Stage Veterans (Working In The Theatre #328)


Hello, I’m Sondra Gilman , Chairman of the
American Theatre Wing. And I’m Doug Leeds, President. We welcome you to the American Theatre Wing’s
“Working in the Theatre” seminars. Every one of these programs covers a specific
topic in the art of theatre, and funding from the Annenberg and Dorothy Strelsin Foundations
have allowed us to expand these forums. We want to thank them for their wonderful
support. The Wing, with our partners, the League of
American Theatres and Producers, is perhaps best known as the presenters of the Tony Awards,
which recognizes excellence on Broadway. However, the majority of our resources are
devoted to educational programs, to help young people enter the theatre as a profession. And these seminars are just a small part of
that. Each year, we give scholarships to students
and grants to New York not-for-profit theatres. In addition, we produce a weekly talk show
on XM Satellite Radio, called “Downstage Center,” that is broadcast coast to coast. Our newest program, “SpringboardNYC,”
a theatre intern group, provides educational and career development opportunities for aspiring
theatre professionals. All our educational and media programs, including
these seminars, are available free, on demand, from our web site, www.americantheatrewing.org. We thank you for joining us. So, without further ado, let’s learn more
about working in the theatre with our distinguished panel of stage veterans and our moderator,
Ted Chapin. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Sondra and Doug, and welcome. We have a panel today of distinguished stage
veterans. I’d like to introduce them to you. From my right, Richard Easton , Marian Seldes
, Frances Sternhagen and ROBERT PROSKY . (APPLAUSE) Welcome all. We could spend the entire time we have allocated
here listing the credits of these distinguished people up here. (LAUGHTER) But suffice it to say that their
experiences range from Broadway to the regional theatre across America, to some of the institutional
theatres in New York. They have also toiled in the field of television,
ranging from HILL STREET BLUES to SEX AND THE CITY. And as all good actors must, they have also
made a film or two, and I thought I would read you a random list of films that these
distinguished people have appeared in: DUDLEY DORIGHT (LAUGHTER), DOC HOLLYWOOD (LAUGHTER),
DEAD AGAIN (LAUGHTER) and THE GUN IN BETTY LOU’S HANDBAG. (LAUGHTER) So I thought we should start back in the theatre
and begin the conversation by talking to – several members of the panel are appearing currently
on Broadway or Off-Broadway, and I’d like to start talking about the theatre today,
and what is exciting about acting in the theatre today. Who would like to start that? Robert? (LAUGHS) I don’t know. I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m not
really sure. Actually, it seems to be revitalized. I’ve done Broadway shows – you know, I’ve
been doing this for almost fifty years, and in that period, I come to back to New York
to do a play periodically. And things have grown a great deal, not just
the Disneyesque of Times Square. But the Off-Broadway movement – unfortunately,
we don’t have enough, still, serious plays on Broadway but there are many more Off-Broadway. So there’s more for an actor to do, I think. Unfortunately, some of those things that we
do, especially the younger actors, don’t pay enough (LAUGHS), which is a problem I’ve
always thought was unfair. Is there a difference in the theatre in New
York, between Broadway and the institutional theatres? I know Richard is in a show at Lincoln Center. No. I was thinking that one of the things, to
me, that’s wonderful now, which was not so when I started in the fifties is that actors
now can wander between mediums. That in the fifties, if you were a film actor,
you did film. And if you suddenly did a play, it was thought
that your career must be on the skids and that something was wrong. (LAUGHTER) And I was a sort of classical actor
in the fifties, and I kept trying to do television. And casting directors would say, “No, no,
you’re much too good for me!” And I would say, “No, that’s not true! I’m not! I can do this stuff! (LAUGHTER) I don’t have to shout and spit. I can be real!” But they said, “No, no.” But now, all actors do everything now. Yes. Yes. And even better, you can do books on tape,
you can do commercials. And you can make more in a morning doing a
commercial than you can earn in doing three months in a wonderful play Off-Broadway. So there’s the idea that I think there’s
more respect for actors as actors now than there was, because it is recognized that we
can do all sorts of different things. But I remember in the fifties, also, that
there was a lot of little television in New York. Yes. And you could – you remember the kind of
rule? If you did an Off-Broadway play, for which
you were being paid twenty-five dollars and fifty cents a week (ROBERT LAUGHS), you could
get off for five days to work on a television show that was rehearsing down at Central Plaza,
and make up the amount of money you weren’t making in the Off-Broadway play, by doing
an evening television show that was rehearsing all week and then you would perform it. They don’t have that any more here. No, no. But you’re right. Now, you do have a lot of little – you have
so many more Off-Broadway venues. I mean, if you can consider the institutional
theatres, their small theatres, like Manhattan Theatre Club has two theatres, and actually,
they move plays to, like, the Walter Kerr. And Lincoln Center has two theatres and sometimes
they use a Broadway house. So there’s more opportunity in that. But of course, they don’t pay (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL), which is a terrible cheat. Yep. Because they are institutional theatres, they
have a wonderful thing called the LORT B contract (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), which means that
it’s a sort of a tenth of the Broadway Production Contract. It’s very low. Yes. An American actor almost has to work in other
mediums. Well, all actors. He has no choice. No. If he wants to have a home (LAUGHS) and a
wife and some of the things other people have. Yeah. You must do it. It’s also you must, because it’s interesting. Oh, yes! It is. It’s a different sort of – the acting
is sort of the same, but the surroundings are so different. I remember live television was so exciting,
because there was this huge camera thing that wandered on. But it had the lenses, that you could see
which lens. And so you could say, “Oh, I’m in close-up
now, I’d better get really small.” (LAUGHTER) The cameras today, you don’t know that! Or “It’s a long shot, I’d better (LEANS
TO THE SIDE) peer out, so I can be seen!” And it was technically so interesting. And the same with film. I mean, film, of course, you’re totally
irresponsible. For a stage actor, where you are responsible
for the running of the play, the whole tempo of it and the focus of the audience is really
dependent on the actor. But in film, you have this wonderful thing. You have no responsibility for that at all! (ROBERT LAUGHS) And you can just be beautiful. (LAUGHTER) Yes, but you also don’t have control. No. Oh, no. That’s one of the things that draws us back
to theatre all the time. Yes. (RICHARD NODS) I mean, nobody’s going to cut you, or put
you on the cutting room floor or light you so badly, or the camera will be on the star
while you’re delivering a huge speech and it’s on your back. Yes! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And it’s that control that’s important
to us, I feel. Yes, I always tell my – And the responsibility as well. Yes, exactly! Well, that’s the fun. Because I say to young actors, when they say,
“What do you do if the director wants you to do something and you don’t want to do
it?” And I said, “Well, you do what you want
to do. What can the director say? You’re out there and you’re doing it,
and you say, (PUTS HIS HAND TO HIS FOREHEAD) ‘Oh, sorry! I forgot again!’” (LAUGHTER) But I was told that there was a time in this
country, particularly, where you kind of had to choose a coast. You had to decide you would be in New York,
in the theatre, or in Los Angeles, in film and television. Is that the same these days? But as Franny says, there was television in
New York then. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) So it wasn’t quite as sort of cut off as
all that. But there’s still some television. I mean, SEX AND THE CITY is one that’s filmed
here and LAW & ORDER. Yeah, but now it’s – And LAW & ORDER. LAW & ORDER, that’s – Dear LAW & ORDER, because all those – Yes, dear LAW & ORDER! (LAUGHTER) Yes, it’s like a resume of every New York
actor! SVU! THE JURY! Some time ago, there was a cartoon in the
Equity magazine. It was one group of actors coming from the
East and one group of actors coming from the West, each in a convertible. And they meet in the middle of the country,
and they both say, “Go back!” (LAUGHTER) That’s right. Marian, do you find audiences today more responsive? No. (LAUGHTER) Less responsive? No. I find audiences always responsive. I think if you have something wonderful to
do, that’s what makes theatre live, and people love it. Of course, if you’re in a play that isn’t
a very good play, you can’t expect the audience to love it. There are critics, I think, and I find if
you have a good part, a part the playwright loves, something that really belongs in the
play, there’s no problem – you don’t even think about it. I mean, you don’t think about “How will
the audience receive this?” It’s part of something that you believe
in, and the whole thing is received well. Yes, and audiences watch actors, not plays,
anyway, really, basically, don’t they? Do they? Yes. I think so. (LAUGHTER) Yes, they do. They do. I mean, a wonderful performance in a not-so-good
play can be totally enjoyable to an audience. (LAUGHTER) It is to me! But let me ask you, as it is to me, as actors,
if you’re were in that situation, where you’re in a new play that you don’t think
is very good, do you feel it is within your purview to venture an opinion to the playwright
that there might be ways it could be corrected? Yes, yes. Yes! Or are you told to say your lines and shut
up? No, you can, certainly. And it just depends on whether the playwright
is amenable to that. I mean, some playwrights rewrite quite well,
and some playwrights are very adamant that we [stop]. And usually, the ones that are very adamant,
