over the last twenty years.
And every one of these people would spend the summer break at a summer theatre. They’d
do dinner theatre, they’d do regional theatre. Jim Pritchett, Lydia Bruce, Liz Hubbard, David
O’Brien played my father, Val Mahaffey, Franc Luz, Johnny Pankow was in the cast for
a while, Tuck Milligan. All these people who, when we would sit around and talk, they all
talked about the theatre. And they all talked about, “I’m gonna go do LIGHT UP THE SKY.”
“I’m gonna do GUYS AND DOLLS.” “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this.” And
it was – by being around them at the early days of my career, that I was indoctrinated
into – I mean, they really basically said this without saying it, “You know, you’re
nothing if you don’t do theatre.” And I remember just this aching yearning,
‘cause I just kept working and doing TV and movies, and TV and movies, to just always
run and do a play whenever I was available. And back then, it was easier! You know, I
was doing a play a year for about six or seven years, until after ’92, and it became harder.
But for me, my first jobs – I learned more on my first jobs about professionalism and
how to save your energy and how to deal with [things].
I’ll just say one last thing, which I thought was interesting. I saw a guy the other day
at a reading of a play, and he was wonderful. And I went backstage afterward and I said,
“Do you have an agent and do you get a lot of work?” I mean, I thought he was this
really gifted young actor. He said, “Yeah.” He goes, “I got an agent.” And I said,
“Did you ever think of doing this kind of a program?” ‘cause he was a very deft
comedian, and he was very funny. And he goes, “Yeah, I don’t think I’d want to be
on one of those kinds of shows, like “Saturday Night Live” or whatever.” He said, “I
really don’t work well under pressure.” And I thought, “Wow.” You know, there
really is a significant difference between doing this – I mean, there are people who
become professionals in this business, I believe, because they have something that people who
don’t become professionals don’t have, which is when you work in this business, when
the curtain goes up at eight o’clock at night, nobody cares how you feel. (LAUGHTER)
You know, nobody cares if your boyfriend just broke up with you, or you’re not feeling
well, whatever. Right. You can’t give the disclaimer beforehand.
Exactly, exactly. You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to do it. When they roll the
camera, and they point the camera at a piece of air, you have to step in front of it and
do what they’re paying you to do. No one cares how you feel. And that way that you
can – like, you talk about how you control and manage yourself during the day in order
to do the show. I would go to work sometimes, and sometimes
I knew – for me, it’s like an energy tank. You talk about the organ. And for me, I know
how much is in the tank. So I’ll go to work, and I’ll see someone and I’ll go, “Well,
how are you today, Sutton?” And she’ll go, (SOBS) “Oh, my father isn’t feeling
well, he’s very sick,” and I’ll be like, “I can’t know that now. (LAUGHTER) I can’t
know that now about you. I only have enough energy for me to do the show tonight. Please
don’t talk to me about your family illnesses.” (LAUGHTER)
I went to drama school. I mean, I went to college and was a theatre major in college.
And then I came to New York and went to acting school here. My first impulse to be an actor,
I think, was when I was a very little boy, my mother owned a furniture store. And so,
we were one of the first people in Houston, Texas, to have a television. That’s how
old I am! (LAUGHTER) And some of you might remember (LAUGHS) – you know, Alec! Don’t
look at me like this! (LAUGHTER) I can’t believe you’d admit that! I can’t
believe you’d admit that! (LAUGHTER) We have a long way to go here in this business.
Exactly! Anyway – this was back in the thirties. (LAUGHTER) In those days, they had a test
pattern on the television, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, it was
a test pattern. And my mother was a very smart woman and she would put my brother and I in
front of the test pattern first thing in the morning and we would watch it for hours. (LAUGHTER)
It was an Indian. Do you remember the Indian head test pattern? And so, the first thing
I wanted to be was a test pattern, but they already had one. (LAUGHTER) But that really
encouraged me, and I think that – Clare, are you a more serious person? (LAUGHS)
Did you study – oh, you did, you did at LAMDA, that’s right.
I did. Yes, I did, I did. But I didn’t go till I was quite late. I didn’t go till
I was – how old was I? Twenty-one. Because I had been so (LAUGHS) traumatized by my parents’
rejection of my acting aspirations. I just really didn’t dare say that’s what I wanted
to do. And I felt that everybody would think I was showing off. And I came from quite a
strict sort of academic background, and it just wasn’t on to say you wanted to be an
actress. You were supposed to go to Oxford or Cambridge and all of that. So really, I
just sort of shut up about it. I did all those horrible jobs that people do when they don’t
really know what they want to do. But actually, I do remember how I – I applied
for drama school because I was working in a bar around the corner from an amateur theatre,
and these people would come in every night and talk – loudly, of course! (LAUGHTER)
– about the theatre, dahling, and this and that, and how marvelous it was. And I used
to think, “I hate these people! (LAUGHTER) And I’m going to do that!” So I went round
the corner to this theatre and said that I wanted to join in, and I did. And then, two weeks later, the guy who ran
it said, “I think you should audition for drama school,” and I did and I got in. And
I was immensely surprised. And I have to say, I’ve been immensely surprised ever since,
and I mean this, to work. It is a constant surprise to me. I don’t know if every other
actor here is as surprised as I am. Yeah, right.
Absolutely. Is it a surprise to you?
Constantly. Your career, are you surprised?
I say I am the luckiest actor in the world. I can not believe how blessed I have been
from the beginning. From the time I started acting and got my card, I was seventeen years
old, I think. I was working in theatres. Where were you born?
I was born in Seattle, but we moved around a lot. My dad worked for the Navy as a civilian,
so I spent my childhood overseas, mostly, in the Philippines and Guam, and San Diego
and Seattle, and then I moved up to Los Angeles from there. But I was very lucky in that one
thing just kind of led into another. I never had to wait tables. I never had to pump gas.
I really was always able to make a living, once I left home at seventeen, solely as an
actor. Now granted, you know, I was paying rent of a hundred twelve dollars a month at
that time, and I was making maybe four hundred dollars a month at that time. But there was
a way, of course, to make it all work. And just one thing led to another, and I don’t
know why that is. I just feel so incredibly fortunate.
But maybe part of it, also, has to do with – I mean, a lot of it is just genetics,
you know? You were asking about the voice and all of that earlier. I don’t have control
over the way I look or the way my voice sounds. That’s a lucky accident. I got good genes
from my father and my mother and whatever. And then, you know, that other lucky X factor
that falls into place where you’re just at the right place at the right time. (GENERAL
AGREEMENT) But the saying goes, “Luck favors the prepared.”
And so, I think part of it has been for me that I’ve always worked and tried to learn,
but it’s never been an ordeal for me. It’s always been a lot of fun. I think it’s just
because I love people and life and the world so much that it’s always been a fascination
for me. But I don’t know. What is that thing that’s led me from one job to another and
taken me where I am now? I have no idea. I’m just, you know, be quiet and be thankful.
It could be talent! I think it must be talent. Well, you know, but I don’t –
I’d like to hear the answer, but we’ve come to the end of our program. (AUDIENCE
GROANS) So we’ll save that for the next time you come on.
Okay. I think it’s your talent. I thank you all,
and you do take my breath away, you really do. You are wonderful, talented actors.
Oh, you’re just saying that. I am! (LAUGHTER)
I’ll give you some of my breath and then we can do that breath thing. That’s getting
sexual. (LAUGHTER) I thank you all. This has been wonderful.
It’s really great to see you all and talk to you all. And that brings us to the end
of this, the American Theatre Wing seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” We’re at
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Thank you so very much. (APPLAUSE)