the plays don’t succeed very much. There is a tradition, however, in that actors
generally don’t – I don’t know whether your experience has been this, but it has
been mine – you do not speak directly to the playwright. Generally, you talk to the director, and the
director will talk to the playwright. That’s generally the way it goes. Although I – See, my playwrights have been dead, of course! (LAUGHTER) I’ve done a few where you could! We get along! (LAUGHTER) They’re wonderful to talk to! Well, Marian, you have a thirty year plus
relationship with Edward Albee. Yes. But I think – and he doesn’t change the
script, and you do the play that he’s written. And I disagree with you, Franny. I think that if you can find a way to do the
play the way the playwright wrote it, without – and anything you feel about the part you
play, you can show in rehearsal. You don’t have to talk about it, really. And then, if in rehearsal, you get a note
from the director that comes from the playwright, then I think – That it doesn’t work, say. Yes. And you aren’t finding it, or it isn’t
there. We don’t know the reason. Yeah. But I think the task is really to fulfill
what the playwright wrote. And I can remember being so surprised when
television became so powerful in our world, in the theatre world, that the younger actors
would come in and sort of not say the lines. Say, “I can’t do that.” Oh, yes. They would make the lines – “This is not what she’d do!” (ROBERT LAUGHS) And I’d think, my God, how
do you dare? Well, they dare! Well, I do agree with you. I mean, there was no disagreement there. But I think an actor has an obligation to
do the text as best that actor can, and if it doesn’t work, then you can talk about
it. Of course, of course. But usually, as you say, somebody will see
that it’s not working. Yeah. Yes. But I agree with you that you must try it. You must see how far you can go with it as
written. Yes. It’s also quite fun, to fix it. I mean, because one always has to remember
that the playwright is the artist in the theatre, and the actor is a craftsman. Yes. And it’s a huge difference. And so, it is your job simply to build this
thing. And the badder in a way it is, the more fun. (LAUGHTER) Because you are so clever, to make
it work! I tend to disagree with that! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) The craftsman? The playwright is the artist, but I think
that the actor is the artist as well. I think actors can expand on a play and make
it work better. Incidentally, as far as changing lines, I
find that it’s the lines that I don’t understand and I don’t really know why they’re
in there that are the clue, that are the key to the play and to the performance, the understanding
of the character. You know, you always understand the line that’s
going to get a laugh (LAUGHS), if you’re in a comedy. But the one that is the hurdle to get over
– The problem. Mmm-hmm. The problem, you’ve got to investigate that
as much as you can, because that is the key. That’s absolutely true. (TO MARIAN) I remember when we were in EQUUS
together, and there came that moment when I simply had to call out, “Alan!” And it seemed to come out of kind of nowhere. And I remember going to Bob Borod, the stage
manager, and saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to get to that!” And Bob said, “Well, I think you’ll find
a way.” And it was a look from Michael Higgins, who
was playing my husband – Ah, Michael! That, his look to me, at the moment while
I was chattering on about all the things before that line, and it was his look of kind of
(SHAKES HER HEAD) that, that just got the thing that yelled, “I’ve got to take another
tack to get away from that!” I didn’t know that was going to happen! (SMILING) No, no. And that was from the other actor. But you were a replacement? Did you replace someone? Or was that in rehearsal? Right from the git-go. Yeah, right from the beginning, in our production
in the U.S., yeah. And that kind of thing happens. It’s just wonderful, so exciting! Wonderful. Sometimes, I don’t know, what the philosophy? You know, find one true statement and you
can build a philosophy on it? I think that’s true of acting. If you can find one thing that you feel is
honest and true to yourself, to the playwright, you can take that small thing and build a
performance out of it. Because it’s a great clue as to where you’re
going. Mmm-hmm. And finding the clue is the important – That’s the difficult part! (LAUGHS) Yeah, yeah. Or waiting for it, you know what I mean? Yes, yes. Not expecting it to be there from the very
beginning, and relying on the other actor. I’m in the most wonderful position today. I don’t mean this! (GESTURES TO THE WAY SHE’S SITTING IN HER
CHAIR; LAUGHTER) Though that is wonderful! It is! But because two days ago, I saw THE RIVALS
for the second time, in which Richard plays Sir Anthony Absolute. And one day ago, I saw for the second time
in DEMOCRACY. So when we talk about trusting the actor,
in the times between, I first saw both of your plays, I loved them. But the second time, I found out much more
from the smallest thing, from a look. There’s an amazing thing in DEMOCRACY when
the major character falls silent. And when I saw it first, in that preview,
I thought it was interesting. And when I saw it yesterday, I thought it
was heart-stopping. I thought, “He’s the leader of the German
government, and he’s called upon to speak, and he says nothing.” And the moment is so rich now, because of
him and because of all the other actors, that it’s amazing. I mean, what if one of our Presidents – I
won’t say which one – (LAUGHTER) But we all know who you mean! (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) What if Jim Lehrer said, “And what do you
feel about that, sir?” and he went (SHRUGS AND LOOKS BLANK; LAUGHTER). It would speak volumes, wouldn’t it? Well, it does, in your play. But do you think that’s because the actors
have taken the play, sort of, if I can use that expression, so that they have learned
more about doing it? Or is it your seeing the same thing the second
time? No, no, it’s them. It’s them. Yeah. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could
all see plays more than once. Oh, yes! Including the critics. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) You don’t see a
painting – you agree, don’t you? Oh, my, yes. Oh, yes! I mean, you don’t see any still life work
of art, any painting once, any sculpture once. And even in films, you can see them many times. But we very rarely have that luxury, because
we cost so much, and because here in New York there’s so much to see, and everyone wants
to see everything. But I – well, when I’m in a play, I love
to watch the play. I was talking to you, Robert, about a moment
I think is so wonderful in DEMOCRACY, and of course, you can’t see it, because of
the set. (LAUGHS) I’ll go walk downstairs! But Frances and I, when we were in EQUUS,
the stage was all the actors – we were, all the actors, on it, the way we’re sitting
now, all the time. And you saw every performance, and it was
remarkable. And so, when you went in, you didn’t come
from the wings, you came from the play into another part of the stage. It was thrilling! I’ve done a number of plays like that, where
all of the actors are on stage. And what you said about seeing a play another
time, I spent a lot of time in the regional theatre. And I would encourage people, subscribers
for instance, to come see the preview, and then come see one of the closing nights. Yes! (LAUGHS) There is a difference. DEMOCRACY has gotten better, (LAUGHS) for
want of a better way of saying it. It’s gotten solid. And it wasn’t that it wasn’t good when
we opened, but it’s gotten better as we’ve gone on. We’ve relaxed, and it works much better. It’s gotten more human. Mmm-hmm. Each of the characters is more human, and
in the end, I think that’s what the audience is fascinated by, that we are real. Yes. Yeah. That’s what’s fascinating about theatre. On whatever the level is, if it’s on the
level of THE RIVALS, which is a completely different level of acting and playwriting
and costuming and everything – it’s a different world. But in that world, too, the reality, (GESTURES
TO RICHARD) the humanness of this man’s performance is just amazing. And we’re screaming with laughter all the
time, and he’s in a dilemma all the time! (LAUGHTER) I love that! Just like life! (LAUGHTER) Well, I was going to say, that’s really
what acting is about, is finding the humanity in any style that you’re playing. Yes, yes. And also, the humanity that exists in the
audience, because together, you build the event of performance each night. And it’s unique! It is never going to happen that way again! Yes. No, no. I think that’s one of life’s most civilized
experiences, to have that conjunction, that communion between actors and audience. I do, too. You know, I really find it very hard to understand
when – especially young people, simply who haven’t had that much experience, coming
off stage, saying, “Oh, it’s a rotten audience tonight!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I think, “No! No, it’s not.” And I remember Earle Hyman saying, when he
was in CARMEN JONES on the road as a young actor, and they played sometimes to very small
audiences. And the younger people were complaining about
the size of the audience and the response. And this old actress said to Earle, “Honey,
just remember there’s always somebody out there who needs you!” (ROBERT LAUGHS) Oh! That’s beautiful! And I thought, “Whoo!” And that has sustained Earle’s performances
all those years. Of course, of course. But I assume part of what you’re talking
about, in terms of performances’ growth, has everything to do with the communication
with the audience. And each other! And each other. Oh, yes, and also you’ve relaxed. That’s very important. Yes. The sense of judgment, as in criticism, is
taken away. Yes. And the sense of judgment, in “Are we enjoying
it? Do we find it interesting?” is there. And we want that. We want that. Mmm-hmm. Well, it also has the confidence in the routine
of it. That’s right. So that you can allow yourself to be completely
blank, to come on the stage blank and find the play on the stage, which is the best. That is the best thing. Yes! Ralph Richardson always used to say it took
him four seconds to discover what the audience wanted, when he came on the stage, and then
he gave it to them, in any performance. He said, “Do they want it speedy? Do they want the big laughs, little laughs? Got it! Do it!” I heard once, or I read somewhere, that he
occasionally would have a live mouse in his pocket. (LAUGHS) Yes! Well, it was a hamster. And the reason why, he says, “To keep my
mind off myself!” (LAUGHTER) Which is a great line. (SOMETHING HAPPENS NEAR THE CEILING; TED LOOKS
UP AND MARIAN PUTS HER HEAD IN HER HANDS; LAUGHTER) Acting, acting! It’s like the green umbrella. Who was it? Which actor had the green umbrella and said
that – Oh, Olivier. Olivier. Not bad. Captured the green umbrella. Are there consistencies in New York, in sort
of, are Friday nights sluggish? Are Saturday nights speedy? Or is it a complete crap shoot? I think everybody has a different answer to
that. Thursday night is always my favorite. I like Fridays! (LAUGHTER) It may depend on the play. I don’t know, because there was a time when
everybody was saying, “Oh, God, it’s Friday.” And this show now, for THE FOREIGNER, Friday
is just as good as any other night. I mean, it’s just fun! So I don’t know. I think – Because Saturday used to be always bad, but
it isn’t any more, I don’t think. No, that’s true. I think somebody once – I read about a study
that actors did among themselves on Broadway, to compare notes, and used the weather or
the time of the performance or what have you. And they could come to no conclusion. No, no. Hit or miss. Pretty hit or miss. Also, because it’s a living thing, it’s
always slightly different. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And therefore, it may not be the sort of performance
that we like, particularly, but it may be the sort that most of the audience do like! I know. That night, yes. If they’re alive, and we’re alive, hopefully. Although, I don’t know, I think there’s
one constant. Theatre parties tend to be problematic. Tallulah Bankhead once said theatre parties
eat their own children. (LAUGHTER) But do you find, as you’re in a long run,
that there are certain things which you could always count on working a certain way which
stop working that way, and you then feel you want to compensate? Or are there enough checks and balances within
the theatre community, that your stage manager or whatever will say, “Nnn-mmm,” or you’re
sort of on your own? If you have a very good stage manager. Yes. And that’s rare, but wonderful I think these
things we’re talking about now are really so peripheral, because every audience is the
first time. So we know that, and they know that. So it’s always fresh. I don’t know anyone in the theatre who isn’t
dedicated to the performance every day. If I did, I’d pull away. I’d pull away! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL; FRANCES PRETENDS
TO SLAP THE IMAGINARY PERSON) I think that it never occurs to me, if I’m in a long
run, to think of how it was the last time, to go backwards. No. Yes. You go forwards. And sometimes, if you lose a laugh, it’s
because the other actor is doing something! (LAUGHTER) Yes! Like waving a white handkerchief! Oh, yes! Or it could be your fault. Stillness is very important. From the other actors. (LAUGHTER) In the other actors, and in us! And you know, these things aren’t taught
to you. There’s no one to tell you this when you’re
young. But I know that Victor Garber told me that
when John Wood mentioned this to him, he had not heard it before. You know, he was just playing his part. And not in DEATHTRAP, in the play they did
together before. And if it’s pointed out to you once, you
absolutely think, “Well, of course, that’s right!” That you don’t go on doing something, as
you are kind enough to stop and listen to me. If you were combing your hair or something,
it would be odd. But the focus, we don’t have a cameraman. We don’t have someone telling us what to
do. We know what the focus is, instinctively,
don’t we? And also, if you’ve had a good director,
it’s so important. Oh! They’ll come back! (LAUGHS) Yes, he will sometimes come back, one hopes,
and keep you into shape. But if it’s well-rehearsed, I think actors
really like – what I always used to think is, you get on the top of the ski slope at
the beginning of the performance, and if it’s well-rehearsed, once you start – (MOTIONS
AS IF SKIING DOWN THE HILL) You go. You just go! Absolutely. And you don’t have to think, “I wish they
wouldn’t do that,” or “I wish we had a –” No, it’s done. It’s put together. You trust it. You trust it! And it is always fatal, when you say, “Ah,
I must pause, just a beat and a half, and then if I turn, then I get the laugh.” Yeah. And the minute you start doing that, of course
the laugh goes, because that’s what the audience sees! Yeah. Do you remember that wonderful – you tell
the wonderful story of the Lunts, of Alfred Lunt – Oh, the tea! The tea. It’s an absolute tradition in the theatre. Well, the Lunts, of course, are famous for
their constantly rehearsing up until the last day, and of being together, of course, all
the time, and therefore discussing the performance. And Alfred Lunt said to his wife, the brilliant
Lynn Fontanne, “Why do I miss that laugh on that line? Why do I?” And she said, “When you ask me for the sugar?”
and he said, “Yes.” And he keeps asking for the sugar, and you
know, the old joke – they don’t write it any more, but you keep putting the lumps
of sugar in the other person’s tea – I’ve always thought, how ghastly. But anyway, that’s in the play O MISTRESS
MINE or whatever it was. And she said to him, “Alfred, darling, you’re
not getting the laugh, because you are asking for the laugh, not for the sugar!” (LAUGHTER) And it’s a lovely little anecdote,
but it’s true. The truth. It was in QUARTET, I think, and I think – The real (PH)? Yes, Dick Cavett has it on tape, because he
was the one interviewing her. Yes, yes. Oh, oh, good. Oh, good. Clearly, what we’re talking here about,
extraordinary experiences and years of experiences. And you mentioned young actors and when they
feel certain ways. How do you pass on the information that you
have accumulated to the younger generations of [actors]? It’s the way you behave. Yeah. Yes. It’s how you behave backstage. It’s everything. It’s being on time. It’s giving the stage manager his right
to come and tell you what to do or when to make a change or whatever. And in my case, it’s also teaching. I’ve been a teacher for half my life, I
guess. But it isn’t like passing it on, it’s
really opening the door, in a way. You’re sharing it. Sharing it. And holding on to what you do believe is important
in the theatre, even at the risk of seeming, perhaps, old-fashioned. Crotchety. (ROBERT LAUGHS) Not me! (LAUGHTER) No, joyous! Joyous. And really helping people. I think a lot – I think what Frances said
is so important. So much happens in the rehearsal, and if the
behavior towards each other and towards the stage management and to the stage doorman,
to everyone, is established early, then most companies, you go back and you see the actors
you know. And they say, before you can tell them how
much you love them, “Isn’t it wonderful?” They love it. They love it. And you asked me about – somewhere in your
question, you said something about a play that I didn’t think was so good. Right. I’ve never done a play I didn’t think
the audience would be interested in. I’m not talking about a success, about making
millions and millions of dollars. But I think if you’re going to have a life
in the theatre and a long one, you don’t choose plays you don’t like. Why would you do that? You wouldn’t choose a husband you wouldn’t
like. (LAUGHTER) When you’re young. When you’re very young, you have to. Yes, but you have to sometimes do things that
you don’t like very much. It’s when we were young, we did sort of
summer stock companies, rep companies. Yes. So what you were doing was established plays. Yes! You were doing masterpieces by George Kaufman
or Hart and all that. And so, you never faced the bad play. No! And you simply did it. And one learned by doing. Of course! One of the troubles with that, though, is
for young actors, survival is of primary importance. And everyone wants to do good work, as best
they can. Summer stock, I did a lot of summer stock. And I had done two summers of it, and then
I couldn’t get a job. I just couldn’t get it. I came back to New York, and I was starving. So I took a job posting payments in a bank. And I got an offer to do WILL SUCCESS SPOIL
ROCK HUNTER? Oh, my! In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the middle of
the winter. (LAUGHTER) And the star was a former burlesque
stripper. (RICHARD LAUGHS) I took the job. If I didn’t take that job – and then followed
all kinds of jobs. If I hadn’t taken it, I’d be a banker
today. So there are times when you must do it. We would all prefer not to do it, and we would
prefer to do the good plays and the ones that excite us. And sometimes, the ones that you don’t like
tend to be very good. I’ve done a lot of work in Brecht, and I
could never understand the play the first time I read it. (FRANCES LAUGHS) In fact, I didn’t understand
DEMOCRACY. It’s hard to understand. I know! (RICHARD LAUGHS) It took me some research,
you know. Yep. In fact, I told my agent I didn’t want to
do it. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) The agent said, “You must!” But you have no regrets that you’re not
a banker, have you? Oh, no! (LAUGHTER) Oh, absolutely not! Absolutely! I’ve enjoyed this life tremendously! No, that’s what he means. And it’s had a great deal of variety, and
I appreciate that. Let’s talk a little bit about variety, in
terms of companies. Now, Robert, you’ve been at the Arena Stage
for many years. I know that Franny and Richard were in the
APA in Lincoln Center early years, I think? I mean, these were companies that, at least
to a certain extent, were companies of actors who stayed together and did a lot of plays. Yes. You know, the same group of actors would do
a lot of different plays. What was that experience like, and is that
helpful for the experience of an actor there? It’s where I learned to be an actor. Yeah, it’s wonderful. I mean, you come to the first reading of a
play, and quite often, you don’t know the other person at all. And it’s even worse in a film, when all
of a sudden you have to play a love scene – I never do! (LAUGHTER) – with somebody you just met
that morning, and you have to be very passionately involved. If you’ve worked with an actor for five
years, you know a great deal about them, they know a great deal about you. And it saves a lot of time. Yes. And it helps the work tremendously. It really does, I’ve found. Yes, I’ve always been in companies. I mean, my first professional job was thirty-five
weeks of weekly rep. Wow! In Ottawa, in Canada. And we did everything. We did HAMLET, we did BUTTER AND EGG MAN,
LIGHT UP THE SKY, all those, everything. (ROBERT LAUGHS) And rehearsing and playing
every week. And then, when we did APA, and that was also
a company that you were sort of – and also, you didn’t choose! They just gave you the part. Yeah. And you played it! And you learned to just do that. And APA was – we rather grandly decided
that the actors should be in control of the theatre, because everybody else was making
a mess of it. And so, it was called the Association of Producing
Artists, is what it was. And it was Rosemary Harris and Ellis Raab,
and me, and George Grizzard, and Franny – Brian Bedford was in it. Brian was briefly in it, yes. And everybody was finally in it. And we did that, and it went for ten years,
which is the logical time for anything to run. But then I did Stratford, Ontario, Stratford,
Canada. Stratford, Connecticut, and England, and all
these companies. And I like that. And the security of – I’m one of the actors
of whom it is true that they cannot cast themselves. Whenever somebody has said, “What do you
want to do?” and I say, “Ooh, I want to do that!” it’s always been disaster! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Whereas, when one
has said, “Oh, really? Do you think I can [do that]? All right.” Boom! And it works. I did a part like that once. I was cast as Gayev [in THE CHERRY ORCHARD]. And I thought, “Eannh,” you know? I’ve always thought of Gayev as a small,
precious little man. I’m anything but that. And the director gave me a great line. He says, “The character is stuck with you.” That’s great! That’s true! And you begin to find things about yourself
that fit into the character. Yeah! I read somewhere that Richard, your time at
the Royal Shakespeare Company was not a happy time. Well, yes, Ken Branagh writes it in his book. We both were there, the first time, and it
was terrible. It was when there’d been a change of regimen
there, and Trevor Nunn had gone, and it was an all new slate! And it was terrible! And Kenny said that there was a program on
television in England, called “Jim’ll Fix It,” with Jimmy Saville (PH), where
they’ll arrange for somebody who’s always wanted to fly a helicopter, and he would arrange
that it should happen. And Kenny (LAUGHS) wrote a letter to Trevor
Nunn saying, “If you don’t come and see my Henry V, I’m going to go on to ‘Jim’ll
Fix It,’ to see if he can arrange for you to come!” (LAUGHTER) And so they did. But it’s interesting, too, in any group,
in any theatre company, when you’re still young you get to play important parts. Yes. And then, and what it’s like to, in a sense,
carry a play or a musical, if you’ve never done a musical. And if you have all that behind you, then
– in my case, when I began in the theatre, the first few parts – I had one, had no
lines. And I don’t know, it went on like that. (LAUGHTER) But when I was able to get a good
part, I was ready. Yes! And what made me ready was not the part with
no lines, but all that work in summer theatre. Mmm-hmm. Yeah. And the fact that the other actors with you
had been supported by you. Exactly. And now had the chance to support you back! Yeah. It’s great. They don’t have – we don’t have summer
stock any more! No, we don’t. No. Has anything replaced it? Not really. Actually, the sitcoms. Yeah. You know, young actors talk to me about that. I did maybe four or five summers of summer
stock. I once played Willy Loman [in DEATH OF A SALESMAN]
and Big Daddy [in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF] back to back, in one week! (LAUGHS) Light fare! Light fare! Well, actually, this was a good company. We did Chekhov and Shaw and everything else. And you can get into awfully bad habits, because
you use all of your tricks. Yeah. The things that you know work. And we all have them! In fact, I did one production, one summer
stock production, and I asked my wife what she thought of it. And she said, “It was cutesy-poo Prosky.” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It was the things
that I do that work! And she knows them, more than an audience
does, she knows them! Yes, yeah. Now, that’s bad, if you go into a five-week
rehearsal period, you get into bad traps. Except most American actors have to do a wide
variety of things. That’s right. You’d better have those cutesy-poo moments,
if you’re going to do a sitcom. Yes. Where you have no rehearsal! You have to do those things. It’s a fact of life for an American actor. We would prefer not to do it, and those of
us – like we are rather lucky that we don’t have to do that. But I still do a sitcom every once in a while. But a lot of it has to do with who is casting
it. Yeah. And what’s sad, in a way, for us is that
they want one quality. Yeah! Oh, yes! They want you to do that, over and over. And acting has nothing to do with “quality,”
or oddly enough, with feeling, until you know the part – Who you are! And those qualities are yours, and out of
it comes real feeling. And yet, I like the atmosphere of a sitcom,
because there’s an audience! The laughter is real laughter, or the lack
of it. (ROBERT LAUGHS) But I’ve never been asked
a single question, in any television I’ve ever done. And the only thing I ever ask is that they
do this part of my hair very well (GESTURES TO THE BACK OF HER HEAD), because it’s always
over my shoulder. (LAUGHTER) And toward the star, right! Yes! Yes! The camera, I mean. And so, I have a little litany now. I don’t want to be in a nursing home, and
I don’t want to play a part when I walk out, the other characters all go, “Mmmmnnh!” (GRIMACES WITH DISGUST) Too like life! (FRANNY LAUGHS) Yes! And I want to play a character the writer
was interested in writing. And, well, that’s about it! I want to get paid! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) You’ll have plenty to do, then. No, but it seems that those are things that
you all deserve at this point in your career, to be able to say – But we’re nobodies to them! Oh, yes. Oh, no, we are. Just, b-b-b-b-b! I know. I mean, really, yeah! The only thing they love is that we know our
lines and hit our marks and are professional, and that we don’t bore them with questions. There’s no time for them to talk to us. No. Those of us here have all worked in a situation,
at APA or Arena, where you’ve done a wide variety of things. And it’s true, what you say. That’s not what they’re interested in! And if they do see you in one thing, then
that’s what you’re going to do! Mmm-hmm. The first film I did was THIEF, where I was
kind of a nasty Mafia man. That’s all I did in film for the next three
years! I’m capable of being nice! (LAUGHTER) I was constantly getting off stagecoaches,
and no one would meet me. (LAUGHTER) And then, because my hair was black,
I was always the murderess. The camera would go to me, and you’d think,
“Oh, she did it!” (LAUGHTER) Oh, my! Now, one movie question. I worked once for an actor who was also a
director who, I think, got very bored very quickly in his career, acting, you know, on
stage. But what he felt about the movies was, he
thought it was absolutely fascinating to conceive an entire performance, and then do [pages]
thirty-five, twelve, sixty-eight. To him, and the way his mind worked, that
puzzle was fascinating to him. For a stage – Yes, to us, too. Is it? Yes. I mean, that’s a given. It’s the sets and so on, it has nothing
to do with acting, really. It has to do with the production of the film. And if you have to do something out of – Context? The actual time of the movie, that’s something
we’re prepared to do, because in rehearsal – sometimes we rehearse the first act only,
or something. We know how to do that. And also, in film, you have no responsibility
for the pacing of the thing. No. It’s all the director and the editor. Because the cutter is going to do that. The editor is going to do that. Snip, snip! It’s gone! And so, there isn’t really a problem. Also, on stage, you’re entering in the middle
of a life. Yes. And that’s what you do in every scene that
you do. That’s right. So as long as you know what comes before,
and what comes after, then you can accomplish it. One thing I’d hate to be – someone in
that other program about the theatre, they ask, “What would you like least to do in
the world?” I would like least to be the script girl who
says, “But you had your glasses in the other hand!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Oh, how do they do it? I don’t know. Then she comes up to you, and she has no time,
and she has no given time to talk to the actors, and she says, “Listen, could you please
(WHISPERS AN UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE)?” And “What was it? Take the sip on the – ?” And it has nothing
to do with acting, does it? No, no, no. And you can do it. Oh, and it throws you! No, it has to match! And you have a hard time completing role,
because you gotta figure where the cigarette was and – Dan Travanti, in HILL STREET BLUES,
by design, never smoked, never used his hands for anything. If you ever watch it, his hands are always
right down here (DEMONSTRATES WITH HIS ARMS DOWN BY HIS SIDES). Yes! That’s so clever! Now you tell us! Because he wouldn’t have to match any shots! Yeah, yeah. Mmm! And the old rule used to be, always touch
your tie at the beginning of the shot in case – (FRANNY LAUGHS) I never heard that one! I see it done all the time. Oh, yes. Do you feel there’s ever been a resistance
in the movie world, because you’re stage actors – Oh, yes. And they therefore assume you’re too big,
or you perform in rooms like this? Well, I was one time in a movie with a very
good movie director who, thank heaven – I was very grateful to him! – he said, “You’re
using your eyes too much! You’re opening your eyes too much. It’s going to look too – when you say
that line, just keep it as calm as possible.” Well, you know, when you’re on the stage,
you do so often do things with your face (DEMONSTRATES, OPENING HER EYES VERY WIDE), because that’s
to get it to the back! Yes! There are people way up there. Yeah, way up there. And I was very grateful that he said that. Yes, of course. I remember when we did the film of HENRY V,
with Ken Branagh directing, too. And I had done it with him in the theatre,
and I had been, naturally, very loud, (ROBERT LAUGHS) and lots of – “Shame, shame! And eternal shame” was a very big moment
in the theatre, with all the stuff happening. And when we came to make the film, he was
absolutely wonderful. Because one was so used to people saying,
“Please don’t do anything at this point!” and you think, “How can I do nothing?!” Anyway, he said to me, “Think of General
Montgomery. He’s very good at pain.” “Pain?” And I thought, “Very good at pain. I’m dying, so – ” And I did it, “Shame,
shame, and eternal same,” and it was wonderful. Yes. And I thought, “Wow, what a note!” But it was so clever of – Clever. A positive rather than a negative note. Yeah. Oh, yes. That’s important. So good! My other favorite direction from a director
was Peter Brook once told me, I was doing a little boulevard comedy with him. And he said to me, “Mr. Easton, can you
imagine playing ‘God Save the Queen’ so slowly that you would not recognize the tune?” And I thought, and I said, “Yes, yes. Yes, sir, I can imagine that.” “Well, that’s how slowly you act!” (LAUGHTER) It was also a wonderful note. I speeded up after that! The general note, generally, is to do less
for a film. Yes. Yes. Except, you think of Cagney, Matthau, Dustin
Hoffman, any number of actors, who are larger than film, and they make it work. So it’s not – Yes. Pacino. Pacino, oh, yes. Very much so. Yes, it’s the wrong note, in fact. Yeah. Yeah. But, “Be more intense.” That’s right. Do you feel, though, that – I mean, I don’t
think every director is Peter Brook – have you had to find your own resources to sort
of self-direct, in that sense? Oh, yes, of course. Well, the audience. Seriously, I mean, the audience does tell
you an awful lot. But maybe it’s too late by that time! (LAUGHS) Well … But I love your story of saying to the director,
“I’ll do it exactly your way,” and going out on stage – Yes. (CLAPS HIS HANDS OVER HIS EYES) “Oh, sorry,
I keep forgetting that!” And eventually, they give up giving you the
note. Yes. I just read Michael Blakemore’s book about
his early life as an actor. Oh, what’s it called? THE SEASON? ARGUMENTS – oh, no, he’s written a novel
that’s – That was it. Yeah, that’s fun. I haven’t seen the novel. Somebody gave that to me. It was fun. But he talks about, and I’ve been in that
position, where the company as a group says, “This guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s
doing!” (LAUGHS) And so, you take it over! That would happen at Arena, because we had
an incredible company. Yeah. So the group of actors would sort of bond
quietly and not necessarily – That’s right! Not even, quite often, saying that. Yeah. Just somehow, as a group knowledge – Eye contact in rehearsal? That’s right, and you learn how to do it. I find that thing about large or smaller,
in a sense, of projection – we’re used to that, too, because if you’ve ever toured,
we’re in theatres this size, and then we’re in theatres that are so large you can’t
even see where the audience ends, and it’s just common sense, isn’t it? And what’s more, all the famous actors are
just going (MUMBLES QUIETLY; ROBERT LAUGHS). I haven’t heard a cue in years! (LAUGHTER) Although the acoustics – I was amazed at
the acoustics at the Brooks Atkinson! Yes. It’s very good. None of us are miked – well, Jim [James
Naughton] is, for the speeches. Well, he would be, yes! But nothing else. Well, the old theatres are wonderful. Yeah. The veteran theatres, as one would say! (LAUGHTER) As well as the veteran actors! Do you feel, since it goes without saying
that you’re an extremely talented group, are there things that can be learned? I mean, Richard said it’s a craft, that
it’s not an art, which is an interesting posture, acting as a craft. But can things – I mean, you studied. I know that Robert studied at the American
Theatre Wing. (ROBERT LAUGHS) We have Neighborhood Playhouse
alums. Are there things that can be taught? Yeah. Yeah. And things that can’t. (WITH HER) Can’t! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, it’s very interesting, because I did,
as you did, study with Meisner. And I learned for the first time, after working
at Arena – several people suggested to me that what I needed was to go up and study
with Sandy Meisner. And for the first, gosh, four to six weeks,
I did not know what he was talking about. And finally, I did get a partner that I could
respond to. Because the first times, he gave me people
who were so dull that of course I kept trying to hop things up! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But it was the beginning
of what I think of, perhaps, as improvisational learning, where you respond from what you
get. Exactly! And that is something that I think every actor
at some point has to learn, rather than imposing on what you think you ought to get, (GENERAL
AGREEMENT) you respond from what you get. And the only time when you have to invent
that is if you don’t get enough, if you really don’t get a genuine response from
another performer. And was he helpful at guiding you? Oh, yes, he was. He would always spot where you had not listened
or responded, at what moment and so on. But what I found later was, in terms of character
work, for some reason or other, I think people who have a sense of how to be other people,
who are not like themselves, I think you either have that or you don’t. And I don’t think even he could teach people
how to do, as John Cleese calls it, “the funny walks.” Yes! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I think that’s the kind of thing that – I
mean, I always start from the outside in. For some reason or other, some people don’t. But I always start thinking, “How does this
person sound? How does this person walk? What is peculiar, what is different about
how this person appears?” And that’s how I start. And then from there I work into how the character
feels, and it’s always from the text, but it gets to you, and then you start blending
the two. It’s hard. I never had any acting classes, as such, because
there weren’t any such things when I started. But I took ballet class and I took fencing
lessons and I took singing lessons and voice and elocution, it was, in fact, and walking
around with books on your head and all that. “How now brown cow” and all that stuff. And really, never acting classes other than
just acting. Yeah. And long talks with Uta Hagen. (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS FROM THE PANEL) I mean,
that basically was the nearest I got – it was five plays. Well, it’s good talk! Oh! What ones did you do with her? A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, CHERRY ORCHARD – three
plays, sorry. CHERRY ORCHARD, and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA
WOOLF. Right. Well, we did that twice. Now, she was a great and famous teacher, but
you’re talking about colleagues. Yes, she was an actual teacher. But she taught the interesting things that
weren’t so much the Meisner sort of game stuff – but– Well, you mean, what are now called the repetition
exercises? The improvisation, yes. He wasn’t even doing that then. Oh, I see, ah. But Uta was practical advice. Like, “Don’t collude with the other actors. Whatever you decide to do, if you’re doing
a transference of emotion, fine, do it. But don’t tell anybody about it!” Yes! “Keep it for yourself. Don’t collude with the actors. It’s supposed to be a conflict of some kind,
and so you mustn’t collude.” Well, Meisner used to say, “Never tell your
preparation,” which I was delighted by. Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah. One of the things about improvising, which
you mentioned there, it’s useful, but there are so many actors – particularly young
actors, I feel – that one, are great at playwriting, or two, they’re great wits. And they use that instead of using what the
improv can offer you, which is to learn how to exist in the moment. A lot of improves are just awful! Yes. But you have to accept that possibility in
order to explore what is really happening in it. Also, I don’t think it’s a very good final
– I think it’s a great actors’ tool. I think it’s terrible for performance. The greatest tool of all is to observe life
around you, and your life inside you. And that’s easy to say. But there are times in an actor’s life,
aren’t there, where there’s nothing there! I mean, you – I live on Ninth Avenue, see, so there’s
always [something] I can see. (LAUGHTER) I live close by! There it is! The whole of life! But everything, particularly where we live
and see so much, but whenever you travel, whenever you watch children, whenever you
watch animals – I mean, you never stop learning. And I would say – I’m no good at percentages
– but a great, great deal of what I know and feel about the theatre is from watching
other people, from being an observer and a thief. Yes. (LAUGHTER) Of real people. Yes, yes. And also of other actors. Yes! But particularly women! I find I learn more from watching women act. And we from men. It’s very interesting! (ROBERT LAUGHS) But that’s very English,
too! Because otherwise you’re just copying. Let’s say you see, “Maggie Smith does
that. Oh, I see what she’s doing. Or Judi Dench,” or you, indeed! (LAUGHTER) One says, “Oh, I wonder if I
could do that?” And also, there’s something else – I don’t
mean it to sound snobbish, but you learn what not to do. (LAUGHS) Yes! When you’re quite young, and you don’t
have much to do in a play and – Maggie Smith would just (UNINTEL WORD) her! (LAUGHS) No, I didn’t mean that! Oh, I’d never mean that. But also, it sounds like part of this is that
you must always keep questioning yourself and always keep – Absolutely. And we’ve worked long enough and through
enough decades to see acting change. Yes. Acting has changed! It would have changed even without television,
because of a young man named Marlon Brando, but it changes because you, and we, are so
used to seeing close-up, reality, news, everything. And it’s all – to do a marvelous classic
performance is very brave now, because it seems, if you don’t hit the right note,
it’s not acceptable. Isn’t that true? My friend Jonathan Walker calls it “pointy,
spitty acting,” yes. (LAUGHTER) Pointy, spitty acting! (LAUGHS) Well, yes, you know what I mean. (POINTS) The sun! Yes, yes. So the reality has changed slightly, in the
expectation? Well, I think so. I think so. Yeah, I think so, too. I think the actors I adored when I started
going to the theatre would seem rather out of place now, particularly since the plays
have changed. Of course they have. The way we dress has changed. But don’t you remember – I remember seeing
Katharine Cornell in THE CONSTANT WIFE, and I saw this large white chiffon handkerchief
– Yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) That was occasionally sort of flashed – When the other people wiggled? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Like a flag! And I thought, “Yes, she’s the star!” And also, people are constantly taking off
their gloves – Yes. Oh, yes! And patting cushions. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And cigarettes! Arranging flowers! Cigarettes! And there were constant lines in plays, plays
of Maugham – Drop over with the lighter, yes. Exactly. “Won’t you sit down?” And I thought – well, of course, I was young
then. No one ever asked me to sit down. Now, when I come into a room, they say, “Oh,
have a seat!” (GESTURES TO A CHAIR; LAUGHTER) But those
things are – They’re cultural, for one thing. We’re growing all the time, we’re growing. Yeah, changing. But if you look at the forties movies, which
I like – I click-click-click through the channels to try and find something in black-and-white,
and then I’ll stick with that. Right! (LAUGHS) Because usually the dialogue is so interesting. Yes. And you can see a few of the actors, who came
from the stage, who the first few times were very “stagy,” but you don’t see it now. You don’t see it now. But do you think if Laurette Taylor in THE
GLASS MENAGERIE – Whatever! Incomparable, perfect! No difference. Oh, yes, of course, there’d be differences. No, she could do it. In Shakespeare, there are the variorums. There’s an edition of Shakespeare called
the variorum, and in it are bits that tell you how Mrs. Siddons played Lady Macbeth. And I remember when I was looking up for OTHELLO,
for Iago, and there was a thing of Booth saying, “For God’s sake, will you tell the Cassius
not to act drunk in that scene! Drunk people don’t stagger around, they
walk very carefully.” Yes, they try to stay – to look sober! And one thought Booth is just when it was
supposed to be all fustian and rubbish. But that’s not – So modern! But that is such a modern note. Yep. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And still necessary, today, to give. Yes! But one thought, “Oh, wow! Of course, they wouldn’t act like that!” No, that’s right. Now, if they were doing it – Try to walk a straight line. What we’re doing here is interesting, because
I did a production of LEAR, where we had all the variorums, all of the critics’ notes
and everything else. Now, it was a group of very good actors, not
with Shakespeare’s genius, but of his profession. And we were facing the event of performance,
so we found the practical things that make that play work, the emotional things and the
poetic things, and everything else. And one of the actors said, “I wish we had
a tape recorder under the table,” as we were discussing it. We discussed it, I think, for a week and a
half, if not two weeks. And (LAUGHS) I remember the director saying,
“We don’t have much time, so we have to go slowly!” (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS) So, yeah, but it would
have been a great Shakespeare course. Yeah! Incidentally, what you told in the green room
there, you mentioned makeup. That’s one of the changes in theatre! Yes, that’s true. I mean, I remember putting it on with a trowel
in one week stock! Yeah! And being taught to put those little red dots
here! (THEY ALL POINT TO THE INNER CORNERS OF THEIR
EYES) Yes, here. And perhaps here, love, and a little under
here – (LAUGHS) Yes! But now are you sort of on your own for makeup,
whether you think it’s right or not? Well, we always have been, on stage. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) We’re not in films, but on stage we always
were. But now – Men practically never wear makeup, any more. Yeah. Yeah, we don’t have any in DEMOCRACY. And the women wear street makeup. Oh, on the bus and the train, they’re more
made up than we are! Yeah! (LAUGHTER) Remember when everyone wore false eyelashes
and you’d see it on the bus! Yeah, I know. It was fantastic! (LAUGHTER) I wanted to pick up on one dangerous subject,
that was brought up earlier, which is the critics, because I know that recently, Robert,
you responded to a critic in Washington. God, that story has gotten around a lot, hasn’t
it? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It has gotten around! Because I think that everybody sort of – you
know, it’s always a sort of unwritten rule that one talks about the critics, but one
doesn’t do anything about it. Which critic was that? Peter Marks. Oh! He writes for the Washington Post now. I know. Oh, I thought – mmmm. Well, we’ll talk later! (LAUGHTER) When the camera’s off! Well, I said it. I said it! I had done two plays, which worked extremely
well, and he gave us bad – one was a new play. One was greatly changed. And he basically reviewed the New York production
for the one that was greatly changed. Oh, I know. I get so furious! And the second one was a new play, and it
was very good. It was called SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD, and
it was about the Max Reinhardt production of – MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Yeah. But the real kick was that the real Oberon
and the real Puck show up. And it was very, very funny! We had standing ovations and everything, full
houses. It’s – I talked to the playwright, he
hasn’t had one bite since, because it was a bad review in the Post. That’s what gets me! That’s what [gets me]. But you wrote a letter, which was published. Oh, yeah, I wrote a letter to the Post! And I started it by saying, “You know, it’s
against an unwritten rule that actors – or, it is an unwritten rule that actors never
respond in print to a critic.” But I was old enough (LAUGHS) – That you didn’t care! I didn’t care any more! And so I – Did the critic respond to you after the letter? I got a letter from a society of critics,
which I didn’t even know existed! No, Peter Marks has never given me a bad review. And recently, he gave me (LAUGHS) a good review
for DEMOCRACY! So, in a way, I have permission to write this. This letter from this society of critics said
that I was totally wrong, that the critics have no real effect. And he quoted things like ABIE’S IRISH ROSE,
which got terrible reviews and ran for years. And I said, “But that’s the anomaly!” Yeah. You know, generally, we all know, if we’re
gonna get slapped in the Times, you know, time to get a train back home! And here you write, and an association of
critics tells you that they don’t matter? Yes! (LAUGHTER) But the Times, our New York Times, always
says that. “Oh, it doesn’t [matter], it’s just
one opinion.” I know, and they are just – They won’t admit their power. I would like to have the critics have their
say, but then just get a journeyman, just an intelligent, informed theatergoer, or maybe
a journalist – To write a review! Right next to the critic’s review. Yes. Or a reporter simply writing what happened,
which it used to be. Yes. Yeah. Well, that was one of the things about the
letter. In neither one of these reviews did he ever
mention the overwhelming reaction of the audience. No, yeah. And he’s a journalist! One of his primary jobs is to report facts! He might not like it, that’s fine. But – Do you think it has been ever thus? Or do you think – No, no! No. Because Walter Kerr, for example, was very
much for the theatre. Yeah. And so, they were slanted in a way to what
would be helpful. To deserving – I mean, he was always wonderful
to us in APA, for example. And Shaw – Shaw would only review what he
wanted – what interested him. What he wanted to, yes! If he didn’t like it, he didn’t review
it! You know – Yes, I was in a situation where Peter Marks
should have recused himself from reviewing what he did, and he gave it a not-good review. And then I was told by someone who sat next
to him (LAUGHS) as he was writing, that he pulled the piece of paper out and said, “Well,
I hope that satisfies them!” And he was feeling resentful that he felt
an obligation to write the review. He should have just said, “I shouldn’t,
because I – ” Don’t get actors started on critics! (LAUGHTER) No! I have a question though. If it were up to you to choose who would be
the critic of a major newspaper, where would you go? Theatre. Take someone who is an artist in the theatre? Well, someone who – I did ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL at Arena, and we
had a good critic, as opposed – he only lasted a year or two. Really? But he went with us, through the entire rehearsal
period, and then he sat as a member of the jury. So he went through the performance period,
as well as the rehearsal period. He didn’t like everything we did, which
was fine! But he had an intimate knowledge of what the
process is about. Well, Walter Kerr was someone who knew from
experience. Yes, he was there. Or a playwright. I mean, (TO ROBERT) your playwright, [Michael]
Frayn would be a wonderful critic. I’d love to see [that]. Yes. Okay, well, we’ll get off that subject. I don’t want to get into this. (LAUGHS) We’ll come to blows if we come
to that! Another question for people who have been
at this game since it cost fifteen cents to get on the subway: you’ve had families. Has acting in the live theatre been able to
support you? With the occasional commercial and movie stuff. Pretty much. I have three sons, and when they were about
– at one point, they were all going to be in college at the same time. And that’s when I started to do film. (LAUGHTER) That’s when I started to do commercials! Yeah, it’s the same – but Arena paid enough
money. Many of the theatres don’t, even in Washington,
which now has a very large talent pool. They don’t pay enough money. I know a marvelous actress there who works
as a legal aide during the day. And my son has a marvelous line – (GRIMACES)
ah! You know, the theatre’s just spending fortunes,
in Washington, at any rate, for new buildings. And his line is, “They’re building new
temples while the monks are starving!” Oh, that’s very good! Yeah. So, in the days when you were at Arena, for
twenty years, you were – whatever you were paid there was enough to support [your family]? It was. Barely, but it was. And I did a couple of commercials and a few
other things, and I managed money fairly well. And that’s another thing to tell young actors. Every minute you spend, every hour you spend
as a waiter is an hour you can’t spend working in theatre or talking to a director or making
rounds or something. Yes! So the management of whatever funds you have
is part of survival. Yes! It’s weird to talk like that, but it’s
true! Were you also on a full-year contract? No. Or was this production by production? It’s also been true, always, of actors that
you want to establish the minimum comfortable standard of living and not to change it. So that when you have the bonanza year, it
just increases your back-up. Absolutely. Yes! That’s right! Without really altering your standard of living,
so that when it goes down again – Yeah, you’ve still got something to live
on. You’re still all right and you can maintain. Yeah. We’d rather have the work. Yes. Yes. We’d rather work than anything. And it’s getting a lot of money that makes
you greedy. Yeah. When you don’t have a lot of money, you
just cut out things, and you do your work, and it’s good. The devil tempts you. And when I’m in California, and I listen
to the other actors in the makeup room – Whoo! They’re always talking about money! Real estate! (ROBERT LAUGHS) Money, money! How many houses they have! Is that because – are they paid – Well! They’re paid exorbitant – That’s why they’re doing the work. What to do with all their money! Yes, they’ve got to deal with that. But even at that level, they’ll lose it. Yes! They don’t keep it. Yes, yeah. There are so many that have been taken advantage
of by business managers, or they’re making a lot of money now, and they forget they have
to pay the taxes on it. Then five years later, when they’re not
making any money, Uncle Sam comes and says, “It’s time for me to get it!” And then they’re in deep trouble. It’s great for you all that commercials
and movies and television can help you get through the year, but do you think that the
people who dedicate their time entirely to those things are, for them, too well-paid? No. Well, it depends on – I do think, probably
that – I think that the argument has been that, if a television show is successful,
the production company, the people who are producing it, make so much money that the
actors should get their share of it. It’s like baseball players. Absolutely. They should be paid millions, because the
people who own the teams are making mountains. And the thing is that, very often then, the
actors will then (MAKES A GESTURE OF GOING DOWNHILL) not necessarily get another job
for a while. But there is such an imbalance to how much
people are paid for what. It’s very difficult. Also, basically most actors do it because
they love doing it. Yeah. And therefore – and everybody knows this
– They take advantage of it. And so, we’re the last people to be paid. Yeah. Right. You have to pay directors and designers and
all that, because they – but actors will always say, “Oh, all right, I’ll do it!” Yeah. “It’s such a good part, and I’ll just
do it.” (ROBERT LAUGHS) But do you feel – I feel that some of the
Broadway theatre shows in recent years have tried to make as generic as possible the roles,
so they can just keep people like a turnstile, going in and out of those roles. Musicals? Well, musicals, certainly. Well, yes. More in musicals, I think. Plays, I don’t think they work that way. Don’t they? But there are now more – probably, more
revivals of things, because they’re sure-fire, or they think they’re going to be sure-fire,
than new plays. You just don’t get new plays on Broadway
any more. They start someplace else, and if they’re
hugely successful, then Broadway will snap them up. Every play I’ve done, except for this one,
has started in regional theatre. Every one that I’ve done on Broadway. This one started in London, so – That’s right! Same thing, really. Can’t get more regional than that! There you go! (LAUGHTER) But are there parts in plays that could be
revived that any of you hunger for? Oh, yeah! No, but I’m like Richard. Somebody says, “What have you always longed
to do?” and I just think – I don’t know. “The next one!” (LAUGHTER) Right, exactly. Just whatever comes that I like, next. Because I don’t – I’ve played all the parts I wanted to play
when I was young. Oh, yes, yeah. But when I was young, I did want to play parts. But now, just any part will do, just as long
– (LAUGHS) I know! Not too many lines, but very effective scenes! Yes! (LAUGHTER) But if you confide in someone the part you
dream to play, you watch their face go (DEMONSTRATES A LOOK OF HORROR, SHAKES HER HEAD; LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) “You want to play that?!” “She’s gone mad!” (LAUGHTER) I never tell! I know years ago, I used to think that I wanted
to play Nina in THE SEAGULL, and it took me quite a while to realize “I’m not going
to play Nina. I might play Masha!” (LAUGHS) Yes! “That’s what I might play.” But I’ve always longed to play Chekhov. One of, you know, the big four, and somehow
never have. I was very grateful for THE GOOD DOCTOR, because
it was Chekhov! Yes, you were! Yeah, yeah. But I, you know, never got – I did do, with
one of those Encyclopedia Britannica films – Yes! Which Norris Houghton went into the middle
of the scenes – of THE CHERRY ORCHARD with Maureen Stapleton – I have to tell this,
she was so wonderful! (ROBERT LAUGHS) We got to the point where,
you know, Lopakhin comes in and asks for the keys, and Gayev – and Varya hides the keys
and Madame Ranevskaya – and I guess we were the only ones there. And he asks, he says he just bought the cherry
orchard. And they’re all so upset, and Varya hurls
the keys onto the floor. Maureen Stapleton said, “Um, um … wait
a minute, just a minute – why is everybody so mean to him?” And we all started to tell her about the Russian
revolution that was going on. I mean, “This is the way people lived, blah-blah-blah.” And Maureen went over to her purse and, you
know, just listened and everything, and took out a pack of cigarettes, and got her cigarette
out and lit it (DEMONSTRATES THE WHOLE BIT, EXHALES). And she said, “I really didn’t want to
know, I just wanted a cigarette!” (HUGE LAUGHTER) That’s great! I read something once, where Stanislavski
felt that – well, no, it wasn’t Stanislavski, it was Chekhov – that Lopakhin should never
be played as the villain of the piece, at all. You know, it’s – No, of course not. That’s right. Well, there are no villains, really, in Chekhov. That’s what’s so wonderful. Or, indeed, in any play. (LAUGHS) No! Well, a villain certainly never thinks of
himself as a villain. I tend to be that kind of character in DEMOCRACY! But in a way, you know, part of what you were
saying before, about – as an outsider, the magic of acting is, you know, if you are drunk
you don’t play reeling around – No. But the magic to watch is somebody who’s
drunk, who’s doing it absolutely stone cold sober. I remember – Trying to be sober. Right. I remember when I worked for Alan Arkin years
ago, and he did a wonderful movie called THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. And he said, “The key to that character
is, he’s the loneliest man in the world and everybody is his friend.” That’s the way he used to perform it. Everybody was his friend. And the fact that then everybody walks away
from him, and suddenly that’s the way you play lonely. I thought that was absolutely fascinating. I saw a film, a long time ago, on “Omnibus,”
that was about the great clowns of Europe. And this one clown was about to play the violin,
but it was in a nightclub. So somebody set him up a drink. And he said, “Skol!” and he drank it,
and he started to play, and somebody set him up another drink. “Skol!” And this kept up, kept up. When he finally showed a sign of drunkenness,
it was this big (GESTURES A HALF INCH BETWEEN HIS FINGER AND THUMB) and the audience fell
out of their chairs. It was gorgeous! Ah, ah! Great, that’s great! We’ve certainly been talking around a lot
of experiences and stuff, but I wondered if we could focus a little bit on advice that
one would give to people who have decided that they want to be an actor, at whatever
age. Do it! Just do it, anywhere! School? Yes, no? Anywhere, just do it! Yes, don’t say that you want to be an actor. Decide that you wish to act! Yeah. That’s great! Is what the advice would be. Yeah. It’s very difficult, because what you’re
doing is hoping, when you get into these little basement theatres or whatever, that some agent
will come and see you. Well, the agents don’t come any more! But what you’re doing is networking. You meet somebody else, who then tells you
about something else, and that’s – Yes. Jobs come from jobs. Always have, yeah. Yeah. And are agents no longer as important, or
do they just not go to those small theatres? No, they’re important, unfortunately. They are important, but really – They don’t do – it’s like the critics. No, yeah. The agents were better! Yeah, they were. They cared more about you and – And they came to see the basement productions. That’s right, they did. I don’t think they do that now. Also, they went digging in the old days, for
the works. Yeah, yeah. And so did we, of course. And the casting agents. I remember my son, out in California, he helped
one of the really good old casting agents there, reading with other actors. And he said to him, “You know, I might be
interested in being a casting agent.” And the man said, “Don’t do it now.” He said, “Now agents treat me as somebody
to call, to bring in a whole lot of people. In the past, I used to be consulted as to
who would be valuable for this material, and I would know.” He said, “They don’t do that any more.” The thing that gets me about that process
now – and I have two sons that are actors – are the callbacks, particularly when they
are – the first thing auditioned is filmed! Why do they need a callback? Right! It’s like it’s self-justification for
the existence of the casting agent! And that’s a – and young actors, the callback
becomes such a big thing, it’s like bragging about a job. That you’ve gotten a callback? Yeah. Are you asked to audition? Sometimes, sometimes. Not often, no. No, not often. Not for the theatre. No. I mean, I would think that with experience
on this panel that people would know you and want you. Oh, no! They don’t. They’re all sixteen! (LAUGHTER) Yes, exactly. Exactly! That’s so true! But it’s also a mark of position, that you
“don’t read.” Oh, I think that’s silly. I don’t mind reading at all. Well, I get that all the time, when I come
in. But I also know – You mean, there’s a meeting, right? But you come in – It’s a meeting, you know. You take a meeting, you talk to them, and
you know they’re dying to have you read in front of that camera. Yes. And if you say, “Would you like me to read?”
they’re, “Oh, oh! Would you? Oh, do you mind?” I mean, when you’re there? Of course. But what’s interesting is that those of
us who have this much experience and this much variety, we can read better than most
of the other people they’re going to get who have only done commercials. Yes. So I sometimes say, you know, I can see it
in their face, and I’ll read. You know, “Let me read the part.” Yeah. But I remember my daughter, who is an actor
out in California, an agent said to her, “You’re too good. I wouldn’t know how to cast you.” (ROBERT LAUGHS) Yes! Yes, that’s what I used to get in the fifties,
when they’d say, “You can’t be in these. You’re a classical actor!” Yes! Classical actor, what – you can’t possibly
be – It’s like, (PRETENDING TO HAVE A TANTRUM)
“Yes, I can! I need the money!” (LAUGHTER) I know! Well, that’s the problem, having done the
sorts of things that we’ve done. We’ve done so much and such a variety, that
you don’t get an opportunity to do that variety. They do want the one type. I know! And you’re stuck with that one type. But have you ever seen a role and decided,
as we’ve talked about here, they won’t cast you in it, but “I’m going to get
that role, I’m determined!” Have you done that, and have you been successful
doing that? Mmm-hmm. It happens sometimes. I love to read. I love to audition, because I don’t want
to play the same thing all the time. And I don’t like sitting there having a
meeting, because I usually have to run it. (LAUGHTER) I mean, they just sit there. And I hear myself saying, “Well, what would
you like to know?” Yeah. (ROBERT LAUGHS) And once, in California, a man with orange
leather shoes put his shoes up on the desk. And I said, “I can’t do this until you
put your feet down.” (LAUGHTER) I was very young then! I dared. But I don’t see – I mean, we’re actors. Part of what we do is audition. And part of what we do is get reviewed. It’s all part of our life, and we’ve got
to accept all of it, I think, to have a – Yes. And the acting part is easy! Yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And the acting part is
what we know how to do. The fun part! That’s the fun. That’s fun. I have a fine time! And the other things can be terribly humiliating. Yeah. Yes. Or very funny. And a couple of things I’ve auditioned for,
I’ve felt as if I’ve played them anyway. Do you know what I mean? I prepared so well, and I’ve enjoyed it. But I didn’t get it. I have never gone to a play and seen a play
that I auditioned for that I thought they should have chosen me. I’ve always understood later why. And it’s not necessarily you! Yes. It’s the other actor you play the scene
with, or something. And you can teach yourself not to be so upset. Oh, yes, not – Oh, you have to be – you have to learn how
to accept rejection. All the time. Absolutely! It has to become almost – Part of your life. A part of your life. That’s part of what we do. Yeah. Because a lot of it has to do with balance,
too. That’s it! I mean, you don’t know who the director
is considering for the other parts. No! And gosh, I remember auditioning for Sidney
Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky for NETWORK, for – uh – oh, God, you know – Beatrice Straight’s part? Bea! Beatrice’s Straight’s part. That wonderful wife. And both of them burst into tears at my audition. I was told, by my agent, “Well, they loved
what you did, but you’re not round enough.” Well, Faye Dunaway, if you remember, she’s
kind of angular, and they needed somebody who was rounder! (LAUGHTER) Round, yes! And it hurt, at the time. I just thought, “Oh!” And I loved auditioning! I mean, Paddy Chayefsky wrote so well, and
it’s such fun. And he cried! And he cried! And so did Sidney Lumet! You know, it was “Oh, you were wonderful!” Well, that’s not my part. But that wasn’t enough. But you’re glad you did it. Oh, yes! Yes! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Yeah, yeah. One of the awful things about the audition
is when they film the meeting. Have you ever been through that? Oh, no! I’ve never had that! (RICHARD LAUGHS) Yes! You sit down, you talk to them, they have
the camera on you. (FRANCES LAUGHS) You feel like saying, “I’m
an actor! I’m not “me” when I get up there!” Oh, no! God! “I mean, I use “me,” but still it’s
– ” And you know what Franny said about taking
from the other actor. What if you’re ready to do a scene for a
television show, and a non-actor, a girl who has a book – The script girl! She’s fifteen, and she’s the man! Yes! And she’s reading! And she’s your son! And it’s all … Blah! And part of you says, Well, this isn’t real!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And the other part
of you says, “I’m in this scene and she … ” It’s ludicrous! It is. It’s bizarre! You go home, and you think, “Well, what
should I do now with the rest of the day? I’m a fool!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I had a terrible one once in England. Hal Prince was on the Board of Directors of
APA, when we finished our season in New York in ’68 and I went to England. And they were doing COMPANY. And so I went in to audition for COMPANY. And Hal (LAUGHS) was in the theatre and I
walked out onto the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre, with my music and getting ready to
do it, and he said, “What are you doing here?” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And I said, “Well,
the season’s over.” “Yes, but no, no, I didn’t mean that. What are you doing here?” And I said, “Well, I’ve come to audition
for this.” “There’s nothing for you in this!” (LAUGHTER) “Oh,” I said, “all right. Should I go?” He said, “No, well, you might as well sing
while you’re here.” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, of course,
didn’t get it. Certainly gave you a lot of heart! (LAUGHTER) I was really encouraged! But have you ever been tempted to go on the
other side of the table and direct? I’ve hated directing. I never – I’m not good at it, either. I’m only interested in acting. I don’t care about production. I know. I’m afraid I’m that way, too. I’ve had several directors who were so good,
and had such a sense of the concept of a play, and I don’t have that. I might be able to coach, but directing a
whole play, I don’t think so. Oh, yes! But coaching actors, one can do that. That’s fun, yeah. But to direct – I’ve done about three
or four of them, and it’s no fun for me at all. Most of the time we learn from doing. Yeah. Yes, yes. We learn from the rehearsal process, whereas
a director has to go in ahead of time and come in with all kinds of concepts. The actor is in the middle of a rehearsal,
and all of a sudden something occurs to him that he got from his research or the look
in another actor’s eye and (CLAPS HIS HANDS) you’re in the now! You’re in the moment. And that’s how you find it! Right, right. I tell you what’s wonderful is to direct
students. Oh, I love talking to students. Well, and even to direct plays, because they
are willing to try anything. The very fact that it’s the beginning of
their work is so marvelous. I love doing that. But I’m like the rest of you. I wouldn’t want – lots of people ask me
why I don’t direct. But as you say, I mean, we can make decisions
up to the last performance. Yeah. Whereas all the major decisions a director
makes are weeks before you even start rehearsals. Been done. And what if you’re the director they all
band against? (LAUGHTER) Which they do! The director has no friend. The actors have each other. Yes! Thank you all very much.

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